“I was broke, I was fearless and … I had nothing to lose,” Amy Adams‘ Sydney Prosser declares during the opening stages of "American Hustle" (our review), and it’s something of a statement of intent for many of the characters in the film. While the advertising has promised a vivacious, entertaining, period-soaked caper movie—which David O. Russell‘s film certainly is—"American Hustle" is also a surprisingly rich character piece, one in which good people try to do the right, but in the wrong way, in a morally gray world.
And so you can imagine there was a lot to talk about when the director and cast (including Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) got together this past weekend in New York City to talk to journalists. The movie tells the multi-threaded story of con artists hired by the FBI to help snare crooked politicians, and the press conference found everyone sharing their experiences on the film, the freedom a movie set led by Russell allows, and the story behind one of the more surprising moments in the film. It’s a good primer before you see "American Hustle," or a good way to answer any questions you might have after you see the picture. Dive in below …
Christian Bale on the impetus for wanting to be part of the movie.
I speak for myself, I’m always interested in what David is making and always know that it’s gonna be something will be very fascinating and hopefully very memorable for many years to come. He’s always got a very interesting take on it,his approach to working with each and every actor is really very different and dynamic. And when i first saw the pictures of the real Mel Weinberg, he was not what I expected at all and I just saw such incredible possibilities of what we could achieve together. And then learning about all this entire incredible cast.
David O. Russell says “American Hustle” is only about con men on the surface.
When I got after a picture I am moved by the characters first and foremost and their world and then the story or the theme after that. With “The Fighter,” people would say, that’s a boxing movie—I never thought that. Did you watch other boxing movies? Well, other than having "Raging Bull" ingrained in my head as a lover of cinema, no. I didn’t think of it as a boxing movie, I thought of it as a character movie about these people and Mark Wahlberg’s character, Melissa Leo‘s character and her sisters. Same thing with "Silver Linings Playbook," it’s a mental illness movie, or a romantic comedy, that was the term that would make my head snap every time I heard it. To me, it’s a story about these people and, DeNiro and Jacki Weaver and [American Hustle] is about these people [motions to his cast] and that’s what riveted me. The predicament is a great blowtorch for the characters and their world. I’ve come to see that I adore characters that are reinventing themselves, who are salt of the earth, who are dreamers, they’re in a predicament, they’re in love and they are things that they love in their world, that is what makes me wanna do it. That’s what I’ve come to see makes me wanna make a picture, honest heartbreak and honest dreaming and enchantment.
Christian Bale on the exaggerated realism in the film that takes on operatic qualities.
I’m not a fan of opera at all, but you will find occasional moments when you’re having some kind of tragedy in your life and you go—“oh my god”—you suddenly think, “absolutely, I’m in the same state of mind” where the emotions can be welled really quickly, whereas usually that would be seem like melodrama, but you get certain times in your life when you go, “I understand it now.” [Sometimes you find those moments] where you [recognize] that operatic nature, where you usually I would have laughed at it. Just welling these deep emotions at some times in your life makes absolute sense.
Jennifer Lawrence’s self-deprecating charm-offensive continues.
What was the question? I’m sorry, I keep doing this thing where I do this thing where I’m looking at someone and think I’m really listening …
She finally finds her footing. Jennifer Lawrence talks the “emotional freedom” of working with David O. Russell.
Sometimes real life can be so dramatic and it can be so awful that it’s kind of funny. David, above all else, his characters are incredible. You have so much emotional freedom that sometimes what’s on the page turns into something completely different when he starts yelling these ideas that keep you on your toes.
David O. Russell calls the worlds of the characters operatic.
I thought of this as operatic because you have all these different worlds. You have the world of [Bradley Cooper’s characters] Brooklyn apartment, where he lives with his mother and fiancee. And that’s a world I’ve seen with an authoritative figure [the mother].
