Joy - David O Russell DVD interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
DAVID O Russell discusses what attracted him to the film Joy and what it was like working with some of his stars again, including Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro.
He also talks about his hopes and intentions for the film, his knowledge of miracle mops and some of the challenges he overcame to lend the film its innovative feel. Joy is available to own on Digital HD™, Blu-ray™ & DVD on April 25, 2016 courtesy by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Q. What was it about this story that intrigued you and excited you?
David O Russell: This is a very unlikely success story about a woman making it happen in business on her own. It is a very different emotional story from any previous movies with a woman at the center. For me, it changes everything to have men in the film who are real, but who are generous and humble enough to be there as part of Joy’s story, whether she steps over them or steps with them! As Joy says at the beginning when she is a little girl, she does not need a prince.”
Q: The film is innovative in many ways; can you discuss the challenges you faced and your approach?
David O Russell: There were many daring things about the film. It was daring to make a movie about an ordinary person who made this seemingly ordinary invention: the Miracle Mop. How do you make that story extraordinary? To me, every movie is about the world you create. I said: ‘what was Joy’s dream at 10 years old? What happened to her when she was 45 years old?’ I’d never done that before. I’d never done something like this with soap operas [Joy’s mother in the movie, played by Virginia Madsen, watches them all day long] that were a part of her psyche. We went into a dream life in a way we’ve never done before. I’d never done a film with dreams that were not literal, but emotional, about feeling trapped and being told to change your life before it’s too late. There are pieces of music I’ve been waiting 40 years to use and metaphors I’ve been waiting my whole life to use. You know, being able to cover so much of someone’s life, to see Joy fall in love and get married, have a marriage that isn’t working and then break up … that’s cinema to me!
Q: Can you elaborate on the theme of childhood dreams and how we often lose track of them, as Joy does when she gets older?
David O Russell: As a child there is a spark in your eye, that gleam in your eye, the magic you had in your room, because the world is a magical place to kids. And then you look at what happens when kids grow up and deal with real life and disappointment and the hard realities of money. It has happened to me. You have to get a job and you have to make a living and so sometimes that magical voice becomes very faint. And sometimes you can’t hear it at all. I know people who have never heard it again and then there are people who think they can hear it and they chase it and they get it back. That is what this story was about to me.
Q: Some people like Joy recapture the magic don’t they? What happens to her?
David O Russell: The film is about how Joy reclaims whatever was in her as a child, that spark in that room. She says ‘I’m not going to be controlled by all the forces around me.’ She starts her business in a metal garage that fixes trucks and buses, which is a very unlikely place for a woman to start out her dream, but Joy did it and that was real.
Q: She does not have a practical role model in her mother…
David O Russell: Her mother watched soap operas. She was a childlike character who withdrew from the world. It’s interesting because her mother could not be strong and daring herself, but she watched women who were strong and daring on TV. It’s like Russian literature on a soap!
Q: Can you discuss your working relationship with Jennifer Lawrence?
David O Russell: I feel that I’ve watched her grow up in many ways. She was 20 years old when we met and worked together [on Silver Linings Playbook]. She didn’t know what it was like to be famous. She asked Bradley (Cooper) and Robert (De Niro) what it was like to have people recognize them on the street, because Hunger Games had not come out yet. And then by the time Silver Linings Playbook came out, she was being recognized. So I watched how that girl who liked to be true to her spirit, who was completely unpredictable and free and alive, channelled all that into acting in a true way, without over-thinking anything.
She did it just by stepping onto the court and going for it. It was a gift, and I watched her become very successful. Then I watched her learn to manage all that, which is quite a large thing for anybody, especially for a young person. But she has done it. This time [on Joy], I saw her become a leader in a way on the set and it’s just been very beautiful watching her.
Q: What do you think singles Jennifer out?
David O Russell: I think part of it is that she is like an athlete. Jennifer has a gift, but has had to work very hard for it and has had to respect it and be frank about it and not be precious about it and not feel important about it – which she doesn’t.
