David O. Russell gets dysfunctional 0
Director David O. Russell and actor Bradley Cooper speak onstage at "Silver Linings Playbook" Press Conference during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 9, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images/AFP)
Q: How do you play a crazy person in a movie?
A: Just do what David O. Russell tells you
That's what we learned Sunday at a press conference for The Silver Linings Playbook, a gala presentation at TIFF this year that brought director David O. Russell and an all-star cast to Toronto.
The film, a nice mix of drama and humour about one man's return to the land of the living, centres on a dysfunctional family: Bradley Cooper is the son, just finishing up eight months on a psych ward; Robert De Niro is dad, a bookie with an explosive temper, what looks like obsessive compulsive disorder and a tendency to interpret signs, portents and good luck charms in the games he bets on; and Jennifer Lawrence is a young widow with psychological issues of her own.
De Niro did not attend the press conference, but Cooper and Lawrence were there, along with fellow cast members Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher and Jackie Weaver.
All involved made reference to the wonder of working with David O. Russell, and to the point where it seemed as if the director had perhaps hypnotized his cast.
Asked a simple question about the research involved to play persons with varying degrees of mental health issues, Bradley Cooper answered as follows:
"I followed this guy's lead," he said, indicating Russell, who sat beside him. "It starts with the script, and then I follow where the director wants to take me. Once we started, he threw a lot of information at me, and stuff to read and look at, and then it was just discussions and getting together and finding the rhythms, and then it's just modulating the character.
"The beautiful thing about doing a David O. Russell movie is that you're going to explore so many different avenues on set, and each exploration takes you to a different place when you're doing the next one, and where the end result is far away, because with each exploration you get deeper and deeper.
"The first three days, there were a lot of things going on with my character Pat, but we're telling a story and making a movie, and those modulations are key, because he's the character who is going to take you through the story, and you're going to meet these other characters, and it was finding the right balance, and that was all through exploration. It was a very organic, real time research for the character. It was actually lived in.
"We were learning as we were doing it, which as an actor I think is heaven, because you're not just doing it with your brain but with your body, your voice and your breath, and that's what I meant about him being a teacher, and the thing about David is, he's right there with you, which is so key to making a film ... he's right there in the trenches literally, sweating with you, it's exciting and ... you feel very safe. But all of us, I would say, were out of our comfort zone every day, which is where you want to be as an actor ... because you had this man there with you, saying, 'Trust me.' "
Jennifer Lawrence was somewhat more forthcoming, noting she didn't do any research, "because it was more about developing the character, not about her mental illness."
Later, Russell went back to this issue, noting the book upon which the movie is based concerns characters with far more serious psychological problems than the characters in the movie. The characters in the movie are more based on people he actually knows, who've had problems with stress and similar temporary problems.
"Just as The Fighter to me is not about fighting," he says, "this movie is not about mental illness ... It's about, 'Look at these people!' "