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The Playlist Interview: David O. Russell Talks ‘Silver Linings Playbook, His Love Of Vince Vaughn & The “Mature” Second Phase Of His Career

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist December 11, 2012 at 2:50PM

The David O. Russell narrative generally tends to focus on the past. The chaotic sets of “I Heart Huckabees,” an ancient history fist fight with George Clooney, and “Nailed,” a film that was abandoned after financiers shut it down before production was completed. But the filmmaker’s narrative is changing and leaving that noise in the dust. 2010’s vibrant and limber “The Fighter” won two Supporting Oscars (for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo) and it earned itself seven Academy Award nods in total. And this year, his follow-up, the equally ebullient and intoxicating “Silver Linings Playbook,” which already took the coveted Audience Award prize at the Toronto International Film Festival, looks poised to repeat that kind of success.
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Silver Linings Playbook
"When I met Bradley after 'Wedding Crashers,' he seemed like a scary, angry person to me. So I knew that was good for 'Silver Linings Playbook.' "
“Silver Linings Playbook” feels like a companion to “The Fighter.”

You mean these two movies? They very much feel like they're companion pieces to each other for sure. I think once you kind of get into a groove that you feel and you focus on, you can keep taking that approach.

Right. The two movies are about boxing and mental illness on the outside, but both are really about family. They're very different films though, is that a conscious thing when you put these together?
Each creature is a different creature. [‘The Fighter’] creature was the people of Lowell, Massachusetts, and a very specific, real group of people. [‘Silver Linings] is sort of based on characters in a book. When I did [‘The Fighter’] in Lowell it reminded me of all of these relatives that didn't I know what to make of. I had all of these relatives in the five boroughs, that we would visit sometimes at big family events and it would be Italian relatives, Jewish relatives, just very colorful people. Once that opened that door up to me I was like, “Oh, you know that's a good thing.” When I looked at "The Fighter" family that's when I thought, “I know these people, I get this.” And so the same thing happened with my own version of the 'Silver Linings’ family but more specifically about in this case that element of film. I know Robert De Niro is Italian American, as I am, and Bradley Cooper's Italian American and Bradley's from that area, and I based it on my relationship with my kid. So, it all gets made more specific that way.

Once the casting was in place, did the script shift once again? Did it keep changing?
Yes, Mr. De Niro was a revelation because I had known him for many years and we had talked about situations with our schools that our children go to and so forth over the years, but finally it was a light bulb went off and I said, “Oh my God, wouldn't it be amazing if he did this?” It was such an obvious idea that I don’t' know why it hadn’t dawned on me earlier. And then I rewrote the part for him. And his character in the book is a little more -- he’s just a harsh dude. In this case I wanted to put the contours in of a father who has ups and downs and warmth and love and as much as he has harshness.

Silver Linings Playbook, Robert De Niro
The wonderful thing about that character is the balance of heartbreak and frustration. He’s totally exasperated by his son.
Yeah, it's extremely specific. I think anybody could relate to this anywhere in life if you have somebody who is struggling with any problem. I suppose you could say Bradley Cooper compares to the Christian Bale character in “The Fighter,” or a combination of the Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg character. Someone who is...there's always a struggle in every good story, you know? So, to me the fact that we picked the 2008 football season was significant because that was the year the economy crashed and that was the year people like Robert De Niro’s character lost his job and had to turn to book making.

I presume the Philadelphia Eagles are not an invention.
No, It was a big part of the book. [The author] Matthew Quick lived there and worked in a hospital there. I think it's fun, when things are specific like that.

It must be such an added bonus when actors like Bradley and Mr. De Niro who have become good friends in real life.
They had a good father son thing. That really, really helps. They're not getting to know each other, they’re already very comfortable with each other and they have a sort of real family-like dynamic which is great. As is the idea that I could write in his rhythm. Mr. De Niro's speech -- because I love how he talks and I love those movies and there's a rhythm that I relate to. He claims my rhythm is different from his, but I think they are related to each other.

If you had to describe your rhythm, how would you describe it?
It feels very regular, intimate, talkative, a personable, warm, open intense you know...authentic, specific. Those are too many words, I've got to pick one. That's a good question, I've got to boil it down to what that would be. You know Bob and Bradley talk like a family and that has a very specific thing going on that they’re very focused on more than anything. It has a neighborhood feeling to it, I would say it has a neighborhood feeling to it.

Silver Linings Playbook
Do you improvise much? On Charlie Rose, Mr. De Niro said you “can’t over-think things” on a David O. Russell film. I wonder what you think he meant exactly.
Well, there’s not a lot of improv really because you write it many times and you rehearse it many times exactly as it is. But what you’re trying to ultimately achieve -- you want it to get rolling, you wanna get it piqued, so it gets going is to take on a life of its own.

I feel funny explaining my approach to filmmaking. Everybody's description of it is different. The only way I know how to make a film is the way I know how, you know? I just know I don't want the actors to ever be fake, I don't want them to be full of shit. I want them to be real and I want them to feel alive. It has to feel alive. And sometimes once they keep doing it over and over again a spark happens. I don’t call cut and I run a 20 minute film mag until it’s out. I don't like hair and makeup people coming in. I don't like lighting adjustments. I don't like resetting, you just keep going until there’s life.

I imagine it like they’re on the stage theater and we're talking maybe during a take. I'm giving direction [while we’re filming], “Bob, do that,” or you know sometimes it's like you're in a family situation where you're cheering on or prodding on another family member and I'll say, “Yeah say that to him, or say this to him!” So it helps. You know when you have so many characters in a scene, you have a lot to remember. Over an extended period it's helpful to them if you give out ideas.

This article is related to: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Interviews, Interviews, Features


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