Amy Adams: I think you exemplify a heightened reality. Not everything in reality is subtle and slow. When I lose my cool in life it is over the top. I’m over the top sometimes, that’s how we are as humans and we all have examples in our lives [of this]. David finds moments where this “pushed reality” is the truth. It’s the truth for these characters.
Bradley Cooper describes the immaturity that informed his characters motivation.
The exterior, crustacean around the spirit that David was creating it all was informed by this idea that [my character] was a child really, he’s a young boy. And also I wanted to be a bit unrecognizable, so we thought maybe curly hair and then David had the idea, “oh, he curls his own hair” because he wants to be like these guys that he thinks are archetypes of men to him like this [1970s] baseball player Dock Ellis who curled his own hair. And [my characters] chews his tongue and it give him some kind of bravado, but it’s really an odd thing to do and it’s probably stress related and all these sort of physical things because he’s always making noise. Even when he’s idle he’s groaning in some way. He wants to be recognized and part of the world and that’s why he becomes so enamored with [the con men and women of this film] and really falls in love with [Amy Adams’ character] in the way that a boy falls in love with a girl in 9th grade. All of wonderful playful physical attributes really are grounded in this idea of who [my character] is.
Christian Bale says colorful characters are fun to play, but that’s just the surface of the movie.
Yes, the character are really colorful and shiny and an awful lot of fun to play. But we shot this film for 42 days so you’ve got to find much more than that to get up at the hours we get up in the morning. It has to fascinate, it’s got to go beyond the colorful shininess. You put on a mask and reveal your true self. Everyone is performing in a certain way and then it’s about at some point, stripping away that mask and seeing what’s really beneath them and that happens to each and everyone of the characters and their desire to reinvent themselves and their need to move on and find something else in their lives. That’s ultimately what becomes fascinating. I don’t really like to define exactly what it is that I love about the character, but I do that intentionally because you’re still discovering the character as you keep going. I feel that energy from David as well because we change so much and it’s really enjoyable to do that, so change and adapt on the actual day and to know your character so well that you can have no worries about doing that. And that’s what really keeps you entertained. The color is wonderful, but it’s ultimately an armor that people have against what their true selves are and David is always interested in what the character’s true self, heart and soul is, and about emotion and feeling.
Amy Adams says her favorite part of her character was playing her vulnerability.
If she was just had this veneer and physicality as this power, but if I don’t ground that in any true emotion, it’s not going to be that much fun to play because you won’t have any layers. David always makes sure that his women, thank you David, are multi-dimensional and playing that is a thrill.
Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence kiss in the movie. It was Adams’ suggestion, but there was more to it than being lurid.
Jennifer really made that contribution. I came up with the idea, but she executed it that felt like a moment purely driven from character. It didn’t feel just like a moment where two girls are going to kiss on screen. It came from somewhere emotional. She killed it. And the laugh she gives after? C’mon, that was genius. I didn’t direct her, but I just thought, “what if she just plants one on her?” and [Jennifer] sold it in a brilliant way that it worked comedically and dramatically and it felt organic, never like it shouldn’t be there and that’s all due to her.
David O. Russell: But the fact that [Jennifer’s character] falls apart immediately after in the arms of Jack Huston shows that she’s really been trying to front, after this very frightening encounter with her husband’s love, it’s really quite a show of vulnerability. That show of strength [was actually] one of these masks we all must wear at different points in our lives to protect ourselves to get through relationships, or jobs. That’s the question that fascinated Christian and I—the idea of a cynical con man isn’t that interesting to me as the idea of people with real hearts that are trying to do what everybody does: surviving, and adapting and deciding who they’re going to be.
Jennifer Lawrence on her soon-to-be iconic moment of singing Paul McCartney’s “Live And Let Die” in the movie.
[David] said he had a vision of Rosalyn wearing yellow cleaning gloves and running through the entire house singing, "Live and Let Die," she said. "I thought that sounded incredible, but [thought] ‘How’s it going to make sense?’ But she’s so angry and she’s at this point where she’s been lied to for so long and she’s been left out of everything, and she’s getting to this point in this marriage that she’s been fighting for so long, that she’s been imprisoning this man for so many years in this marriage and she’s finally ready to let it die. So, I think that was this really great, crazy moment. I threw my neck out, actually.
