A rarely seen side of 'Catcher in the Rye' author JD Salinger

JD Salinger's life is explored in the new unauthorized bio-picture, "Rebel in the Rye."
3:08 | 09/16/17

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Transcript for A rarely seen side of 'Catcher in the Rye' author JD Salinger
Can't stand all these phonies. Reporter: J.D. Salinger's formative years explored in the new bio-pic "Rebel in the rye." I want my writing to be truthful. Reporter: "The catcher in the rye," considered by so many to be an American masterpiece, has sold over 65 million copies. Yet the man behind it is still an enigma. Inspired by salinger's perseverance after World War II, actor, writer, and cocreator of the hit show "Empire," Danny strong, making his directorial debut, found surprising revelations in his subject. I didn't know salinger had gone to war. I didn't know about his religious awakening. Reporter: The film chronicles salinger's struggle with PTSD after the war, leading him to discover meditation. That was a huge part of him being able to write again, also trying to find peace from all the horrors he saw in war. Reporter: Nicholas hoult, at 12 in "About a boy," ploys the tortured writer. I write short stories. Really. Have you been published? What surprised you the most? The war part of his life I knew nothing about. Landing on d-day. Him coming back and finding religion. The thing I found most inspiring was his dedication to his art and his willingness to write. Are you willing to devote your life to telling the stories, knowing that you may get nothing in return? Reporter: Kevin spacey plays salinger's writing teacher here at Columbia university in new York City where salinger found inspiration and stability. Did he have a good experience here? Yeah, he had a great experience here. It was really transformative for him. He was a troubled student. Dropped out of multiple colleges. Then when he got here, his instructor after a semester started to transform him. Holden Caulfield deserves an entire book. All on his own. Reporter: Salinger's creation holden Caulfield, would go on to become one of the most iconic characters in literary history. But the intense public scrutiny brought on by the success of "The catcher in the rye" pushed salinger further into a reclusive state. After having inhabited this role, do you have a sense of why he took himself out of the mix so thoroughly for the last 50 years of his life? I mean, it's big speculation, again. I think to be able to walk away when you've reached a level of success like that is extremely bold and noble thing in many ways. How do you think he's feel about this movie? He'd hate this movie. He'd never want to make a movie out of him and he'd have sued the hell out of me. But I think he's a major historical figure. His life is worthy to be explored. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm Dan Harris in New York. "Rebel in the rye" is in theaters now. It was Benjamin frankly who said, either write something worth read organize do something worth writing.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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