Director of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, David O. Russell got his cast and crew to endure one of the coldest winter in Boston in the making of new film, Joy. The thick snow disturbed filming schedules yet it only seems apt as Russell’s latest drama focuses on real-life triumph over adversity. Jennifer Lawrence plays Italian-American Joy Mangano a self-made woman who invented the Miracle Mop, changing her fortunes and that of her family. As awards season comes around, the film already has a buzz around it and the director here talks about taking risks and the joy of his work.
How interesting was it working with both Jennifer and Bradley again?
It's the first movie I've made with Jennifer and Bradley in which neither one of them is crazy! The only time Jennifer is crazy is when Joy is starting to have a breakdown, because she is taking care of everybody in the family and just refuses to do it anymore and that's when she picks herself up and then becomes this other person.
How rewarding is it working with some of the same, great actors again and again?
There is a trust and a willingness to take risks together and to be daring together. It makes me aspire to make it worth their heart and their time to do roles that are going to be good and different from anything they’ve done before. For example, I want to be able to say that I've never seen Robert De Niro do all these things with his daughter he does in this film. I've never seen Bradley act the way he does in this movie. With Jennifer, what I love is that in the beginning of the movie she's on the other side of Robert's desk appealing to him and Isabella Rossellini, and she's on the other side of Bradley Cooper's desk appealing to him. By the end, they're on the other side of her desk appealing to her!”
What was it about this story that intrigued you and excited you?
This is a very unlikely success story about a woman making it happen in business on her own. It is a very different emotional story from any previous movies with a woman at the center. For me, it changes everything to have men in the film who are real, but who are generous and humble enough to be there as part of Joy’s story, whether she steps over them or steps with them! As Joy says at the beginning when she is a little girl, she does not need a prince.
The film is innovative in many ways, what challenges did you face?
There were many daring things about the film. It was daring to make a movie about an ordinary person who made this seemingly ordinary invention: the Miracle Mop. How do you make that story extraordinary? To me, every movie is about the world you create. We went into a dream life in a way we’ve never done before. I'd never done a film with dreams that were not literal, but emotional, about feeling trapped and being told to change your life before it's too late. You know, being able to cover so much of someone's life, to see Joy fall in love and get married, have a marriage that isn't working and then break up … that's cinema to me!”
What is your working relationship like with Jennifer Lawrence?
I feel that I've watched her grow up in many ways. She was 20 years old when we met and worked together [on Silver Linings Playbook]. She didn't know what it was like to be famous. She asked Bradley and Robert what it was like to have people recognize them on the street, because Hunger Games had not come out yet. So I watched how that girl who liked to be true to her spirit, who was completely unpredictable and free and alive, channeled all that into acting in a true way, without over-thinking anything. Then I watched her learn to manage all that, which is quite a large thing for anybody, especially for a young person. But she has done it and it's just been very beautiful watching her.
What do you think singles Jennifer out?
I think part of it is that she is like an athlete. Jennifer has a gift, but has had to work very hard for it. If you have a gift, you must have the ability to do the work or the gift will never show up. Jennifer is always a very hard worker and she loves to work, so those combinations make her very special. She's extremely intuitive and emotional, and she chemically bleeds right into the film. There's just something about her that is very special, present, alive, fierce and gentle.
Robert De Niro is hilarious in this film. There is a great scene in which he's telling his daughter she should not marry Tony – on her actual wedding day!
Yes, which happened to Joy [Mangano]. She said as they walked down the aisle, her father said that. The thing is, you say ‘well that sounds terrible’ but her father was right. Robert is extremely special and to get him to put his heart into this character was great. He plays someone who loves his daughter and would do anything for her, yet cannot get out of his own way, which is exactly what Joy’s own father has been like in her life. I am extremely grateful for any opportunity I have to work with Robert DeNiro, he is an unparalleled actor with a huge soul, and he inspires me to write for him.
You often work with Bradley Cooper, how interesting has it been watching his career flourish?
It’s my privilege to call Bradley my friend and collaborator really, a partner in cinema. He’s not just a very intense actor, he has also outgrown any of the younger qualities he had in Silver Linings Playbook. He's a man now.
Joy is a very inspiring film about a woman who is working, taking care of everyone and has dreams of her own. What does that central focus of the movie mean to you?
Listen, I can understand how many women very naturally take on the roles of taking care of everybody and taking care of the home and then say, ‘well what happened to the things I wanted to do?’ It happened to my mother and to other people I know. It takes an enormous amount of perseverance to be willing to try to do those things you want to do, because it is never going to be easy. Joy was in room after room of men who were challenging her, yet she believed in herself regardless. And then of course they [at QVC the home shopping network] had a man trying to sell her mop on television, which did not make any sense, but that is what happened. I just love seeing Joy become a person in a position of authority after being on the other side of everything for so much of the movie.
I believe you met and discussed Joy Mangano’s life and business at length with her?
Yes, I asked Joy a lot of questions. I said ‘well, how did you first think of the idea of the mop?’ She said: ‘I was really stuck. I was working at Eastern Air Lines.’ As a single mother of two she was broke, she got divorced from the singer who had given her magic and love. It didn't work out because he couldn't hold a job down. Tony was the dreamer and Joy was the person who was taking care of people. Her father, Rudy, went through various girlfriends. He really did meet his girlfriend through a ‘900’ number on a dating service.
Are you interested and knowledgeable on the subject of mops?
I am! I actually cleaned houses as a kid. I did it for a living in my teenage years. And in my twenties, we had a youth employment service in our town and I would vacuum a couple of houses on the weekend. That was my big thing, to vacuum entire houses. It's a hell of a workout if it's wall to wall!
What brings you joy in your work?
Filming gives me great joy; it’s my life. It gives me great joy to do an endeavor with people that is daunting, filled with risk, fear and ultimately joy. I can say this, my work means everything to me.
Joy is out in cinemas across Dubai on December 31. View the trailer below: