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‘Joy’ Marks a Reunion, Breaks New Ground for Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell (Q & A)

'Joy' Marks a Reunion, Breaks New Ground for Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell (Q & A)

The last few year-end big-movie guns are finally screening. “The Revenant” (Fox/New Regency) has pushed Leonardo DiCaprio to the front of the Best Actor race, while Thanksgiving critical and box-office hit “Creed” (Warner Bros./MGM) provides a major comeback scenario for the creator of Rocky Balboa, Sly Stallone, as a supporting actor contender.

Now “Joy” (Fox 2000/Annapurna) has screened for awards voters in New York and Los Angeles on the post-Thanksgiving weekend, with a simulcast Q & A out of New York with writer-director David O. Russell, making a bid for his third Best Picture contender in a row, his usual team of thrice nominated Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper and veteran Oscar-winner Robert De Niro (nominated most recently for “Silver Linings Playbook”), plus newbies Isabella Rossellini, Edgar Ramirez and Dascha Polanco. (A BP slot would mark Russell’s fourth total, including “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.”) 

“Joy” is most likely to contend for the Golden Globes in the comedy category, although it veers toward the dramatic in its last third. 

Also likely this year is that “Joy”‘s front-and-center star, Jennifer Lawrence, who ably carries the holiday comedy/drama as a single mom mop inventor and entrepreneur with the strength to persevere against considerable odds, will land her fourth Oscar nomination. But given that she won in 2013 for “Silver Linings Playbook,” she may have to cede the gold statue to Brie Larson for “Room.”

At the Q & A we learned that the movie marks many firsts for Russell and his cast. 

It’s Russell’s “first film with a woman protagonist at the center of it, the story of that woman from 10 to 43, a grounded mature person who is extraordinary from a young age,” he said. “We got to do her dreams and nightmares, got to show her before success and after success, got to show her romance after it ebbed, and the best divorced couple in America. And we got to go into a dream life we never did before.”

That dream life merges with the obsession of her mother (Virginia Madsen) with daytime soap operas, so Russell brought on titans Susan Lucci and Donna Mills, among others from that world. “Her mother did watch soap operas,” said Russell. “What makes up the movie is her mother’s soap operas, her father’s metal garage, her Latin husband, and the Emerald City of Lancaster PA, we treat it like MGM.”

For her part Lawrence “got to play a woman across four generations, that’s incredible for an actor,” she said. “There is this magic inside her and this fire and gift that she has buried for 17 years, and the story before success, when you believe in yourself when nobody else does, and then when no one believes in you and what happens after success after you find it it.”

Added Russell, “it’s the first character we’ve done together who is not crazy. That was very daring for us, to do women who were daring but ordinary, and find the extraordinary in that. ‘Anna Karenina’ is a soap opera, when her romance ends she throws herself on train tracks. This is soap opera, in this ugly life and death situation she is trapped with her family, but she does not throw herself on the train tracks—she builds her train tracks.”

With Ramirez as her Latin husband, Lawrence sang her first film duet, the charming “Something Stupid,” after fighting hard with Russell not to do it. “He’s a dick!” she said. “And I had a stomach virus that day, or it was nervous puke that I was going to sing…It was a sweet moment, I fought you over it, but I’m happy ultimately that I did it.”

Ramirez had to find the right pitch for Russell. “The singing was a beautiful experience, I’d never done it before, it was a process of finding the tone. I was taking vocal classes here in NY with vocal trainers… David wanted me to sing higher in pitch, in Spanish mas alto is louder—”it needs to be higher”—  he was trying to tell me to be higher in pitch not volume. He wanted me to sing intimately like Frank Sinatra.”

Russell remembered filming that day: “As soon as the snow came on it was so magical, it was the first time I had grips come up to me with tears in their eyes, we felt the magic of what was happening in that moment; we didn’t have to wait to see it cut.”

And Ramirez taught Lawrence Spanish. “We practiced Venezuelan, she learned pure Venezuelan.”

It’s the first time Cooper plays a QVC executive, marking the third time he took on a role for Russell he didn’t think he was right for, he said. “It’s a weird fear I have.” But he helped Russell to learn about the QVC stars, having grown up with it thanks to his mother. 

Melissa Rivers plays her mother Joan as a QVC host, for her first gig after her mother died.

The script is based on the true story of mop inventor Joy Mangano, and Lawrence and Russell met with her and her father. “More dramatic humor came out of the real situations,” said Russell. “There was still that humor there. We treat a business venture with dignity, these were all real things—the romantic father’s girlfriend, the lawyer who screwed them, the family business, finding out the truth in documents to confront the man in Texas. She was a gangster in that respect, you don’t become a fierce business person unless you do that… I wanted her accomplishment to be treated as something that was not easy, it changed a lot of lives.”

Added Lawrence, “that deadpan tone is very much her personality.”

The Russell family newcomers got to learn Russell’s unusual improvisational filming process. “Bro, he’s going to take you to scary places,” Cooper told Ramirez of Russell. “Embrace it, he will take you there.” Ramirez found the experience “very emotional, being part of a process that is so free and so strong and so deep. And when you’re on David Russell’s set everybody needs to be on their toes, on their game. You never know where the camera’s going to, the youngest PA texting is going to be out, the camera is going to be swirling around.”

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