Jennifer Lawrence on the high of acting.
[Acting for me], it’s a study of people and all of these things I’ve been doing since I was little that were always useless in Kentucky. Just watching people, studying them, and being able to mimic their body language and figure out a person, what kind of person you’re playing, how they move, and how they walk. But, between action and cut, it’s almost like meditating in a weird way because anything that you’re feeling, like if I’m cold between action and cut, I’m not; or if I’m in physical pain between action and cut, I’m not. I’m in a completely different frame of mind and it’s a high.
Christian Bale on acting being the waking dream
Everybody at night they dream and go a little insane because that’s acceptable, and to me [acting is] a little bit like dreaming in a waking state because you get to study people and get to be a little insane and be obsessive of something and its expected of you and the more that you are [in that state], the better it is and I find that very addictive.
What Golden-Age actress does Jennifer Lawrence remind David O. Russell of?
I immediately think of Carole Lombard with [Lawrence].
Bradley Cooper loved working with Louie C.K.
I’ve hit the jackpot I think with working with the two best comedians around: Zach Galifianakis and Louis C.K. He was unbelievable, and it was perfect casting. It was effortless and addictive, and we wanted more. We’ve become friends since, and we look back on those scenes with a lot of delight. It was Louis’ idea to put that last thing in—their final exchange. We were laughing so hard on the day when we’re walking down the hall and they’re yelling at each other about the ice-fishing story. It had gotten to that point. He was wonderful.
Christian Bale thinks style is style and people the same, no matter what ridiculous fashion they’re wearing.
I gotta say though, I think it’s only over-the-top to us now looking back at the fashions in the era, because it was such a wonderfully exuberant era. It was like Halloween for a decade, and the colors were garish, and the style was just phenomenal for us to look back on. But the people themselves, we’re no different now.
David O. Russell says the “power of intention” scene revealed itself on set that day.
There were other scenes that were scripted that never felt right to me for their final scene, that, thank god, revealed itself as the right scene for these two to resolve things. [Jennifer’s character] is the Picasso of passive aggressive karate. There’s a genius in it that is soulful for [Christian’s character] to accept it while being confounded by it, to break up? If she does it its OK.
Another key moment of improv was Bradley Cooper’s character telling Amy Adams that he loved her.
David O. Russell: Every actor has athletic passion, and then they’re willing to move. And that’s exciting, we can move within that character. Bradley’s doing a scene amped up, and suddenly we huddle and say, “tell her you love her,” I don’t think we even told Amy we were going to do that. And in the scene, something chemically just changed in her and she kind of melted and suddenly she’s leaning forward to kiss him, which had not happened in any take and that’s because we collaborated and came up with that and it totally makes strong the moment she chooses to reveal herself.
Amy Adams on the sexuality of her character.
I was trained as a dancer, so it’s always part of how I storytell, through my body and through movement I find the character. One of the things that struck me— once I had the wardrobe and I knew she was going to be a sexual being—I really thought people who had an elegance with their sexuality and the power they had through their sexuality, so for me dancing was how I started to feel her. I thought about dancers who were in control because of the way they moved their bodies, so that’s what I started thinking about in the moment.
The way (or non-way) Christian Bale’s character danced).
We called [Christian’s character] “the badger” because he moved like a badger and when he took his glasses off he would blinking badger eyes in the the light of the day. And he danced beautifully as this man who sunk three inches into his spine and herniated a disc and became [the character] and the characters dancing across Park Avenue was a highlight of my life and playing the music as we were crossing the street was magical.
Christian Bale on the song “Delilah” [featured in the music].
You ever listen to the lyrics of that song? That’s a sick song. When you hear the lyrics you think, Tom Jones was sick. — reporting by Rodrigo Perez
"American Hustle" opens on Friday, December 13th.