When adults struggling with mental illness are faced with conflicts that they have difficulty comprehending and moving past, their families often feel the straining effects on their own lives. The families often do whatever they can to try to protect and save the person trying to get over their fears and internal battles, but often times fail to understand what they’re truly going through. That’s the main motivating cause of conflict in the new comedy-drama ‘Silver Linings Playbook,’ which is based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick. Director David O. Russell, who made his feature film writing debut with the movie, created a memorable film offers a realistic, emotional look into the struggles families face after a member has an emotional break-down related to their mental illness.
‘Silver Linings Playbook‘ follows Pat Solatano (played by Bradley Cooper), who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and lost everything, including his house, his job as a teacher at the local high school and his wife, Nikki (portrayed by Brea Bee), after spending eight months in a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat’s mother, Dolores (played by Jacki Weaver), arranges for him to be released from the hospital and move with back in with her and his father, Pat Sr. (portrayed by Robert De Niro), who lost his job and has turned to gambling to make money. They want Pat to get back on his feet, and share the family obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. But Pat is determined to rebuild his life on his own terms-his major goal is to reunite with Nikki, despite her restraining order against him and the challenging circumstances of their separation.
Pat’s road to recovery is deterred by Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence), his widowed neighbor and the sister of one of his friends, Veronica (portrayed by Julia Stiles), who is still in contact with Nikki. Since Pat is determined to reconnect with Nikki, Tiffany offers to help him save his marriage, as long as he’ll be her partner in a dance competition she’s determined to enter. As their deal plays out, Pat and Tiffany form an unexpected bond with each other that they both have to learn to navigate. While Dolores and Pat Sr. are confused over where their son’s relationship with Tiffany is headed, one of Pat’s fellow patients from the hospital, Danny (played by Chris Tucker), encourages his friend to continue his new bond with the woman he has so easily connected with.
Russell, De Niro, Cooper, Tucker and Weaver all generously participated in a press conference recently at New York City’s Regency Hotel to discus ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’ Among other things, the cast reveals why they were interested in playing their respective characters; the filmmaker spoke about how he came about writing and directing the comedy-drama; and how everyone thought what a surprise it was to see De Niro become emotional on set.
Question (Q): David, as the director and writer, can you tell us a little about how the material came to you?
David O. Russell (DOR): Well, about five years ago, Sydney Pollack gave me the novel by Matthew Quick, which he owned the rights to with his partner, Anthony Mccalla and Harvey Weinstein. I would say if it weren’t for my son, who had some of these struggles with bipolarity, the book would not have grabbed me. But it did grab me, and I was very pleased to write it.
It was my first adaptation ever. The characters were fantastic and complicated, each one of them. They’re very powerful-two very powerful women, and two very powerful men. I then didn’t get to make it as expected at the time. I thought I was going to get to make it, and it didn’t work out at the time.
Then I made ‘The Fighter,’ which really turned to focus my energy on this kind of a world. I’ve come to really appreciate it as a filmmaker, and I try to do it the best as I can. I then re-wrote it for the people here.
Q: When you said you re-wrote it for the people here, did you re-write it post-casting? As you were re-writing, were you thinking of the individuals who would play them?
DOR: It’s a combination of the fact that as you approach who’s going to be in the movie, I had the privilege to get to know Mr. De Niro over a period of years. We were able to have a personal dialogue about members of our family who had various challenges that they faced. So that’s always nice to have that emotional gateway into material, it makes it specific and personal to you. You care about it, and understand it.
The fact that Bradley had gone through himself, when I met him and got to know him, I saw him as someone in ‘Wedding Crashers’ who was a very angry person to me. When I got to know him, he was only more interesting to me. (laughs) The guy was 30 pounds heavier, and was angrier at that time.
That, to me, was so interesting when I got to know him, for him to tell me that about himself, because that mirrored the journey of the character. The character was re-introducing himself to his community, and so I think is Bradley in the picture, as an actor. I don’t think people have seen that face of him in cinema.
Jacki, I absolutely loved ‘Animal Kingdom;’ she had such a strong, tense presence. She brought that anger energy to the film. I told her that she and Bob had a happy marriage, they were still close. They instantly got that chemistry, which is essential that you feel like you’re in a real home.
Chris Tucker was another great revolution for us. He’s a guy we haven’t seen enough of since ‘Rush Hour.’ That lends to the reality of a fellow who’s been in a hospital, and we haven’t seen him. He’s coming out, and he’s happy and trying to talk to people. You don’t know who he’s going to be. But that lends that energy to Bradley, with their friendship going back.
Q: So you had a lot of these dialogues before you wrote the script?
DOR: Yes, as we went into production. Bradley’s from Jenkintown, which is near the neighborhoods where we filmed-Upper Darby and Ridley Park, very specific parts of Philadelphia that have these stone houses and a very particular feeling to them. You have language, like Jacki used, like homemades, where people made their own Italian foods. We heard that right on the block, and I had never heard that before.
