Danny Elfman Scoring ‘American Hustle,’ Alessandro Nivola Talks David O. Russell’s “Spur Of The Moment” Style

Danny Elfman Scoring 'American Hustle,' Alessandro Nivola Talks David O. Russell's "Spur Of The Moment" Style
Danny Elfman Scoring 'American Hustle,' Alessandro Nivola Talks David O. Russell's "Spur Of The Moment" Style

David O. Russell didn’t tinker too much with what already worked in establishing the talent for his forthcoming “American Hustle.” The picture finds him tag-teaming with “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Fighter” stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Robert De Niro once again and his desire to continue previously satisfying collaborations extends to the score as well. ‘Playbook’ found Russell working for the first time with Danny Elfman, and once again, he’s tasked the composer with the job of tuning up his film. 

“This week I’m finishing up a film for David O Russell called ‘American Hustle.’ I’m also starting on a big animated film for Dreamworks called ‘Mr Peabody & Sherman,’ ” Elfman told The Big Issue. The composer, perhaps best known for his work with Tim Burton, is no stranger to dramatic fare, having delivered scores for last year’s “The Promised Land” and “Hitchcock.” Certainly, Russell’s upcoming movie gives him a pretty rich world to be inspired by, with the film about crooked politicians and scheming federal agents, set in the big haired, brassy ’70s. So we’ll be eager to hear what Elfman delivers with that in mind.

Meanwhile, in addition to the aforementioned actors, “American Hustle” also have a massive ensemble group of supporting players (Louis C.K., Elisabeth Rohm, Dawn Olivieri, Jack Huston, Michael Pena) and among them is Alessandro Nivola. It was his first time working with Russell, and speaking with Vanity Fair, he shared his thoughts the the director’s unorthodox, loose and “rewarding” method behind the camera. It’s worth reading in full so here’s the complete excerpt: 

Well, it was like no other experience I’ve ever had. It was definitely one of the most rewarding. I had done the Elephant Man, the play, with Bradley Cooper just the summer before, so he had been telling me about what shooting Silver Linings Playbook had been like. I couldn’t believe it, the way he was describing it. He was telling me that David O. Russell would have the camera rolling and just be sort of shouting out lines for you to say while the camera was rolling, and then you would just repeat them. I got in there, and sure enough, that’s exactly how we shot it. He lights a whole room, so there’s no traditional coverage—normally the way you shoot a movie is you do one side of the room, you’d light, and you’d shoot the character who’s on that one side. He doesn’t do it. He just lights the whole room, gets everybody in there, and has these incredible cameramen. Everything is shot on steadycam. He just stands right behind the camera operator and tells them what to film at any given moment. He talks while you’re filming the scene. He’ll say, ‘Go to Alessandro, go to Bradley, go over here, go to the picture of the cat that’s on the wall!’ 

He’d written a totally brilliant script, some of which is making it into the movie, but a lot of the dialogue that’s spoken in the movie is dialogue that he’s invented on the spur of the moment. It’s got such a kind of energized, free form that it’s just incredibly spontaneous, and also terrifying because there’s no way to prepare for it. It’s just like bungee jumping. He became a sort of extension of all the different characters and would be feeding you, and you would give it back to him, and then he would give it to you again, and you’d give it back. It just had this kind of wild, reckless, and inspired feeling about it. And obviously, I haven’t seen the film, I don’t know how this one will turn out, but I know that from his other movies, they all have a feeling of being very alive. And that’s clearly to do with the way that he shoots, because it’s so distinctive.

As for Nivola’s role, he reveals he plays “a Brooklyn Italian guy who is the chief prosecutor” of the operations where a con artist is used by the feds to help sting corrupt politicians. Nivola also got to play dressup too, adding, “I have these massive sideburns. The top of my head is just a helmet of hair slicked back, and then I’ve got these enormous sideburns that looked almost Hasidic. David O. Russell kept telling me I looked like a vampire.” Sounds great.

“American Hustle” opens on Christmas Day.

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