Tuesday, June 19, 2018
  • Friday, Feb. 5, 2016
Chat Room: David O. Russell
David O. Russell
Director/writer/producer brings a fable feel to the real-life story of inventor Joy Mangano

David O. Russell is a five-time Oscar nominee and has been nominated twice for the DGA Award, The Directors Guild recognition came for The Fighter in 2011 and American Hustle in 2014.

Russell’s Academy Award nominations were for Best Achievement in Directing for The Fighter in 2011, Silver Linings Playbook in 2013 and American Hustle in 2014, with a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for Silver Linings Playbook, and a Best Original Screenplay nom (which was shared with Eric Warren Singer) for American Hustle.

American Hustle garnered a total of 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Production Design, and acting noms in all four categories. The film also won three Golden Globe Awards including Best Picture, three BAFTA Awards including Best Original Screenplay, and scored New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).

Russell’s previous film, Silver Linings Playbook, tallied eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and acting nominations in all four categories (with a win for lead actress Lawrence). The film also garnered four Golden Globe nominations, four Independent Spirit Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay, and a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Fighter (2010) earned seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and wins for both Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale) and Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo), meaning that Russell has directed actors to a total of 11 Oscar nominations and three Oscar wins spanning The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.

Now adding a 12th acting nomination to the Oscar tally is Joy for which Lawrence is up for Best Leading Actress. At the age of 25, Lawrence is the youngest four-time nominee. Three of her four Academy Award nominations are for Russell films, the other nod coming for the Debra Granik-directed Winter’s Bone.

Russell not only directed Joy but also penned the screenplay which is based on the story of Joy Mangano, Miracle Mop inventor and home shopping entrepreneur. We see Joy, who’s portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, go from girlhood dreams marked by innovation and invention to a less than inspired adulthood mired in the mundane as well as responsibilities tending to her dysfunctional family. However, she regains her inventive, entrepreneurial spark and battles the odds—including betrayal, the brutal world of commerce, and assorted other derailing dynamics—to create a successful business which is a testament to the power of individual drive and enterprise. Her life story has elements of emotion, comedy, adversity, perseverance and joy, with much of the experience, for better and worse, centered on her family. The Joy cast also includes Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Elisabeth Röhm and Dascha Polanco.

Joy adds to a Russell filmography which also includes such earlier pictures as Three Kings (1999) and I Heart Huckabees (2004).

SHOOT: What drew you to Joy’s story?

Russell: It’s a story that spans 30 years, a big family with a woman at the center of it all. There are elements of The Godfather, a woman who was going to become a power and in some respects is made by the people surrounding her. The people who were her loved ones could also become obstacles to her dreams—but both the good and the bad spurred her on. It’s very much like a fable. On the surface it’s a seemingly ordinary invention, a mop, that’s part of an ordinary tale—but there’s a giant fable inside of it for me. We see Jennifer [Lawrence] age across three decades from her childhood on. The movie changes rhythm completely once Joy stops being defined by the world she came from and instead defines her own space. You either die—your dreams die—or you make your own space. She had to become a fierce person, which is inspiring to me. That’s what drew me to her story.

SHOOT: What was the biggest creative challenge that Joy posed to you as a filmmaker?

Russell: To take someone with more of a quiet strength and do justice to her story. To create the world around her of women and men that was filled with enchantment as well as harsh reality—and to cover all this terrain in 47 days [of shooting]. To create a world that was magic. It’s a big world in many ways.

SHOOT: Let’s talk about some of those you collaborated with to create this world, including cinematographer Linus Sandgren whom you first worked with on American Hustle. Joy is your second film together, What did he bring to the project?

Russell: Linus takes every shot personally. He has an amazing passion and is truly becoming one of our greatest cinematographers. We wanted Joy’s story to be inspirational, a real yet magical story about childhood and dreams but also with harsh unforgiving stuff that could be in a Western almost. We wanted to frame things more classically, referencing the work of artists such as [realist painter and printmaker] Edward Hopper. We went for framing like you’d see in a play, defining the isolation of a character within that frame. Linus and I discussed ideas for backlighting and shadows, suggesting a classical approach which would bring a timeless feel to the imagery. That meant locations and framing that had to be defined in a way that reminded us of those great films from the 1940s and ‘50s to tell this story about a woman who has a quiet power, who is warm yet fierce. We wanted to honor her character and her story.

SHOOT: Your collaborative relationship goes back even further with such artists as production designer Judy Becker and first assistant director Michele (“Shelley”) Ziegler who also served as a co-producer on Joy. What did each contribute to the film?

Russell: We’re like a music band that’s been together for a long time. I’m extremely proud of Judy. Our relationship is four movies deep and as a production designer she helps to create cinema that is about people—not personal effects. She captures people and their worlds. She can repurpose locations, make them work to be other cities. I believe in the magic of movies and so does she. From The Fighter to Silver Linings Playbook to American Hustle to now Joy—Judy’s fingerprints are across them all, from the wallpaper to designs, delicate patterns on walls, fixtures. She creates a multi-layered world that feels lived in but also enchanting. She heightens the world but it remains real. She can create a feel to an environment that is part of the very fabric of the story. In the lobby of [home shopping network] QVC, our heroes look very little. They are dwarfed by this giant lobby. To them this building in Lancaster, Pennsylvania is their Emerald City. Judy is a master storyteller.

As for Shelley, she was one of the first people I met when I started preparing for The Fighter, which started a whole new chapter of filmmaking for me.  We met in New York. She came up from Baltimore on the train. We sat, had coffee, talked for a long time. From that sprung a wonderful collaborative relationship—on The Fighter, then Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle. Joy is our fourth film together. We spend so much time together making films, there’s a closeness that develops. We’re friends. We see each other on vacations. Shelley’s family and my family are close.

Shelley is like my right hand. She is a remarkable filmmaker. We work together kind of like a Navy Seal team. She has a big heart, is excited about cinema and shares the vision for a movie like her own. We truly make movies together. She helps put the boots on the ground, to put ten pounds into a five-pound bag, to make the impossible possible. She and her team enable us to play with a story—in Joy to play with and explore the notion of time and different worlds over that extended time span. There are so many different worlds within the story—a cable station, a workplace garage, a girl’s room. We’re telling a story about a family and we work together like a family.