Hollywood Flashback: In 2009, David O. Russell Was Hoping for Another Hit at AFM

Amy Tierney/WireImage
David O. Russell with The Betties in 2009, a year before the release of 'The Fighter'

Before he became one of the hottest helmers in Hollywood, the 'Joy' director was searching for funding to finish his doomed production, 'Nailed.'

David O. Russell was all smiles at the AFM party in 2009, thanks perhaps to the company he kept: He was surrounded by Bettie Page tribute act The Betties (the legendary 1950s pinup had died the previous year).

But at the time, the director was badly in need of a hit. The 2004 follow-up to his 1999 hit Three Kings — an existentialist comedy called I Heart Huckabees — drew mixed reviews and sputtered at the box office. (The $20 million film took in only $12.8 million in the U.S.) Things grew more worrisome when in 2007, someone leaked several videos from the Huckabees set showing the director clashing with star Lily Tomlin. In one of the videos, an incensed Russell kicks props while shouting at Tomlin, "I worked on this f—ing thing for three f—ing years not to have some f—ing c—t yell at me in front of the f—ing crew while I'm trying to f—ing help you, bitch!" (Tomlin would later say of the confrontation, "It was nothing. ... It’s like family.")

Russell's next film, Nailed, was similarly cursed. The political comedy starred Jessica Biel as a small-town waitress who accidentally gets a nail shot into her brain, turning her into a nymphomaniac. She then heads to Washington to fight for the rights of victims of freak accidents, where she meets a sleazy congressman, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who takes full advantage of her condition.

After filming began in 2008, the troubled production was delayed or shut down four separate times and eventually ran out of money to pay the crew. (Hence the AFM visit.) At one point, James Caan, one of the film’s co-stars, left mid-shoot over "creative differences." The film was eventually completed and got a VOD release in 2015 under the title Accidental Love, with Russell adopting the pseudonym "Stephen Greene" in the credits. (It earned a 7 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

But Russell’s fortunes turned around in late 2008, when he was chosen by producer and star Mark Wahlberg to replace Darren Aronofsky as the director of The Fighter. The 2010 biopic earned seven Oscar nominations (it won two, for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo) and grossed
 $93 million. The streak continued with 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook (eight Oscar noms and a win for Jennifer Lawrence; $132 million) and 2013’s American Hustle (10 noms, no wins; $150 million). Next up, Russell directs his A-list muse, Lawrence, in Joy. It opens Christmas Day.

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