"I know how demanding David is, it's really no bullshit acting, you have to be real. I go, 'God I don't know if I can create a character that can take this audience on the arc of this movie and introduce them to all these different characters vis a vis this character.' I gave all that fear away and looked him in the eyes and said, 'if you believe that I am the guy, than I will go down this road with you, because I have never seen a bad performance out of anybody in any of your movies.' I decided I was just going to roll the dice."
Wasn't the idea of working with Russell scary?
"I've been in the business since 2001, and any director worth their weight in gold is
intense, because it's an intense atmosphere. It can manifest itself in a calm
way, or in a high octane infectious energy way. David has all of those
colors. He has a very soothing voice. For me, it was the most amazing
experience, I'm doing another with him, based on Abscam in the 80s, around what happened with Mel Weinberg, a snake oil salesman who worked with the FBI to take out some congressmen in Philadelphia. I feel grateful that he wants to work with me again, It worked with Jen and Bob, the three of us, it just clicked."
How did you pull off that group scene with Jennifer and Bob and the sports stats?
"That was like doing intimate theater that day. David had two cameras going at all times. We shot on 35 mm, steadicam or handheld, the d.p. lit for 360 degrees so in the middle of it we could turn it around.
We were all there for each other. During the dance scene, Bob spent two days on the sidelines, that guy was there as an extra watching that scene, all day long. My character's relationship with his father is very different from the book, we were creating a different thing. There's no reason to go against the thing Bob and I have in our lives, he's a friend. I loved to say Dad on set all the time, it was nice to believe that he's my father. In the book they don't talk to each other, what a waste that would be. There are chunks of truth that's born out of love that resonates in the book and script."
How did you and Lawrence handle those dance routines?
"It was the best thing that could have happened, since I was coming from another movie, I drove straight from Schenectady to Philly to rehearse in a studio. We had to learn how to dance, all sweaty, we had three weeks to nail it. She's 22 years old, she has this quality, like Bob, that is really powerful. It's not so much that he's a great actor, which he is, but he has this quality, as does she. You can be great actor, she's a chameleon, but I do see this similar quality in all her work. She's 45 and 25 at same time, and so much so that when I hang out with her I realize she's just a kid. Physically she's built like a throwback movie star. She doesn't look like a child, she moves like a beautiful woman."
How did you approach the bipolarity of your character?
"There was a lot of discussion. The way that David works, you do a lot of different variations on a take, quickly, because we only had 34 days to shoot the movie. It's all modulation. In the beginning when we started filming, we did a lot of takes. There was an Asperger's tendency working its way in, then we thought, 'that's just too much.' We had this idea of his being bipolar, where extreme situations that occur catapult him into this high emotional place. But for him to be in that place all the time, we found that in scenes with other actors, you're not going to sustain a movie like that. We found that, all the time being very truthful to our experience with that condition, whether via family members or people who we know, all the time being conscious of that, it became clear what was working and wasn't working."
Why did you want to work with David again?
"Love is what David brings, it comes from love, and there's zero ego, he's a collaborator, I learned what that word meant on 'Silver Linings.' The only thing he requires of you is to really show up, don't bring your bedroom perfect take on character or the scene. If you do that, it's not going to work, you're going to have a hard day. You show up for work, take all your clothes off, get naked and bomb, you have to get ready to rock on rehearsal, 'ok, camera!' This is like,'ready? Cry here, cry, ok, come on, come on, come on, what's happening? Everybody standing around, get out of your head, now!'
How would you compare working with Cianfrance and Russell?
"It's the same core, that same love is shining as brightly in both beings, but the funnel by which it goes through and comes out is at a different mode. When you meet Derek: 'Hey man, let's try that Bradley,' it's different, you're marching with everybody at the same beat. With David you're a sprinter and you never know where you're going to go in terms of marching with this creative man. I love it, we fit, it's perfect, I honestly found a kindred spirit. Creatively, I love the way he works. Anyone who can bring you out of your comfort zone and can get you in a place quickly. He's interested in what's happening now, that's all he cares about."
Given the right vehicle, the fluent French-speaker does want to shoot a film in France, someday, ideally, with Melanie Laurent. And inspired by the movie that made him first want to be an actor--David Lynch's "The Elephant Man"--he starred last year as the deformed Joseph Merrick in the play, sans makeup, at the Williamstown Theater Festival. (He'd like to take it to Broadway).