A Joy to be working together again

Actors Robert De Niro (left) and Jennifer Lawrence (right) reunite on screen in David O. Russell’s new film, Joy.
Actors Robert De Niro (left) and Jennifer Lawrence (right) reunite on screen in David O. Russell’s new film, Joy.PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

NEW YORK • Anticipation is understandably high for David O. Russell’s new film, Joy, about the late-blooming brainiac inventor of the dazzlingly successful Miracle Mop, and later those skinny velvet hangers. Once again, Russell rounded up his team of A-list players. Jennifer Lawrence plays the titular Joy Mangano; Robert De Niro portrays her father; and Bradley Cooper is an executive at QVC, the TV-shopping network where Joy peddled her wares.

The film, which opens in Singapore tomorrow, traces Joy’s decades-long journey, from a precocious girl in the 1960s to a disgruntled housewife in the 1970s to a steely entrepreneur in the 1990s, surmounting financial woes, con artists and her meddlesome Greek chorus of a family.

It is the group’s third time working together after two critical and box-office smashes: Silver Linings Playbook (2012) earned eight Academy Award nominations, with Lawrence landing the Oscar for Best Actress, and American Hustle (2013) received 10 nods. Joy recently picked up two Golden Globe nominations, one for Lawrence and another for Best Comedy.

The foursome recently talked about the rewards of working together again.

You guys are together again, almost like a repertory theatre. Does that feel like a family thing?

Russell: Every time is different, but I do feel very close to everyone at this table, and I aspire to write for everyone (here) and to deliver roles that are worthy of them. This is the first story ever for me about a woman at the centre. Naturally Jennifer is the person I thought of to play this age range, from 18 to 43. Naturally I thought of Robert to be her father,Robert being very familiar with these kind of salt-of-the-earth characters. Bradley because he’s become a film-maker in some ways; he produced Sniper, so it was kind of perfect for him to play. Does that seem right?

Lawrence: No, I think you should take back the whole thing.

For you, was it always obvious that you would do this?

De Niro: I just felt that it was something to do, to be part of the whole group. It reminded me of Cassavetes or other directors who have their troupe, if you will. Ingmar Bergman. And it was a lot of fun. With David, it’s like Bradley says – a full contact sport. It’s like he’s writing as he’s filming. It’s really energetic and kind of frenetic and spontaneous. There’s also improv, with the script coming alive in different ways as you are on set.

As you get to know one another more working together, does that change the performances?

Russell: It feels like we have grown up like a band, and these guys play wildly different people. If you watch any group over time, it evolves. What has evolved is suddenly all of us were around Jennifer (as a central character), which we had not done.

Lawrence: Bob was always so good to me when we first met. I was young, and he was always so nice and took both of us under his wing, and it was like a Hollywood paternal type of relationship. I had all sorts of questions and he was obviously the best one to answer. So it was like a nice evolution that he would then play my father. And Coop (Cooper) and I have... there’s like a reaction. I had to do one scene where I was on the phone with his character. If it was any other actor in the whole world, I would have just had the script supervisor read (the dialogue). But I knew I would act differently if it was with Bradley. So I forced him to wake up and read the scene with me on the phone.

Cooper: Bob and I worked together on a movie prior to Silver Linings (Limitless, in 2011), but then, when we had that experience of Silver Linings, that changed everything. You just start to be integrated into each other’s lives. We spent a lot of time together outside, so of course that informs everything. The truth is, I don’t make a movie without calling him.

Lawrence: Really?

Cooper: Yeah. Why wouldn’t I, to get his advice? And she and I haven’t seen each other in a while, and showing up on set, no matter what, it’s just easy to work together. Even though we don’t talk, really, it’s like, “bam”. You can’t even help yourself; (David) created this family. (Turns to him.) Your rhythms are different as a director, and that’s fun to experience.

Can you describe how they were different now compared with your first film together?

Russell: I’ve watched each person grow and change in the five years since we made Silver Linings.When we met (Jennifer), she was 20 years old and she came on the set saying, “What’s it like?” – to Bradley and Robert – “to have people walk up to you and recognise you in public?” And then that’s changed. So we’ve watched her grow up and become a woman.

When did the idea of Joy first get introduced?

Lawrence: He called me and just started (talking about) the idea of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop. What he had in his heart was the idea of portraying this woman, but also all of the unsung heroes, these women who forfeit their dreams to support their families and watch everyone else get ahead. Also character-wise, to play somebody who has such a vivid, giant imagination, such an amazing gift, and buries it for 17 years, doesn’t discover herself until she’s an adult and that it’s never too late to find success.

Russell: We all gravitated to (De Niro’s) hotel, which became a little bit of a home for us. And his office is right next door and he was kind enough to let that be our home for auditioning.

Are you guys cooking up the next ideas down the road?

Russell: I have things that I talked to all of them about, either collectively or separately.

Are you guys still in?

Lawrence: Yep. Until he dies. That’s what I’ve always said.


• Joy opens in Singapore tomorrow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline 'A Joy to be working together again'. Print Edition | Subscribe