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‘Glass Castle’ Production Design Reflects Life of Brilliant but Dysfunctional Family

Long before she was hired as production designer on “The Glass Castle,” Sharon Seymour read the memoir on which the film is based and appreciated the way author Jeannette Walls depicted her dysfunctional, nomadic upbringing while also celebrating her parents’ creativity. Walls’ mother, Rose Mary, is a painter; her father, Rex, who died in 1994, was a brilliant inventor and freethinker who spent years sketching his vision of the glass castle he wanted to build for his family.

“I’ve done a lot of projects that relate to true stories,” says Seymour, whose credits include “Argo” and “Gone Baby Gone.” “One of the things that I really like about movies is being able to see a version of a historic piece and trying to get it so that you believe it’s the real world. But this one was just particularly wonderful and poignant because I was telling the story of artists.”

Before production began on the film — which casts Brie Larson as an adult Walls and Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts as Rex and Rose Mary — Seymour and director Destin Daniel Cretton traveled to Virginia to visit Walls and her mother, who lives in a house on her daughter’s farm. Seymour was thrilled to discover that Rose Mary stored her paintings from various eras in a shed on the property. While protective of her work, she was willing to loan nearly 70 pieces of art for use in the film.

“That was a real gift to the production,” says Seymour, who hung the paintings in key settings re-created for the movie, including the house in Welch, W. Va., where Jeannette and her family lived during the author’s childhood and teen years, and one of the squats her parents later inhabited in Manhattan’s East Village.

“The Glass Castle” was shot mostly in Montreal, where an apartment that was being stripped for renovation subbed for the place in New York. However, an existing house resembling the Walls family’s dilapidated West Virginia home couldn’t be found in or near the Canadian city.

“We looked for a place to build it and found a sugar shack southeast of Montreal that sat up on a hill,” Seymour says. “Welch is a very hilly community — and we built a facade around it. We literally built out about a foot around the house, and then we built the interior onstage in Montreal.”

The film also required the construction of a faux but realistic-looking Joshua tree out of metal and greenery. The tree is featured in a scene that finds the Walls family camping in the Southwestern desert.

“It was built in a way that we could take it apart and put it in a big crate and take it to New Mexico [where the sequence was shot] and reassemble it,” Seymour says.

Lionsgate will release “The Glass Castle” on Aug. 11.

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