‘American Hustle’ director David O. Russell is into characters, not con artists

Credit: Getty
“American Hustle” director David O. Russell didn’t see it as a ’70s film.
Credit: Getty

“American Hustle” could be classified as a “Goodfellas”-type movie: a period setting, reckless behavior, cool shots, pop song montages. But director David O. Russell didn’t see it that way.

“I didn’t try to think I was doing the ‘70s, just as I didn’t’ think I was doing boxing [with ‘The Fighter’]. You just think you’re doing people,” he explains. “When I go after a picture, I’m moved by the characters first and foremost.”

The same goes for his other films, including “The Fighter.” “People say that’s a boxing movie. I never thought of it as a boxing movie. They ask if I watched other boxing movies. Other than having ‘Raging Bull’ ingrained in my head, no. I didn’t think of it as a boxing movie. I thought of it as a character movie.” Ditto “Silver Linings Playbook,” which some people called a romantic comedy. “My head would snap every time I heard that term.”

The film stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams, veterans of his past films, as con artists goaded by the feds into an operation to bust the Jersey mafia and connected politicians. (It’s based on a real operation, dubbed “ABSCAM,” from the 1970s.) But while he takes glee in the larger-than-life hairpin twists of the tale, narrative wasn’t what interested him “The idea of a cynical conman is not as interesting to me as people with real hearts,” he says. The characters’ plight was what really got him going. “Everyone I know has had to survive and adapt and decide who they were going to be.”

There aren’t many real bad guys in his films, too, even when, as in “American Hustle,” they’re all shady. “I give the characters what I love,” Russell says. He cites the song that kicks off the film: “Jeep’s Blues,” a blaring number from Duke Ellington’s “Live at Newport” that instantly draws Bale and Adams’ characters together. “That’s one of my favorite tracks. I thought those two would love that song. It says everything about them. They’ve chosen lives of elegance, like Duke Ellington.”

Russell loves using songs, like “Jeep’s Blues,” that are just slightly off the beaten path. He also loves ones that aren’t taken seriously. He cites a moment in “The Fighter” when Bale and Melissa Leo’s characters sing along to the Bee Gee’s classic of misplaced sincerity, “I Started a Joke.” “That was a song that was mocked when I was an adolescent. But when I grew up I realized that’s kind of an amazing and beautiful song. It’s profound. To have him and Melissa sing that became a beautiful, poetic moment between them.”

Directing also means working with actors. Russell has directed three Oscar-winning performances. Both Bale, who won for “The Fighter,” and Jennifer Lawrence, for “Silver Linings Playbook,” return, this time trapped in a dysfunctional marriage. They improvised one of their key scenes, after they realized the one that was scripted wasn’t working.

“What I love about these actors is their athletic passion. They’re willing to get into these characters, and they’re willing to move,” he says. The actors, as in his other films, are encouraged to go all out, to yell and step on eachother’s lines, creating a sense of just barely controlled chaos.

He crafts their characters along with them, too. “I feel like I’m auditioning for all of my actors, when I go to their homes and talk about the characters. It inspires me to create a character with the richest range of behavior.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Mysterious white flags appear over Brooklyn Bridge

Two white flags mysteriously appeared over the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday in place of the American flags that are a traditional fixture.

Local

Paint Nite: Get drunk and make a painting…

At Paint Nite, New Yorkers can drink and make a painting at a New York City bar.

National

Judge sets January start for murder trial of…

By Elizabeth BarberBOSTON (Reuters) - Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will be tried in January for the murder of semi-professional football player Odin…

National

Donut capers stymie police in Oregon

For more than a month, mysterious vandals have been smearing pastries on cars, depositing donuts in lawns and leaving cakes strewn about the streets.

Arts

Don't miss 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion' at the…

Have you been meaning to see "Charles James: Beyond Fashion"? There are only two weeks left to get to the Met and catch this amazing American fashion designer's collection.

Television

Zac Posen talks 'Project Runway' and what it…

We talked to Zac Posen, judge and designer extraordinaire, about the new season of "Project Runway" and what keeps him coming back after three seasons.

Television

'Face Off' contestant David 'DOC' O'Connell sounds off…

David "DOC" O'Connell tells us about getting cast on Season 7 of Syfy's "Face Off," premiering tonight at 9.

Arts

PHOTO: Wildlife photographer Marc Mol captures amazing aerial…

This aerial image was taken by photographer Marc Mol who spotted the animals during an air safari in Zambia.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead…

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead pack

NFL

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will…

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will win Super Bowl?

NFL

5 players to watch at Giants training camp

Metro takes a look at five players who will be on everyone’s mind when Giants training camp gets underway.

NFL

'Vicktory dogs' travel road to rehabilitation seven years…

Of the dozens of dogs groomed by Bad Newz Kennels, 48 were rescued and 22 of the pit bull terriers have emerged at Best Friends Animal Society.

Tech

Learn Braille with these gloves

U.S. scientists have designed high-tech gloves to help users understand Braille in a matter of minutes.

Home

5 New Ikea products that will change your…

We round-up the latest must-have products.

Food

Recipe: Wolfgang Puck's Buttermilk French Toast

We recently spent some time chatting with restauranteur/celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his Wolfgang Puck American Grille in the Borgata in Atlantic City. Puck wanted…

Style

Go retro with your sneakers

The best of wacky new sneakers.