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St. Louis native Gabriel Basso dishes on working with Ron Howard on Netflix's 'Hillbilly Elegy'

After big roles in J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" and the Showtime series, "The Big C," Basso checked out of Hollywood. He's back in a big way with the new Netflix film.
Credit: Netflix

ST. LOUIS — Acting is a tough gig. Actors live and die on the pleasure of the audience, performances and reactions that can determine an actor's future. But for Gabriel Basso, a St. Louis native, it was his decision to check out of Hollywood after a small run of success.

After a few notable roles in projects such as J.J. Abrams' awe-inspiring teenage alien film, "Super 8," as well as a bigger role in the Laura Linney-Showtime series, "The Big C," Basso decided to try his hand at music, extreme sports, and anything else that didn't include a script and camera. The reasons are a mystery, but the mind doesn't have to run far to understand that the then very young actor needed a break.

I spoke with Basso, 25, about his comeback role, the central part of J.D. Vance in Ron Howard's "Hillbilly Elegy." Along with Owen Asztalos, who played a younger J.D. in the film, the two actors dished on their experiences working on the film and what's next.

For Basso, there were some nerves to deal with in getting back on a set, especially one the size of a Howard production. Thankfully, the crew was top notch and made him feel at home. "I'd say coming back after seven or eight years of doing nothing, I was nervous about the big process of a film like this," Basso said. "The biggest hurdle for me was calming down and relaxing. Ron was very good about that as well."

Asztalos, who is best known for "The Diary of a Wimpy Kid," also noted the high level of craft on set. "I'm a big movie watcher. It's inspiring for me to watch other actors excel at their craft," Asztalos said. "It's also very inspiring to come to set every day and watch Amy, Glenn, and Ron. They are so good at what they do." The 15-year-old actor called Howard "a great orchestrator."

When I asked Basso about working with Howard, he joked, "Wait, Ron Howard was there?" It's that easy-going sense of humor that carried throughout the entire interview, an actor having fun with his unique situation before anybody else can get a laugh at his expense. Basso gave kudos to the fact that his director was in control and had a team dedicated to making his vision come to life. "Ron was very professional. Everyone had a sense of what their jobs were, he didn't have to run around and micro-manage everybody," Basso noted.

Basso was one of many who was taken aback by Netflix's furious rise to popularity, but his reasons were different than most. "I kind of checked out from society for a while. When I was growing up, you'd get it in the mail. I didn't know how big it was," Basso said. "And then you see Ron (Howard), Amy (Adams), and Haley (Bennett) are making a Netflix film, and you can tell they're bumping up their stock.

When it came to their plans for the future, Basso didn't seem too worried. He's consumed by a new baby girl in his life. "I just had a little girl, so that's my focus right now. I am drumming a lot. This COVID thing has limited options at the moment. I'd love a job, but it's not really up to me," Basso said. Asztalos' preferred instrument is the guitar and while he has been participating in auditions this year, he has a brand new song ready to launch soon.

Basso in particular doesn't have to worry about getting roles. He seems content letting the pandemic play out while soaking up some new daddy time with his daughter. Would you be worried if you took seven years off and came back with a leading role in a Ron Howard film? I sure wouldn't.

Look for Basso and Asztalos in "Hillbilly Elegy," currently playing in select theaters in St. Louis and coming to Netflix on Nov. 24.

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