EXCLUSIVE: If ever there was a director who is on a roll there can be no doubt it is David O. Russell whose hot streak started in 2010 with The Fighter, continued last year with Silver Linings Playbook and now has gained more steam with the current American Hustle which won the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Picture and has been nominated for two SAG awards including Best Cast, 7 Golden Globes and 13 Critics Choice Movie Awards. Russell is up for Best Director at the latter two and shared the Best Screenplay prize of the NYFCC with Eric Singer who wrote the original screenplay for Hustle as more of a procedural about the Abscam scandals of the late 70’s before Russell fictionalized much of it and took it in a more character-driven direction. Although he had success in the mid to late 90’s with Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings among others, his current streak is impressive, a comeback that has put him in the best place in his career, overcoming controversies that plagued some of his earlier work.
Both Fighter and Silver Linings won him Best Director Oscar nominations, were both up for Best Picture and brought Oscars to Christian Bale and Melissa Leo for the former and Jennifer Lawrence for the latter. In fact throw in Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings and Amy Adams for Fighter and Russell brought seven actors Academy Award nominations for those two films. And this year that total will only swell with Bale, Adams, Lawrence and Cooper once again in the mix (all are up for Globe and CCMA awards in addition to the SAG ensemble prize). It’s no wonder actors want to keep coming back for more of what David O.Russell has to offer. The films all offer a rich mixture of comedy and drama, There’s no clear definition of what makes them tick but all carry some level of truth to one degree or the other. In this featurette his stars explain why they like working on a Russell set.
Last season as he was on the awards circuit for Silver Linings he told me he was also simultaneously re-writing Hustle and prepping the shoot, somehow pulling it all off. Russell’s streak reminds me of Billy Wilder in his late 50’s-early 60’s later prime. In the span of four years that prolific writer/director turned out Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), One Two Three (1961), and Irma La Douce (1963), offering choice roles repeatedly to the likes of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine to name two. Actors loved Wilder and returned to work with him often. And they seem to love Russell. It’s important to remember the actors branch is the largest in the Academy by far and that could increase his chances of going all the way in this highly competitive year. It’s likely Russell will again be among the nominated directors when Oscar nods are announced on January 16th and American Hustle is a cinch to be up for Best Picture, making it three-for three in his remarkable four year run.
Russell’s way of working is unique and he shoots from 360 degree angles, something’ always happening in every corner of the frame. And he makes no apologies for switching the emphasis of the screenplay. At the beginning of the film a card says “Some of this may have happened”. The movie focuses on the relationship between a couple of cons played by Bale and Adams and the wildly out-of-control FBI agent played by Cooper who enlists them in an elaborate government sting. After the film’s first screening on the Sony lot Russell explained what he was after in mixing elements of truth and fiction in order to tell this tale. “With the real guys in real life people ask ‘how much is true, how much isn’t true?’ If I told you what was true you wouldn’t believe me. But of the things that weren’t true I wanted to make the love triangle and the emotion the center of the piece. I am interested in what goes on in the bedroom and the kitchen and what goes on with each other,” he said.