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David O. Russell Talks 'American Hustle,' His Unusual Directing Method and Christian Bale's Look with NPR (Plus Anatomy of a Scene VIDEO)

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood December 12, 2013 at 1:44PM

David O. Russell sat down with NPR's All Things Considered December 11 to talk "American Hustle," which over the past couple weeks has jumped to head of the class as an Oscar contender. Highlights from the interview, below, as well as the New York Times' video feature Anatomy of a Scene on "Hustle."
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David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper on the set of "American Hustle"
David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper on the set of "American Hustle"

David O. Russell has given plenty of interviews in his day, but in this one with NPR's All Things Considered (which aired on December 11) he gives a terrific explanation of how he directs his actors in a free-wheeling 360-degree environment with multiple cameras to keep things fluid and alive. He talks about his last three films as part of a trilogy that shows characters in specific local neighborhoods who strive to put something together. 

"American Hustle" over the past couple weeks has jumped to head of the class as an Oscar contender. Highlights from the interview are below, as well as the New York Times' video feature Anatomy of a Scene on "Hustle."

Russell on Christian Bale's sex appeal, even when he’s overweight:

I knew that Christian was going to be very excited about that -- playing somebody that looked nothing like anybody he'd ever played before, and whose whole energy in his soul -- you know, it's not just about the outside. I mean that's what makes someone a great actor, is it's all from the inside.

And that's why I think many women have said to me that they find Christian Bale very appealing or sexy in this role, which some people would say is ironic given that he doesn't look like a classic leading man. He still looks really attractive, but he's got a big comb-over and he's 50 pounds heavier, and he looks like a very regular person. And those people can be very charismatic, and that's what the Amy Adams character says about him.

On that ‘70s hair -- it’s “not just hair”:

That's what I love about filmmaking -- creating characters -- that's what I love about working with actors, is it's a collaboration. I feel that I'm auditioning for my actors…

The hair in the movie is not just hair. ... When Irving [Bale’s character] is preparing at the beginning of the picture, that goes to that whole notion of, "Who is anybody when they wake up and are about to walk out the door?" That's what that comb-over is to him. And that's also an actor preparing.

It's my mother getting ready to go out. It's my father getting ready to go out. I mean, every morning I could hear my father shaving. My father was a salesman ... and he was putting himself on, who he had become and who he was becoming.

On his directing style:

Part of it is just, it's the only way I know how to do things. I make a shot list; I have compositions that I want to see. But there's a fluidity to the camera that I want, and an aliveness to it with the actors.

I don't want people thinking or doing what De Niro once called "bedroom perfect." You know, you can do something in your hotel room that morning in the mirror, and it was "bedroom perfect," but that may not be alive when you're in a room with a bunch of people.

So we have a Steadicam, because it's a small apparatus that can move fluidly through the space. And we light for 360 degrees, which means it's through natural soft sources, through the windows. And once we start shooting, I don't want to stop and have interruptions. I want it to flow so people almost forget that they're acting.

This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews , David O. Russell, David O. Russell, Video, New York Times


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.