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Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell’s collaboration has spawned three movies and a best actress Oscar win for Lawrence for her role in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. But speaking at a conversation moderated by Tina Brown, the actress, who reteamed with Russell for his latest film Joy, characterized the relationship as more of a victim-captor dynamic.
“I’m just a victim to his writing,” she said, instantly realizing that the word might not work in a sound byte and then laughing.
“How about muse?” the director joked.
During the “Women in the World” talk on Monday at New York’s Paley Center, the two explained their successful chemistry, Lawrence revealed her showbiz obstacles (mainly her family saying “no” to teenage requests) and Russell shared his take on his star (the “Michael Jordan of actresses”).
Though Lawrence’s ascent might appear effortless, with a best actress Oscar nomination at the age of 20 for the indie Winter’s Bone, she insisted that it was fraught with challenges.
“I started trying to work at 14, and I dealt with a lot of ‘no’s,’ personal ‘no’s’ from my family when I was like, ‘I’m 14, and I’m moving from Kentucky to New York,’” recalled Lawrence. “But I knew. I felt so strongly. It felt so insane to me as a teenager to hear ‘no.’ But I knew it was right. I would have said ‘no’ to a teenager.”
But Russell, who also directed the Hunger Games star in American Hustle, believes Lawrence’s success was preordained.
“She’s like Michael Jordan,” he said. “When someone has this gift, they can’t really talk about it. It’s mysterious. She’s unpretentious. At one moment, she can look like an anonymous person and at another moment, the most beautiful woman in the world. That, to me, is special, human, beautiful.”
The crowd, which included such industry power players as Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler, A&E Television Networks chairman Abbe Raven and Conde Nast Entertainment president Dawn Ostroff, watched clips from Joy during the seated lunch.
Russell noted that he and Lawrence are part of a long line of fruitful director-star alliances, including George Cukor and Katharine Hepburn and Martin Scorsese and Leonard DiCaprio.
“If you really have a soul connection with someone, you tend to reproduce it,” he said. “Sometimes you have a kinship with someone, and I respect it enough not to talk about it too much. We share a sense of humor. We share a sense of what we cry about. We share a sense about what we love. We like really each other and like to laugh together and have fun.”
Added Lawrence: “I was such a huge fan of him and that was before we ever even met. It’s built on 100 percent trust on his ability.”
When Russell cast Lawrence to play his Silver Linings Playbook heroine, she was hardly a sure bet, given that The Hunger Games had yet to become a mega-successful film franchise.
“On Silver Linings Playbook, this 20-year-old came running onto the set,” the filmmaker told the audience. “We all watched her raw talent, and she came in and stole much of the movie. In American Hustle, she was technically unavailable. I called her up from the bedroom where we were scouting, and I started to tell her about it. She said, ‘I have to spend my vacation doing this.’ She was that extra un-anxious presence in the room, which is a different kind of power. And that’s what Michael Corleone is, too. I had seen that with a man, but I had not seen that with a woman.”
With Joy, Gabler brought the project to Russell, who was fascinated by the true story of struggling mother-turned-millionaire entrepreneur Joy Mangano. But there were two possible deal-breakers that could have stopped him and Lawrence from working on the movie.
“From the very beginning, it was Jennifer and myself or not … and we had to have her blessing,” he said gesturing to Mangano, seated at the same table as Gabler. “She was very kind. I think she knew we understood and respected her essence.”
As for Lawrence’s personal trajectory, Russell said he has been moved by the experience of playing witness.
“I’ve watched Jennifer grow up from 20 years old,” he said. “Five years later, I watched her purchase her on own home. I watched her become a woman. I watched her unpack things from her childhood for that home. And it was very powerful. She can still play the child effortlessly. Bradley Cooper and I would always say, ‘Is she 10 years old or 50 years old?’ She’s both, and that’s a special thing.”
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek