'Joy' Director David O. Russell: "Going Through Blood and Guts of Your Life Makes You More Human"
"There's no greater inspiration you can give somebody than to underestimate them."
"I love writing," director David O. Russell says of screenwriting during The Hollywood Reporter's Director Roundtable. He says his scripts are "novelistic, they have many worlds in them. I think many good movies have many movies within them."
His latest film, Joy, is the third time he has worked with actress Jennifer Lawrence (also with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro). Of his collaboration with Lawrence, Russell says, "We have to agree and be excited about it mutually. This was ambitious because Jennifer goes from 10 years old (she's played by another actress) to 45 years old. That's a life span thing for me, and you have many generations of women."
He raves about working with actresses Diane Ladd and Isabella Rossellini, whom he calls "two great actresses I've always wanted to work with, amazing people who have a history personally of working with De Niro." But working with Lawrence is something unique for Russell. "With Jennifer, we first talk about, 'Well, how is this different? Why would this be something we've never done before?' " he says.
"She never played a 45-year-old woman, she never played someone at 27 who married a Latin singer who had it fall apart. I never saw the best divorced couple in America. What is that?"
He touches upon the theme of a soap opera throughout the film, asking, "Is soap opera trash? No, Anna Karenina's a soap opera. She, when she loses the guy, she throws herself on the train tracks, but Joy, the real Joy or this Joy, she keeps going, and the guy becomes her best friend. I haven't seen that movie. And he works for her. To this day."
He talks about how overcoming personal struggles makes you a better human and a better artist, saying, "There's no greater inspiration you can give somebody than to underestimate them," noting the path of novelist J.D. Salinger. He "wanted to be a great writer, and he was a 25-year-old kid on Park Avenue who had a great voice, but it wasn't until he landed on D-Day and had trauma, just eviscerating trauma, and he met Hemingway in Paris who said to him, 'I think you got a good voice, kid.' "
"That meant everything to him," continues Russell. "Holden Caulfield is a fractured war veteran. I never understood that. With gray hair, he's not just an adolescent. But there's a fractured war veteran that's in all of us that endures what we go through in life, and the more you go through, the blood and guts of your life and get humbled, which I got humbled, it's a good thing. It makes you more human. It makes you love more stories. You're more open to humanity, whether it's a working-class person running a metal garage or someone who's going to do something beautiful and sing, it's just, you got to find the grit of it."
The full Director Roundtable will air on Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday, Jan. 3, at 11 a.m. ET on SundanceTV.
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