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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

Photo of Rodrigo Perez 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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Jennifer Lawrence Silver Linings Playbook
If this is the second phase of your career. What was your style in the first phase?
I would say it was more set up. Although, there were moments on “Flirting with Disaster” where, with a lot of people on the set, you'd get a scene rotating. Like when Richard Jenkins was on acid you know that was a scene that sort of took on a life of its own. I don't think I was as confident back then so I would pretty much stick to the script more.

Silver Linings Playbook, the dance
Tell me about Jennifer Lawrence in this film.
As you probably know she Skyped her audition, I'd never done that before. She's a very, very charismatic, not neurotic person who is much like her character in the movie. She's kind of fearless. And she had to get to know [Bradley Cooper] very fast because they were dancing together for several hours a day for two weeks.

You shot the dance scenes first?
No, but they had to learn it before we started shooting because there would be no time for them to learn it in the 33 day schedule. So they had to learn it before we started shooting.

That's got to be quite the bonding experience to just meet each other and get physical in that way.
They got very comfortable [laughs].

There’s a lovely awkwardness in their dancing.
Yeah it's sweaty and it was really -- neither one of them had been a professional or danced ever in something. They were both able to be honest and awkward about it. Which is what we wanted, I didn't want them to seem too polished.

You've got a great cast here, and you pulled Chris Tucker out of hibernation who hasn't been in a movie in forever.
Well, the advantage of Bradley is that Bradley is reintroducing himself as an actor. People think they know him but he's kind of saying, “You don't really.” That's exciting to a director because it means he's very eager to do new things and so is the character he's playing.

"Filmmaking is now more mature for me. There's still always that fear but now there's a more warm confidence that you're in a direction that is clear."

Likewise Chris Tucker, he's re-appearing to us as if offstage. His character in the movie comes from offstage again and again. From the hospital he just keeps showing up. So that's a nice confluence of who he really is in life that he's been out of the spotlight for a while and then now he keeps stepping into it. And he's authentic, he's grounded and he knows all of the legal language. So it was wonderful. He has a great warm feeling about him in general, so that warm rapport that he and Bradley have -- that fills in things for the audience, that they’re friends and they’ve been through things together without ever explaining it.

To create a world that is a very dimensional world it takes a lot of little things. Chris had to memorize the toughest dialogue, for a guy who likes to do nothing but improvise, he had to memorize the weirdest, most technical dialogue, the legal language of state laws and hospitals. He had to know the law.

Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Christian Bale have played lighthearted characters in your pictures. Even Mark Wahlberg went that route in “I Heart Huckabees” and he wasn’t known for comedy at the time. You’re good at flipping the audiences' expectations of actors.
You know Bradley is going to do “The Elephant Man” on Broadway, so that's not a small thing to be able to pull that off, it's pretty much just him up there....you just have to see it to believe it.

Silver Linings, Chris Tucker

That's how I felt about Amy Adams in “The Fighter.” People said, “I don't buy her as a tough girl. I said, 'l do see it.' ” Take Christian Bale in that movie. For me the secret to that character was his lovability, his warmth, his goofiness. These are things I saw in the real Dicky that Christian had not really done until then. He was so warm and goofy as much as he was scary.

I knew when I met Bradley after “Wedding Crashers,” he seemed like a palpably angry person to me. A scary angry person. So I knew that was good for “Silver Linings Playbook,” because it wasn't fake, it wasn't nice, it was just intense. Then when I met him I asked him about that. His answer told me that he could do this role because his answer was very self-revealing. His answer was that he had been unhappy at the time when he made “Wedding Crashers.” His life was not as fulfilled. He was 30 to 40 lbs. heavier like the character in the movie, he was hiding behind it, but really he was scared. So already you're getting so much depth and it's very much in the world of the character so that's all -- he's a very open, emotional guy.

I was going to say, for a first meeting someone who’s incredibly so open must be a good sign.
Yes, it was a very good sign. He was very open and direct and fearless about that. I thought that was nice as opposed to being guarded. He didn't try to spin his past problems, but he was welcoming about all of it. He wanted to do the dancing he was willing to do all of that. You know even though he was scared of it. He was openly scared of the whole role, which is healthy. I think anybody who's about to do any...I'm always scared to make a movie. You've got to be a little scared.

Does that give it a needed energy?
It means you're focused, it means you're respecting it. You're aware that it's a formidable challenge and you've got to pay attention or you'll fuck it up. It’s always going to be very from the heart that way.

So do you seek out those who can show another side of themselves?
I ask them to do it and I believe that they are capable of doing it. Amy I knew from having many meals with her, Christian I had a sense that he could do it, but I wasn't entirely sure he was going to be willing to let go of that hardness. And I think he took a shine to it because he got to know the real Dicky. Also, we were both on the same page, I said, “Who cares about a dangerous junkie?” We’ve seen that before. What makes this guy matter is he's a guy you can actually like, the real life guy.

Do you find it harder or easier to make a movie now?
Let me put it to you this way, it's mature for me. It's good. It may have been easier financially before the economic downturn [in 2008]. It was certainly easier to get a movie set up. But because of my own life it was not easier for me to be the best storyteller I could be. I think the difficulty and challenges that the last few years have presented to everybody economically and my own personal challenges have turned out to make me a more attentive storyteller and so that's a good thing. I know that if you can go into a zone where you feel like you're doing good storytelling, for me it always feels good to be in that zone. To me my first few films were harrowing experiences because you're terrified the whole time that you're going to fuck it up. You don’t know what you're doing. There's still always that fear but now there's a more warm confidence that you're in a direction that is clear.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is now in theaters in limited release.

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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