She is very cognizant of not being pleased with herself and that is really cool. There’s something very pure about her. If you have a gift, you must have the ability to do the work or the gift will never show up. Jennifer is always a very hard worker and she loves to work, so those combinations make her very special. She’s extremely intuitive and emotional, and she chemically bleeds right into the film. There’s just something about her that is very special, present, alive, fierce and gentle.
Q: Who were your inspirations for Joy?
David O Russell: There were numerous inspirations. There’s my mother. There is also Lillian Vernon, the entrepreneur who created the first mail order catalogue in the ’50s and ’60s. She started a business selling really cool stuff for homes. She called herself ‘Lillian Vernon from Mount Vernon’, which is near where I grew up in New York. But I would say about roughly half the film, give or take, is based on true incidents from Joy Mangano’s life. Some of the more wild things in the film are true, because truth is stranger than fiction, and because fiction has to make sense. So in the film, for example, there was a gun range next to the garage [where Joy starts her business]. That is true!
Q: I believe you discussed Joy Mangano’s life and business at length with her?
David O Russell: Yes, I asked Joy a lot of questions. I said ‘well, how did you first think of the idea of the mop?’ She said: ‘I was really stuck. I was working at Eastern Air Lines.’ As a single mother of two she was broke, she got divorced from the singer who had given her magic and love. It didn’t work out because he couldn’t hold a job down. But he still lived in her basement; he was very comfortable there. He came and went. Tony was the dreamer and Joy was the person who was taking care of people. Her father, Rudy, went through various girlfriends. He really did meet his girlfriend through a ‘900’ number on a dating service, like Match.com [as he does in the film].
Q: What did Joy say inspired her idea for the Miracle Mop?
David O Russell: She told me she thought of the idea for the mop on a boat. I said: ‘a little motor boat?’ She said: ‘no it was a 60 foot boat.’ I said, ‘but you told me you were broke, your father ran a metal garage. He was broke too. How was that possible?’ She told me it was her father’s girlfriend who owned the boat.”
Q: As you say, truth is stranger than fiction!
David O Russell: Yes, I said ‘are you kidding me?’ But no she was not kidding. Her father, Rudy, would meet widows and he would date them to fall in love. So I said ‘this is great. I’m going to create this role for Isabella Rossellini.’ So in the film there is this continental character who wears scarves and who comes from Italy. I made up a back-story for her. She had been married to a ‘garmento’ [who worked in the clothing industry] and that’s the name of her boat, “The Morris.” I’d ask Joy all the tough questions about her mop. I would say ‘Why isn’t a sponge mop a good self-wringing mop? How do you come up with something like this?’ And she said, ‘Well, it doesn’t really get into corners.’
I said ‘That’s true, because it’s not flexible like cloth.’ She also said her cloth was much more absorbent than others, so you could mop up a whole floor with it. How she came up with it was very specific. Then Louis C.K. (the comedian) and I were actually flying on a plane together. He is a boat guy. When I told him about Joy, he said ‘you should make the boat out of teak wood. You can’t have red wine on teak wood because it stains really easily.’ I said ‘oh, that’s a great idea. I’m going to use that idea of red wine on the deck, in the film, because Joy said she first thought of the mop on the boat.’
Q: Are you interested and knowledgeable on the subject of mops?
David O Russell: I am [laughs]. I actually cleaned houses as a kid. I did it for a living in my teenage years. And in my twenties, we had a youth employment service in our town and I would vacuum a couple of houses on the weekend! That was my big thing, to vacuum entire houses. It’s a hell of a workout if it’s wall to wall!
Q: Joy is a very inspiring film about a woman who is working, taking care of everyone and has dreams of her own. What does that central focus of the movie mean to you?
