The 56th edition of the BFI London Film Festival came to a close this weekend, capping off the first edition under new Festival Director Clare Stewart with record attendance numbers. A revised program structure and competitive sections (as well as shortening the festival to 12 days) equated to 149,000 admissions from screenings of 228 feature films (a 12% increase from last year).
One of the highlights came Saturday night when the only "secret" of those 228 films was unveiled in at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square: David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook." While not a "Lincoln"-sized coup of New York Film Festival levels, it was technically the film's first public screening outside of North America. And like its screenings on that side of the pond (it won audience awards at both Toronto and the Hamptons), the London audience seemed to eat up Russell's heartwarming Oscar contender (consensus at this point has its lead actress Jennifer Lawrence taking home a trophy, while the film itself should be up for quite a few major awards).
Russell and star Bradley Cooper took the stage with LFF head Clare Stewart after the film, and both were quick to compliment their absent leading lady.
"We were a week into shooting and all of a sudden this young woman comes up and just blew us away," Cooper said. "The first scene that she shot was the scene after my character goes to deliver the letter, which is a pretty heavy scene. And she was just like a beam of light. She's like 10 and 40 years old at the same time. She was 21 when she shot the film. She has a great heart and she's a beautiful person."
Russell was just as quick to praise the actress.
"We had our choice of several young actresses and she was the last to audition," he said. "She auditioned via Skype from her parents home in Kentucky. And frankly I didn't have any expectations about it. But she just knocked everybody out."
Cooper recalled he was pretty shocked about his own casting film, genuinely thinking he wasn't capable of the role.
"David and I met about another movie that didn't end up coming together," he said." I remember talking to him on the phone and was just blown away that this guy that I'd loved since 'Spanking The Money' was so open and present and giving and willing to talk to me about this film. I was blown away."
That film didn't come to fruition, but Russell asked him to read the script for 'Silver Linings Playbook,' and the rest is history.
"I read it and though it was a great script but never though I'd get the role... or be capable of the role, quite frankly," Cooper said. "But certain things happened and David called me and said 'let's do the movie.' And I thought, 'aw, fuck.' I really was very scared. But I remember he said 'Bradley, just trust me. You're gonna be great.'"
The audience in London's rousing applause for the actor suggested they felt it all worked out (and critics agree).
Watch a full video of Cooper and Russell on stage (and read a bit of commentary on the film) here.