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David O. Russell and Oscar-Nominated Crew Talk the Craft of 'American Hustle'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood February 12, 2014 at 2:50PM

David O. Russell's on a roll with his Oscar-contending "American Hustle," his most personal and popular movie yet. It's smart and funny, and has obviously touched a nerve with its story of survival and reinvention during the cultural and political upheaval of the late '70s. "I don't care about pure dissipation or pure cynicism -- I've gotta have the thing that people live for," he insists. So in a recent roundtable discussion, we explored how this passion spilled over to his Oscar-nominated crew: production designer Judy Becker, costume designer Michael Wilkinson and editor Jay Cassidy.
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American Hustle

David O. Russell's on a roll with his Oscar-contending "American Hustle," his most personal and popular movie yet. It's smart and funny, and has obviously touched a nerve with its story of survival and reinvention during the cultural and political upheaval of the late '70s. "I don't care about pure dissipation or pure cynicism -- I've gotta have the thing that people live for," he insists. So in a recent roundtable discussion, we explored how this passion spilled over to his Oscar-nominated crew: production designer Judy Becker, costume designer Michael Wilkinson and editor Jay Cassidy.

"These characters are loving and passionate, but there are also great tribulations and troubles, mistakes and recoveries. That's the banner of our cinema. So these guys help build all that and put their passion into it," Russell suggests.

'American Hustle'
'American Hustle'

From Becker's perspective, it was a great opportunity to uncover this diverse world in New York/New Jersey where glam and suburbia clash. "I think so often you can only go in one direction, but this gave us the opportunity to show the diversity of human nature and how that's expressed through the crafts and through design and the portrayal of a world and a period," she explains. The various homes and offices that Christian Bale's Irving goes back and forth from, as he bounces between his girlfriend/partner Sydney (Amy Adams) and his estranged wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

"And you see Irving change in a lot of ways," Becker adds. "He becomes more sophisticated in taste, he becomes more ambitious and confident. And he and Sydney have this special relationship and I wanted to express all those things and a lot of other things in the sets that those characters inhabit. Rosalyn spends all of her time decorating and redecorating and layering. So we got to use some of the wonderful textures and wall papers and fabrics of the period, but really doing it to the hilt because that's her world. 

"And Sydney has come to New York from a very modest background and has built herself up to an [elegant] woman. She also had an apartment that completely reflected what was going on in the late '70s but in a scaled down and sophisticated way. People would walk into Irving's house (a location we completely transformed) and stare at the wallpaper and then walk into the location for Sydney's apartment and say they wanted to live there, too."

And it was the continuation of Becker's use of flocked wallpaper from "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook," among other things, that adds authenticity and ties together this unofficial trilogy. "You have to have great affection for the world that you're creating in your collaboration and it's from personal recollections of your own homes and of those you knew," Russell adds.

This article is related to: American Hustle, David O. Russell, production design, Costume Design, Editing, Immersed In Movies, Thompson on Hollywood, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Oscars, Interviews


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