Bringing Joy to audiences

Ken Mok proposed the idea for the movie Joy, starring (above) Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Ken Mok proposed the idea for the movie Joy, starring (above) Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX
Ken Mok (above) proposed the idea for the movie Joy, starring Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Ken Mok (above) proposed the idea for the movie Joy, starring Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX

Producer Ken Mok, behind the movie Joy, was inspired by the life of Ms Joy Mangano, who went from rags to riches after inventing a self-wringing mop

When you are a producer in Hollywood, this phrase is music to your ears: "David O. Russell is interested in your project."

That was what American producer Ken Mok heard from studio executives about his idea for a movie about Ms Joy Mangano, a divorced mother who went from rags to riches after her self-wringing mop invention became a hit on a home shopping channel.

"The movie was already set up at Twentieth Century Fox and then David came on board," says Mr Mok, 55. Russell - a five-time Oscar nominee who directed The Fighter (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013) - would go on to write the final screenplay for and direct Mok's comedy-drama Joy, now showing in cinemas.

"When you get someone like David, it's a blessing," he says.

Adding a prestige director like Russell to the team brings not just experience and artistic expertise, he says. With a director of his reputation attached, projects are less likely to get stuck in a "development hell" of rewrites and changes demanded by skittish executives.

There is an even bigger perk.

"He has a stable of actors who just love working with him," Mr Mok says. The ensemble of stars in Joy include Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

Lawrence won a Best Actress Oscar for her part in Playbook, with De Niro securing a nomination.

On Monday, Lawrence won the Golden Globe for Best Actress (musical or comedy) for her part in Joy. The film also had a Golden Globe Best Picture nomination (musical or comedy), but lost to The Martian (2015).

Mr Mok spoke to The Straits Times on the telephone from the Los Angeles office of his production company, 10x10, which produces America's Next Top Model and other reality shows for television.

He first met Ms Mangano when she was a celebrity judge on one of his reality shows, the inventor's competition Made In The USA.

"We became very good friends right away. I asked her, 'How does a person like you, who seems like an ordinary housewife from New York become this fantastically successful inventor?'"

He was impressed enough by her story of determination in the face of setbacks that he proposed that it be made into a movie. Oscar- nominated screenwriter Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids, 2011) wrote a screenplay. This was snapped up by Russell, who also rewrote it to suit his taste for combative characters and fiery dialogue.

Mumolo's comedic chops made her a good fit for the story, which has a focus on Ms Mangano's boisterous family, says Mr Mok. Russell, when he wrote his version, spent hours on the telephone with the businesswoman-inventor, picking over details.

There were expressions of dis- quiet from some quarters about the project. Russell was told that he would tarnish his reputation with a project about a woman whose claim to fame was a household cleaning implement.

"A lot of people questioned David, 'Why are you making a movie about a woman and her mop?' They were being elitist and they thought it was beneath him. But he saw the beauty of the struggle she went through."

  • Joy is showing in cinemas now
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2016, with the headline 'Bringing Joy to audiences'. Print Edition | Subscribe