The director of romance "Silver Linings Playbook" and boxing
drama "The Fighter" has helped the likes of Jennifer Lawrence
and Christian Bale score some of Hollywood's biggest prizes, and
this year has coaxed performances worthy of four Oscar nods from
the stars of his crime caper "American Hustle."
If an "American Hustle" actor — which could be Lawrence, Bale,
Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper — takes home a statuette on March
2, it would be the third consecutive Russell film to have an
actor win Hollywood's top honors.
"I feel great pride," the 55-year-old director said of his
actors' Oscar nominations.
"I feel that I delivered to them because I aspire to deliver a
role to them that is special, and I'm going to ask them to do
things they've never done before and take risks they've never
taken," he added.
Russell, who is easily identified by his uniform of dark
three-piece suits and black-rimmed glasses, has himself been
nominated for five Oscars and this year is up for best director
and best original screenplay. "American Hustle," like his
previous two films, also earned a best picture nomination.
But the transformation of Russell over his past three films into
a surefire Hollywood director came together like the
self-reinvention tales of his cast of characters, which have
ranged from downtrodden boxers to con artists and the mentally
"Sometimes fate deals you a hand where you've been undone for
the better," the director said. "I think I did that a little
Russell's career appeared to stall after his 2004 comedy "I
Heart Huckabees" did poorly at the box office, and his public
reputation took a hit with stories of butting heads — sometimes
literally — and furious on-set arguments with his stars.
"Certainly there have been people who have made flops and come
back from them before," said Andrew O'Hehir, a film critic and
senior writer for Salon.com.
"But David's reputation was of somebody who not merely was this
auteurist, independent filmmaker who wanted to do everything his
own way, but was also a jerk and was difficult to work with," he
There is also no contemporary filmmaker with a trajectory quite
like Russell, who went six years between "Huckabees" and the
release of his career-reviving "The Fighter," O'Hehir said.
Now, Russell has made himself into a director who gets the most
out of his players and who has helped turn Lawrence and Cooper
from Hollywood headliners into serious dramatic actors, and his
[to top of second column]
"The man who made my career what it is," Lawrence, 23, said
accepting the Golden Globe award last month for her supporting role
as the loopy housewife in "American Hustle," a year after she won
her best actress Oscar for "Silver Linings."
The film also won best ensemble cast at the Screen Actors Guild
awards, the top honor of their peers.
"He is an actor's director ... he is the embodiment
of it," Cooper said of Russell while accepting the prize. "He's the
reason why all of us wanted to become actors when we were children."
"ON THE FRONT LINE"
Stuck in so-called director's jail and struggling to get work,
Russell points to the upheaval in his personal life — his divorce in
2007, and the effort and energy it took raising a son suffering from
bipolar disorder — as one of the pivotal moments in turning around
"By the time I'd come back, I think I saw more clearly the kind of
people that had been right under my nose my whole life that I had
enormous fascination with and affection for, making cinema about
these people," Russell said.
"I didn't see that 10 or 12 years ago ... 20 years ago when I first
started. It was really after going through some trials with my own
life, my son and having some projects that didn't come out well."
Russell said he now tries to foster a warm and loose
environment on set, often playing music, as the brisk schedule of
film production can be a pressure cooker for all involved.
Screenwriter Eric Warren Singer, who co-wrote "American Hustle,"
said the director's on-set style could be described as a companion
to his actors.
"No other director in the world works like David," Singer said.
"He's an alchemist. ... Most directors will lay back. David is right
up on the front line with his actors and in the scene with them in a
way. There are no rules with him."
Russell likes to call the challenge of eliciting top-notch
performances from actors a task of "braiding" a character's story
with its on-screen portrayal.
"If you do a braid or a weave, you have to be balanced," he said.
"You have to find just the right measure of each character to care
and blend them."
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan
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