ENTERTAINMENT

David O. Russell, 'Silver Linings Playbook' Director, On Reinventing Bradley Cooper And Robert De Niro

11/28/2012 12:35 pm ET

"Silver Linings Playbook" is not necessarily a movie you'd expect from David O. Russell. It's a sweet film, and "sweet" is not the first word most people associate with Russell, the director of films such as "The Fighter," "Three Kings," and the now infamous "I Heart Huckabees." (In fact, Russell bristled a bit when I mentioned the "S"-word, before conceding that it does indeed fit.)

In "Silver Linings Playbook," Bradley Cooper plays Pat (a role, Russell reveals, originally intended for Vince Vaughn), a man suffering from bipolar disorder faced with rejoining society following a stint in a Maryland mental institution occasioned by his near-homicide of a man who was having an affair with his wife. Eventually, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman coping with depression after the death of her husband. See? It's the perfect love story. Here, Russell offers an in-depth analysis of what makes the story work -- Cooper, Lawrence and Robert De Niro, as Pat's obsessive-compulsive Dad, are big reasons why -- and describes how his own's son's battle with bipolar disorder informed the film. (Oh, and for anyone hoping to someday see Russell's mostly filmed but never-released 2008 film, "Nailed," his comments about it will not encourage you.)

The subject matter of "Silver Linings Playbook" seems tricky. Before shooting, did you think, There are a lot of wrong ways to make this movie?
Oh, it is tricky. And that's what Sydney Pollack said to me when he first gave me the book. He said that he thought it was tricky because it was very emotional and troubling, at times, but it could also be funny and also romantic. I was very motivated because I love stories about specific families like this. "The Fighter" really helped me see that more. Although, I wrote this five years ago and I rewrote it 20 times. And I thought I was going to make it with Vince Vaughn and Zooey Deschanel before "The Fighter." And then it didn't happen, for any number of reasons that were out of my hands. And then I got to make "The Fighter," which is about a very specific world that I really came to love. And I feel like I'm really hitting my stride now with these movies about these worlds and these people. And part of the motivation for me was dealing with this world.

How so?
By that I mean the community, the neighborhood, the warmth, the fun of the whole world. And the specificity of the people and what they are all into. More importantly, I wanted to do it because it was an opportunity to make a movie about, in a way, matters that relate to my son. Matters that have felt challenging to him. To bring those challenges to light in a movie and give them a story, and with love, is really a healing thing for him and the whole family. You know, my son has struggled with bi-polarity and OCD, so, to do it in a movie is really ... You know, there was always "dad's movie is over here," then there was him and his struggles over there. And now they're together, and that's a nice thing to have it be part of a story. And he's the kid in the movie -- the kid that rings the doorbell and Robert De Niro chases.

Would you trust this movie and this topic in the hands of someone who didn't have the relationship that you have with your son? Because you know that so well?
I think if you know it personally and care about it, then that's going to help. If you're coming from the right place in your heart, it's going to help. I would be a little nervous about it if someone wasn't personally dealing with it.

It's interesting what you said about "The Fighter." So when you were filming that movie, you liked the family relationship aspect more than than the boxing aspect?
Yeah. The fighting part of it is an engine of the movie and an engine of the stakes. But the real emotional stakes -- when people really understand what the movie is -- is when Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams sit down and talk with Melissa Leo and Christian Bale and the seven sisters are there. That's when people realize that it's a mobster movie inside a family. it's like an emotional gangster movie inside a family. And that is exactly what I love -- giving that kind of weight to those kinds of matters is intense.

I feel this is your sweetest movie. Do you agree with that?
[Pauses] Yeah, I mean ... What can I tell you? Danny Elfman said to me, "Face it, David. Deal with it, David, you made a sweet movie."

But that's a good thing.
It is. If you love your characters and they come together -- and you're not expecting it -- it can be really nice. The movie always had that dance thing -- which is one of the things that made it very hard to pull off, in addition to how hard you play the bi-polarity of Bradley Cooper's character. There's an extreme version we shot that's very dark. You know, we had to cover it several different ways on a 33-day schedule. And the De Niro character was written harsher or warmer. And it's a personal thing to both Mr. De Niro and myself, because we've dealt with these family matters for a long time, personally. We both very much wanted to do it. So you have to be careful with it and it took a lot of careful work in the editing room with Jay Cassidy to calibrate it. To have them dance just right? To be amateurs; to be awkward? They both are -- fortunately neither one of them had to unlearn being a slick dancer because neither one of them is a slick dancer. They really started at zero.

Robert De Niro's performance is being hailed as his best in years. What have people missed with him the last few years that you found again?
I think that he's coming from an intense place and a personal place that I think is, in some ways, reminiscent of the work he did in some of his earlier films. There's a seriousness and a thoughtfulness of his intention that's there -- that is right on the surface and is very close to who he really is. That's a palpable thing that audiences love. And I think maybe that's what they're referring to -- when someone has done a certain thing a certain way and then they haven't done it for a long time, people want to see them do that again. He's our greatest actor, so ...

I feel that not enough people are talking about Bradley Cooper is this movie.
I agree with you. A similar thing happened to Mark Wahlberg in "The Fighter," and that was a quieter role. At the time, Robert De Niro said to me, "Sometimes the quiet roles don't get the respect they deserve." In this case, Bradley is not doing a quiet role. I think Bradley is dealing with the fact that he's in an ensemble and it's a new him -- people have to catch up! You know, what I think he brought to the part is an intention to reintroduce himself. A hunger and an appetite that lined up with the character's hunger and intensity to reintroduce himself to the community. You know, when I saw Bradley in "Wedding Crashers," he was 30 or 40 pounds heavier than he is now. And he seemed like a sincerely angry person with the character he was playing. I asked him about that when I met him, and his answer really told me that he was a guy who had a lot of chops that hadn't been brought out yet. His answer was that he had been heavier and angrier and more fearful -- it was such an open answer and such an honest answer. And it showed so much emotion and vulnerability, very much like the character in the movie. And I just thought, This is going to be exciting. It's how I felt when Amy Adams was going to be in "The Fighter."

There's an intense scene that take place at a diner in which we see a lot of rage from Jennifer Lawrence. Does she have to build up to that, or can she do that on cue?
She's a natural. She goes there right away. I mean, she dialed into the character as Bradley dialed into his character. She dialed in and she's like a natural athlete who is walking around the set who you don't think is focused. But then she steps up and leaves everybody speechless. She shares with the character a degree of confidence and a degree of directness about her that is really refreshing and unencumbered by preciousness or neuroticism.

At this point, should I give up on ever seeing "Nailed"? I'm guessing that I'm not, am I?
I mean, it's really just sort of ... you have to move on and keep doing what's in front of you. And sometimes, like Bob Dylan said, "don't look back, you gotta keep going." You have to keep moving.

I'll take that as a "no."
Well, we are going to go into production in February.

Oh, on the Abscam movie?
Well, it's based on the Abscam scandal in New York in 1978, but it's got Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper. And I can safely say they will all be playing characters and doing things that you've never seen them do before. Which is exciting.

Does it help you to work with people you are already familiar with?
Oh, it's nice. It's really great because you have a lot of trust with each other and then you can really reach higher and go farther and deeper. The best thing is for me to trying to to the best I can do as a writer and directer so that I keep attracting the best people. To me, that's a blessing. If I get to keep working with people as gifted as these actors, you're halfway into the movie at that point in delivering the vision. It raises the bar for me, and I just keep trying harder.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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