“Hillbilly Elegy” director Ron Howard admits he was “surprised” by J.D. Vance’s embrace of Donald Trump and the GOP’s conservative ideology during his recent successful campaign for Ohio senator.
“To be honest, I was surprised,” Howard told Variety at the Academy’s Governors Awards Saturday in Los Angeles. “When I was getting to know J.D., we didn’t talk politics because I wasn’t interested in that about his life. I was interested in his childhood and navigating the particulars of his family and his culture so that’s what we focused on in our conversation. To me, he struck me as a very moderate center-right kind of guy.”
Howard directed the film adaptation of Vance’s bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” released as a Netflix film in 2020. Vance’s book chronicled his family’s struggles with poverty and drug addiction during his childhood in Middletown, Ohio. Vance later earned a degree from Yale Law School and, after working at corporate law firm, served as a principal for Republican power player Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm. Earlier this month, he defeated Democrat Tim Ryan in a race for the U.S. Senate after the seat was vacated by Republican Rob Portman.
Howard’s Netflix film earned Glenn Close Oscar and SAG Award nominations for her work playing Vance’s grandmother. Amy Adams was also nominated for a SAG Award for her portrayal of Vance’s mother.
Howard said that, in the brief conversations they had about politics, Vance said he “didn’t care for Trump.
“He didn’t like him at all, as he tweeted,” he said. “I haven’t talk to him in a couple of years. I hope now that he’s got the job that’ll apply what I think his good common sense to the questions that will come before him.”
In fact, Howard said, Vance didn’t even show much interest in elected office when they were making the movie. “He apparently wasn’t interested in running for office, but I think his interest was renewed,” Howard said. “At the time I was working with him he was concentrating on starting his family and he was becoming a businessman and I asked him about it, he said, ‘Maybe somebody down the road.’ Someday came a little sooner than any of us expected.”
Howard and producing partner Brian Grazer were on hand at the Governors Awards to support their Amazon Prime Video rescue drama “Thirteen Lives.”