At the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, friends and frequent collaborators Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell sat down for an hourlong chat as part of the festival’s Director Series. The longtime pals, who’ve made American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook, and Joy together, talked about their singular creative relationship, including how they first met, what Russell finds so captivating about Lawrence as an actor, behind the scenes stories, the time he made her cry by spoiling the end of Anna Karenina — and the fact that he’s writing a new project for her right now (though he gave no information). Below are the best parts of the conversation.
Their first meeting:
Russell and Lawrence first met at an AFI luncheon when Lawrence was fresh off Winter’s Bone. “It’s very fun,” joked Lawrence of the luncheon. “Why is it fun?” asked Russell. “I’m kidding,” deadpanned Lawrence.
Russell described seeing Lawrence from afar, a glamorous woman in a white dress who “reminded me of Audrey Hepburn.” “She was talking to — is it okay that I say this?” asked Russell. “Yeah,” said Lawrence, laughing. “Darren Aronofsky, at the car park,” finished Russell. Lawrence shrugged at the audience: “Did a lot of networking at that lunch, I guess!”
What Russell finds so captivating about Lawrence:
Russell explained that when he first met with a 20-year-old Lawrence to discuss the role in Silver Linings, she had a “very pure quality,” and she told him soon thereafter that she “felt like a vessel” for his work. “What did you mean when you said that?” he asked her.
“I was so young and inexperienced. By the time I got to you, you shaped me. Watching our movies, everything I’ve learned, I’ve taken through my entire career. I was so amazed by you, and just open. You wrote it and I’d do it and you’d tell me how to do it better. I don’t know how to explain the vessel thing!” she said, laughing.
“You showed up as a raw talent with no neurosis and no self-consciousness,” added Russell. “She was completely fearless. She would come into the scene like a weather system and leave me and Bob [De Niro] and Bradley [Cooper] Jacki Weaver like, ‘Wow.’ She has a certain energy that hasn’t been in movies in a while. Young and old and loose and powerful and focused. You walk in 20 minutes into the movie and you take over the movie. I remember feeling, when we shot your intro, there was an awareness that we were introducing a new talent and a new energy that felt very special. It was like, ‘Who’s this person?’ You owned this space.”
David made Jennifer cry by spoiling the plot of Anna Karenina:
“Here’s how wise she is,” said Russell. “We’re outside one night shooting, and she’s walking around reading Anna Karenina. She didn’t go to college; she’s self-taught, like Jack Nicholson. [Jennifer], do you remember what happened?”
“Yes!” said Lawrence. “You said, ‘Have you gotten to the part where she jumps in front of a train yet?’ I was devastated. I didn’t go to school, I didn’t know any of that.”
“I said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, I was just joking around,’” said Russell. “It looked like you were right at the train part. I’m sorry.”
“I was like, three pages away from it,” said Lawrence.
“She had a completely emotional reaction,” said Russell. “This is how connected she is with art: She said, ‘It’s true, it’s true, isn’t it?’ She said, ‘Surely Vronsky is coming back. Surely he’s coming back.’ And she started to cry. She was so invested in the story. She was emotionally devastated. She wasn’t cynical or ironic or snarky. She was sincere. She’s a tremendously sincere and funny person. To me, it was very beautiful that you had that reaction.”
Jennifer winged her famous Silver Linings Playbook scene:
At one point, Russell cued up the impressive, dialogue-heavy scene where Lawrence lectures De Niro about how she’s bringing “good juju” to the Eagles. Afterward, Lawrence admitted she’d barely prepared for the moment.
“There’s something about wrapping [a day at work] where I think I’m never going back to work again,” she said. “I’m just like, ‘I’m gonna go home and watch TV!’ So I didn’t read my lines [the night before] and it was that scene. I remember I went in and did it and then I couldn’t do it anymore after that. We had just the one time.”
“I remember you doing a whole bunch of times,” said Russell.
“I guess my insecurities manifested real memories,” deadpanned Lawrence.
Jennifer almost wasn’t cast in Silver Linings — or American Hustle:
Russell told the audience that Lawrence was the last person cast in both Hustle and Silver Linings.
“Yeah. What’s up with that?” asked Lawrence.
“In the first case, we thought you were too young, and there were others close to getting the role,” admitted Russell.
“Wow, okay!” said Lawrence, laughing.
“You changed the game,” he said. “Like a pass that covers 90 yards.”
For Hustle, the tables were turned. “Jennifer was technically unavailable, busy doing all of her franchises, and it was her vacation,” said Russell. “I said, ‘I feel I would be remiss as your friend if I didn’t give you one last chance to say no to that role.’ Can I say what you said? You said, ‘Do I get to have big hair and long nails and be crazy? Okay, I’ll do it.’”
“I was reading the script with my stubby nails and thinking about that,” said Lawrence. “Young filmmakers, that’s all you have to do. Give me big hair and long nails.”
Jennifer’s American Hustle character nearly hanged herself, but Russell loved her too much to kill her off:
Russell told the audience that he’d originally killed off Lawrence’s Roslyn near the end of the film. “She was originally supposed to hang herself. But I thought, ‘She’s too alive! She’s too much fun.’ I rewrote the scene the day we did it. I said, ‘This is what we’re gonna do. Here’s how the scenes gonna go.’ We turned it into a transcript, and you guys did it.”
The scene ultimately turned into a fiery argument between Lawrence and her onscreen husband Christian Bale, ending in Roslyn suggesting that the two divorce. “That was the only way to get rid of Roslyn,” said Lawrence. “We didn’t need to kill her. It just had to be her idea.”
Jennifer and Bradley Cooper reenacted the Silver Linings dance on the set of Serena:
Russell reminded Lawrence that she first met longtime friend and co-star Bradley Cooper during pre-shooting dance rehearsals for the film’s climactic scene.
“It’s a hell of a way to get to know somebody,” said Lawrence. “It was really good for our chemistry. Not good for my dancing — I’m such a bad dancer! We did it for six weeks. Bradley probably did it for three, but I needed six.”
“The dance came out exactly like I hoped it would,” said Russell. “You’re not supposed to be professional dancers.”
Lawrence added that she “wished we hadn’t let ourselves forget” the dance steps. “It would be so cool to whip that out. One day we were bored on the set of Serena so we did it. Alone. Nobody saw.”