'Silver Linings Playbook': Jennifer Lawrence Wins Her Role via Skype, Learns to Dance Like an Amateur

Silver Linings Playbook - film still - Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper
Courtesy of Weinstein Co.

"We had every major star wanting to play that role, and Jennifer surprised us all at the eleventh hour," director David O. Russell tells THR.

At the Silver Linings Playbook screening in Los Angeles on Monday night, director David O. Russell appeared onstage to thank the audience for coming to see the film, which took him five years to make.

He introduced the cast, which includes Bradley Cooper as Pat, a man who moves back in with his parents after eight months in a mental institution, and Jennifer Lawrence as Pat’s mysterious neighbor, Tiffany.

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After his speech, Russell handed the mic around to his cast, and it landed in the hands of Lawrence, who at first resisted. She might be the star of the mega-book-to-film franchise The Hunger Games, but she retains her endearing awkwardness when standing in front of a crowd.

“Thank you for coming, and I hope you enjoy it. Don’t judge anyone’s dancing,” she told the crowd before walking off the stage.

Dancing is a big part of The Weinstein Co.’s dark romantic comedy, which sees Lawrence’s Tiffany, an eccentric woman whose husband of three years recently died, meeting Pat after his release from the mental hospital. She enlists him to partner with her in a dance competition.

Russell, who helmed 2010’s The Fighter, chose to cast the Winter’s Bone actress after a very unconventional interview.

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“We had every major star wanting to play that role, and Jennifer surprised us all at the eleventh hour,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Lawrence, 22, did her audition with Russell over Skype from her father’s house in Louisville, Ky. A self-proclaimed terrible auditioner, she says she rehearsed for the tryout with her brother playing opposite her.

“She surprised us,” said the director, who added that it was his first time auditioning an actor over Skype. “She’s wise beyond her years. She plays kind of ageless. She can be 30 or 40 or 20.”

For Lawrence, it was the fact that she didn’t understand this complicated woman that drove her to want to play her.

“I was very confused by her,” Lawrence told THR. “She was just kind of this mysterious enigma to me because she didn’t really fit any basic kind of character profile. Somebody who is very forceful and bullheaded is normally very insecure, but she isn’t.”

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She added, “I was driven to her to kind of discover that personality a little bit more.”

While Lawrence and Cooper didn’t know each other before the film, Russell said they became fast friends.

“They got together very quickly; they had to rehearse every day -- dancing, every single day,” said Russell. “That will make you get close to someone very quickly.

“And fortunately they’re both very positive, willing people,” he added. “So they didn’t resist the dancing, they went with it.”

While Lawrence and Cooper had to rehearse the dancing, they still were playing beginners who entered a competition -- not professionals, so Russell noted it was a fine balance.

“You want them to feel like amateurs who are putting their hearts into it, and that’s very specific. You don’t want them to feel slick,” he said.

He added, “You want them to feel real emotionally, that’s the main thing. Like in Pulp Fiction, when they dance, it’s about the emotion.”

Silver Linings Playbook opens Nov. 21.

Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford