'American Hustle's' David O. Russell: 'All My Work Was Leading Up to This Period'
The director talks to The Hollywood Reporter about collaborating with his casts, Jennifer Lawrence's stratospheric rise and the film's seven Golden Globe nominations at the Dubai International Film Festival.
DUBAI -- With the numbers from American Hustle's limited six-screen release Friday in the U.S. indicating that David O. Russell has another box office hit on his hands when it goes wide next weekend, the director tells The Hollywood Reporter that he has now reached the point in his career where he knows exactly what he wants from his films.
"I feel all my life and all my work was leading up to this period," he said at the Dubai International Film Festival, which closed Saturday night with the first festival screening of the 1970s crime caper.
"It really started when I wrote Silver Linings [Playbook] before The Fighter but couldn't get it financed. That's when things became very clear to me that these pictures were about these characters. I love them, I love their music, I love their heartbreak. I want people to be exhilarated by them by living with them for two hours. Also the women characters were the key -- were going to be big, very formidable forces."
Audiences too, he said, have now come to understand the strong character-based foundations he lays in his films.
"People can see: Ah, this is what he's doing now -- this is his thing. The story for me is ancillary to the characters; it's a great engine whether it's boxing or the mental illness in [Robert] De Niro's house. It's a doozy of a predicament. But it's an excuse to be with these characters and be enchanted by them."
In American Hustle, Russell reunites his Silver Linings stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper and adds The Fighter's Christian Bale and Amy Adams for a laugh-out-loud and noisy fictional retelling of the FBI ABSCAM operation that comes heavy in oversized lapels and plunging necklines.
"They're collaborators," he said of his assembled cast, two of whom he's helped lead to Oscar glory (Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and Bale for The Fighter).
"They'll trust me and take a chance with me, and I will them. So I can show up and, hey Bradley, I want you to beat up Louis CK with a telephone. And Jennifer, I want you to sing 'Live or Let Die' while wearing cleaning gloves."
In Lawrence, Russell has reconnected with an actress who has arguably become the biggest Hollywood star on the planet since they last worked together on Silver Linings Playbook.
"When we first met her, nobody knew who she was. We couldn't get attention on that movie. Harvey [Weinstein] was like, 'I guess we've got to go slow.' So we limited it. It's the opposite on this picture. The awareness is so intense. But she's fantastic. I can't stop laughing with her and around her."
The awareness of American Hustle has already seen it rack up seven Golden Globe nominations, and there's hype that it will follow The Fighter's and Silver Linings' lead at the Oscars.
When the rest of the world heard about the film's Globes nods -- tied for the most nominations with 12 Years a Slave -- Russell was out of the loop on a plane.
"We were in the air over London and couldn't find out. I said, 'Listen, we didn't get anything.' That's how you've got to live. Yes, it's a little disappointing, but the movie is going to have a life. Fortunately, people did feel the passion, but you never know what's going to happen with any of this. It's just fun to be a part of it. It's fun to aspire to make a film that in any way can be part of it."