Extreme-Sports Moviemaking

4 minute read
Jessica Winter

In David O. Russell’s flinty comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook (in theaters now), bipolar Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) returns to his childhood home in Philadelphia after a violent episode that ended his marriage and landed him in a psychiatric hospital. Pat’s jagged redemptive arc includes a reckoning with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and with Tiffany (The Hunger Games’ Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow whose courtship of Pat culminates, naturally, in a ballroom-dancing competition.

Winner of the Toronto International Film Festival’s coveted Audience Award, Silver Linings is the first collaboration between Cooper–best known for the Hangover films–and Russell, who has famously clashed with some stars on his boisterous sets (including George Clooney on 1999’s Three Kings and Lily Tomlin on 2004’s I [heart] Huckabees) and guided others to Oscar glory (Christian Bale and Melissa Leo both won for Russell’s 2010 boxing drama, The Fighter). The actor and director dropped by TIME’s offices on Nov. 13, the final day of Cooper’s yearlong reign as People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Bradley, you had a head start on the role, coming from Philadelphia.

Bradley Cooper: Coming from Philadelphia, being Italian American and being a huge Eagles fan. Having both of my parents come from the inner city of Philadelphia. My grandfather was a beat cop for 35 years in the 15th district. My great-grandfather had a pushcart during the Depression on Ninth Street. When I was growing up, any woman over 40 had a tissue in her hand, like Jacki Weaver does in the movie. My grandfather had an Art Deco face of Christ on a necklace, and that’s what Pat wears. These are all very specific Philadelphia things of my life.

David, why did you want to make Matthew Quick’s novel into a movie?

David O. Russell: My son [Matthew, who is 18]. He went through a lot of these challenges you see in the film, and he still does. And I know a lot of the parents at his school, the Devereux Glenholme School in Connecticut [for children and young adults with special needs]. Pat is like a grownup version of my son, and he’s frank and colorful and soulful and trying to do his best. It was personal to me, and to Mr. De Niro as well, because we have both related to this as parents. We’ve been sharing stories for years about our kids and their challenges.

Did either of you have any dancing experience before this movie?

DOR: Just the five good moves I developed in college, which are an amalgam of the jitterbug, the waltz and swing.

BC: But he’s an ex-gymnast.

DOR: Easy with that. Easy with that.

BC: I would be screaming it from the rooftops.

DOR: I did the pommel horse. That was my thing.

BC: I think part of his athletic makeup finds its way into how he makes a movie. Filming a movie with David O. Russell is an athletic endeavor. You are utterly drained at the end of the day because you have to be present at every turn, as if you’re on a sports field. That high-octane rhythm demands that you stay in the moment and get out of your head. It’s the only way you can be successful as an athlete. That’s very scary for an actor. He is very open to what’s going to happen in the moment, and he’s not interested in a result. Never once in 33 days of shooting did he go, “Yeah, we nailed that scene.” You just explore until, you know, “We’ve lost the light.”

David, you’ve presided over a couple of exciting sets in your time. Has anything about how you make movies changed over the years?

DOR: Having had things that didn’t come out the way I wanted them to only gave me a chance to focus better and harder. Since The Fighter, I feel very clear about how the set needs to be. I want it to be happy, respectful, everybody pulling together, everybody understanding the rhythm. I do not want chaos. I do not want discord of any kind.

BC: Some directors are back with their monitors, sort of conducting from afar. David is right next to you, going through it with you, sweating–like an athlete, like a coach, who’s in it with you.

DOR: But you like that, right?

BC: Not only do I like it, I don’t know a better way to do it.

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