Director David O. Russell and his two main Silver Linings men spoke a bit recently about the film, which opened this week and is getting major Oscar buzz. Here are some highlights:
On the genesis of Silver Linings Playbook
Russell: I would say were it not for my son, who has had some of these struggles with bipolarity and other matters, [Matthew Quick’s book] might not have grabbed me, but it did grab me, and I was very pleased to write [the screenplay]. It’s my first adaptation ever. The characters were fantastic, very complicated characters. Each one of them—two very powerful women, two very powerful men grappling with things in a very particular neighborhood way.
On Bradley Cooper’s own transformation
Russell: When I saw him in Wedding Crashers he seemed like a very angry person to me, and when I got to know him he was only more interesting. The guy was thirty pounds heavier and was angrier at that time. It was so interesting when I got to know him, for him to tell me that about himself because that mirrored the journey of the character. As the character is reintroducing himself into the community, so is Bradley when we meet him in the picture. As an actor, I don’t think people have seen that face from him in cinema.
Bradley Cooper on working with De Niro for a second time (the first being 2011’s Limitless)
Cooper: A huge soothing aspect for me was that I was going to play Bob’s son. We had done a movie together prior, and truth be told, he really did champion me to get the role. I confided in him early on because I didn’t know if I could do it, and he said, “You’re from Philly. You’re going to be fine.” I knew I could say the word “dad,” look at him, and that it would come from a real place.
De Niro and Russell on having a personal connection to the material
Russell: I had the privilege to get to know Mr. De Niro over a period of years, and we were both able to have a personal dialogue about members of our family that had various challenges they faced. It’s always nice when you can have that emotional gateway into material. It makes it very specific and very personal to you, and you understand it.
De Niro: I drew from things that I would understand. You use part of yourself that’s applicable to the situation, and circumstances.
On playing a person and not an illness
Cooper: There’s not a general [template] of bipolarity that one could play. It’s very specific to this guy. It’s finding all of these moments and then being able to insert that into the scenes and modulate it so it’s not overbearing. Pat is the foil from which you meet all the other characters. For better or for worse, he’s going to be your partner in this movie for the audience, so we were very conscious of that.
On working in an authentic environment
Cooper: What David really cares about is telling an authentic story about a specific group of people, in a specific house, on a specific block. Any actor involved in that experience is going to have a very rewarding result. That house almost felt like we were doing theater in it. The scene where Jennifer comes in and does the whole parlay scene—the whole cast was there, and it just had this immediate vibration, which was intoxicating for an actor. That chemistry felt really potent as we were acting; it felt very authentic. And you had the locals from the street watching it. They would say hello. It very much felt like a very ritualistic experience. That was heavily embedded in that block.
On creating a family dynamic
Russell: My role as a filmmaker is to grab people by the throat with a sustained intensity of emotion that doesn’t really stop, and we were surprised by every actor up here. Everyone had moments. When Jackie steps forward and kisses Bradley, there’s an unexpected moment of tenderness there. And to see the reaction on Bradley’s face—he looks like he’s 10 years old, suddenly and to have Bob watching it. Similarly, to see Mr. De Niro crying, which surprised us all. You never know what he’s going to do.
De Niro: There were a lot of things that were built in that David pulled together—my relationship with Bradley, the way he cast Jackie. He made it work. It’s a pleasure when that happens.
On how the film is not a romantic comedy:
Russell: I wouldn’t define it as a romantic comedy. Is The Fighter a fighter film? Not really. To me it’s a film about these specific people. If you have an invested emotional drama that’s very specific to a group of people, then the romance happens to occur … then the whole world will feel original and emotional. The romance will surprise you as it surprises the characters. I think it snuck up on all of us.