David O Russell: Listen, I can understand how many women very naturally take on the roles of taking care of everybody and taking care of the home and then say, ‘well what happened to the things I wanted to do?’ It happened to my mother and to other people I know. It takes an enormous amount of perseverance to be willing to try to do those things you want to do, because it is never going to be easy. Joy was in room after room of men who were challenging her, yet she believed in herself regardless. And then of course they [at QVC the home shopping network] had a man trying to sell her mop on television, which did not make any sense, but that is what happened. I just love seeing Joy become a person in a position of authority after being on the other side of everything for so much of the movie.
Q: Can you discuss Robert De Niro’s role? He is hilarious in this film. There is a great scene in which he’s telling his daughter she should not marry Tony – on her actual wedding day!
David O Russell: Yes, which happened to Joy [Mangano]. She said as they walked down the aisle, her father said that. The thing is, you say ‘well that sounds terrible’ but her father was right. Robert is extremely special and to get him to put his heart into this character was great. He plays someone who loves his daughter and would do anything for her, yet cannot get out of his own way, which is exactly what Joy’s own father has been like in her life.
And Robert by the way was like Rudy. He let us birth the movie in his own office. He let us use his office and we would do auditions in his office and he was sort of the brainchild of everything, just like Rudy was the brainchild of Joy’s business. I am extremely grateful for any opportunity I have to work with Robert De Niro, he is an unparalleled actor with a huge soul, and he inspires me to write for him. I write for just about the entire cast, to what will be alive and soulful.
Q: You often work with Bradley Cooper, how interesting has it been watching his career flourish?
David O Russell: It’s my privilege to call Bradley my friend and collaborator really, a partner in cinema. He’s not just a very intense actor, he has also outgrown any of the younger qualities he had in Silver Linings Playbook. He’s a man now and in the interim, he bought a book called American Sniper, which became a very intense, true film and which he got Clint Eastwood to direct. Bradley’s performance is impeccable in that very powerful film about war veterans. He is precise and inspired and original in this film [as Neil Walker, an executive salesman at QVC home shopping TV network who gives Joy her big break]. My dad was a salesman [with Simon & Schuster, the publishing house]. I knew many salesmen and I love how affable they are, but also how serious they are because it’s their everyday living.
Q. How rewarding is it working with some of the same, great actors again and again?
David O Russell: There is a trust and a willingness to take risks together and to be daring together. It makes me aspire to make it worth their heart and their time to do roles that are going to be good and different from anything they’ve done before. For example, I want to be able to say that I’ve never seen Robert De Niro do all these things with his daughter he does in this film, and go on a 900 number to date and all that stuff.
I’ve never seen Bradley act the way he does in this movie. With Jennifer, what I love is that in the beginning of the movie she’s on the other side of Robert’s desk appealing to him and Isabella Rossellini, and she’s on the other side of Bradley Cooper’s desk appealing to him. By the end, they’re on the other side of her desk appealing to her!
Q: The title of the film is as inspiring as Joy’s story. How would you define joy?
David O Russell: Joy means bearing the love and the loyalty and the scars of everything you’ve been through, but still having a deep contentment and a spark inside yourself, a gleam in your eye. It means connecting to those things that are special to you. Whatever your dreams are, it is about having the perseverance to stay with them. It is about being at peace, feeling like you’ve not just been pushed around by life, but that you are taking part in it. It is a feeling that you’ve come through – and that you’ve been true to yourself. The kind of joy, [the character] Joy experiences at the end of the movie is very deep and mature.
Q: Do we have to endure suffering to experience joy?
David O Russell: Unfortunately, I think they go hand in hand. I think that the rain makes the sun sweeter, so they highlight each other.
Q: What brings you joy in your work?
David O Russell: Filming gives me great joy; it’s my life. It gives me great joy to do an endeavor with people that is daunting, filled with risk, fear and ultimately joy. I can say this, my work means everything to me.
Joy is available to own on Digital HD™, Blu-ray™ & DVD on April 25, 2016 courtesy by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.