Something was bugging David O. Russell. It was a moment he’d filmed for his new movie Silver Linings Playbook, based on Matthew Quick’s novel about a mentally-distressed, financially-ruined former teacher named Pat compelled to live with his Philadelphia Eagles-loving parents when he’s released from several months of hospital treatment.
The moment featured Jennifer Lawrence, the 22-year-old actress he’d cast against high-level concern that she was too young for the part, as Tiffany, the unrepentantly strange girl who teaches Pat (Bradley Cooper) a thing or two about accepting your inner craziness and embracing who you are. Following one of several explosive and weirdly funny arguments between the two, she turns on her heel, victorious and unruffled, and walks away. Russell’s camera tracked ahead of her and captured her brushing a hand over a trembling lip.
It was a tiny, split-second gesture that was left out of the final cut. But Russell knew leaving it out was a mistake. It was one of Tiffany’s most revealing moments – and the reason he hired Lawrence in the first place.
“She’s so inside whatever she plays,” says Russell as he gestures toward Lawrence during an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, “that I realized we had to open up the cut again to put that in. They said ‘the cut is locked’ and I said ‘I don’t care. Let’s find out what it costs to open it up.’ And they did … The little things you add like that that make all the difference.”
Visually, the contrast between the actor and director is, well, dramatic. Lawrence, outfitted resplendently in canary yellow skirt ensemble with matching high heels, and Russell in state-of-the-art New York filmmaker schlub: blazer, open-collared white shirt, jeans and sneakers. But their affinity is palpable. Russell knows he got something priceless in casting Lawrence, who was not yet an international sensation for her role as the girl with the bow and arrow in The Hunger Games (despite being Oscar-nominated for the independent drama Winter’s Bone).
It was, in Russell’s phrase, “an eleventh-hour” affair. Fresh from directing the Oscar-nominated The Fighter, Russell had been inundated with audition requests from agents representing actresses desperate to read for the part of Tiffany. The last thing he had in mind was entertaining the interest of someone barely on the film scene, who was at least a decade younger than the character in the novel.
Then he saw what the world was about to see when Lawrence drew that bowstring back in The Hunger Games: an authority and gravitas far beyond her years, an intelligence that burned behind the beauty.
“I approached them,” Lawrence says. “Actually, I kind of bombarded them. I had heard that David O. Russell was going to be directing something and he’s been my favourite director since I started loving film. I really wanted to work with him and I hadn’t even really read the script. I was like ‘Get me in there’ and desperate. Then I read the script and fell in love with the character.” She auditioned for the role over Skype, from her parents’ house.
“We had a lot of front-runners,” Russell confirms. “Every actress in town really wanted to do the picture … and Harvey [Weinstein, the movie’s producer] didn’t even want me to audition her because he thought she was too young. So I didn’t know what to expect. She got dressed up as the character, she put on the dark eyeliner … I just got all of her: so many dimensions, so many colours, so much physicality, even just in her father’s study.”
On set and before the cameras, he got even more.
“There are almost two Tiffanys,” Lawrence explains. “There was the Tiffany I read and fell in love with, and there was David’s Tiffany that I met and developed over the movie and she’s hilarious. When you read it it’s just such a funny thing to have a character that is so unapologetic and she’s okay with herself. This entire story and this family, they’re trying to fix their son and all a sudden this person comes in who’s just as kooky as he is and says ‘Don’t fix yourself, just accept yourself.’ I love the idea of that.
“Then I get on set and David adds to her. He would would say ‘More gangster, no bullshit, lower your voice.’ Those seem like such strange things to tell an actor but it resonates so quickly in your head. … It’s not manicured, it’s raw and she’s tough. That was something that kept developing over time and it changes the way you do it. That was the other Tiffany.”
While Lawrence is explaining this, Russell has been pointing a finger in her direction.
“See the way her voice is right now?” he says. “She has a lot of that in her. She’s a very authoritative person. Formidable. And yet she’s got a very, very tender heart. And some of the extensions that we made later in the movie were because it’s very important that you had both of those qualities.”
No matter, apparently, the cost.