Q: Jacki, as the matriarch of the family and your homemades, you have this incredible American accent, which isn’t your regular accent (Weaver is Australian). Can you talk about that role, as that anchor?
Jacki Weaver (JW): Which accent? (laughs) I was keen to be as authentically Philadelphian as I could, which was helped by the fact that I could hear Brad all the time. He’s a true Philadelphian.
I see her as walking a tightrope between her husband, who is obsessive-compulsive and has anger management problems. Even though she loves him, she’s constantly aware of that. On the other hand, she has this son, who’s bipolar, who she also adores, who also has anger management problems. I think she’s probably the sanest person in the entire feature, which was nice for me, after playing that lunatic in ‘Animal Kingdom.’ (laughs)
Q: Bob, do you want to talk a little bit about your role as the dad, who always exudes this love for his son, which isn’t always easy to do?
Robert De Niro (RDN): Well, the way David was directing was really good. We would do scenes, and he would shout out lines to say. That gave it an immediacy and spontaneity. It was chaotic in the fact that the camera was always moving around, it was hand-held. It picked up a lot of stuff, and gave it a life that’s very important. David knows the characters, so he would come up with things right there, which would sound right.
Q: Bradley, can you talk about your role? It’s not something many people would expect, particularly when compared to your other movies?
Bradley Cooper (BC): I play Pat Solatano, and I feel in love with that guy. The main thing was that I got to work with this guy (De Niro), and growing up, I was a massive fan of his movies. Getting to work with Robert De Niro for a second time, and getting to play his son, was incredible. To get to do it as Pat Solatano, was great.
What David really cares about, as he said, is telling an authentic story about a specific group of people or family in a specific house on this specific block. That’s all her really cares about, to make it as authentic as possible. So any actor involved in that experience will have a very rewarding experience.
What Bob said is right, things would happen as we were doing it. Not to give away too many secrets, usually the room is lit, so you can shoot it at any time. When we’re doing a scene with Bob, the camera can go onto me and him, depending on what David wants to do. That makes it very exhilarating for an actor, it’s almost like theater.
That house felt like we were almost doing theater in it. The scene where Tiffany comes in, we were all there, the whole cast was there, except for Chris, right?
Chris Tucker (CT): No, I wasn’t there.
BC: Chris’ character wasn’t there, but the rest of the characters weren there. It had this immediate vibration, which is intoxicating for an actor.
Then the characters in all of David’s movies are dynamic. They’re dealing with emotions that we can all relate to, but they’re heightened. That was very fun to play, and scary to play, because you can’t fake it in his movies at all. There’s no room for that. When you’re across the playing field from Jacki Weaver or Chris Tucker or Robert De Niro, they’re not going to let you fake it, either.
Q: Chris, can you talk a little about your role, as well?
CT: My role was a smaller role, but an important one. There was so much depth to the character. Working with David, who brings so many things out of you, he’s right there with you, he’s helping you along the way. The dialogue’s great, and he made me feel smart in the movie.
But it was so much fun, and this was one of the most important roles I’ve ever done. People haven’t seen me do dramatic roles a lot, and I had a lot of fun doing it.
Q: David, what’s your filming process, because everyone’s talking about the spontaneity? What’s your rehearsal process like?
DOR: We do some rehearsing, and we work on the script in that process. I’m very fortunate that Mr. De Niro is also a director, and this guy’s (Cooper) probably going to be a director. So you get very smart people putting their brains on the script, helping you shape the scene.
So when we get there on the day of shooting, they understand the rhythm. A lot of it’s about the rhythm. I’m very influenced by this man’s (Cooper) work coming up, and so that rhythm’s a rhythm that I related to from my own family. I almost wrote in that rhythm, also. When everyone understands the rhythm, everyone dives right into it. That’s the feeling that orients everyone in the rehearsal process, and everyone relates to it.
It’s also about the intensity and emotion. My intention as a filmmaker is to grab people by the throat, with a sustained feeling of emotion that doesn’t really stop. I was surprised by every actor up here. When Bradley steps forward and kisses Bradley, there was an unexpected feeling of tenderness there. To see the reaction on Bradley’s face, it looked like he was 10-years old.
Similarly, to see Mr. De Niro cry was a surprise. You never know what he’s going to do. My son, who rings the doorbell in the picture, in the opening scene, you don’t know what Bob is going to do when the kid rings the doorbell. The second time, my son said it was like waking up in ‘Raging Bull.’ He started laughing nervously, and I said, you can’t do that, you have to be in this scene.” Bob, being the master that he is, Bob said “That’s okay, I can make that work. I can play that.”
It plays very real, like a kid who’s scared of a grown man. He’s provoked this grown man, who’s yelling at him. Bob’s yelling at him, and I said, what are you laughing at?
With Chris Tucker, him being the master of the legal language, is something that we’ve hit upon. It’s all very real mental health law language, from the Internet, that’s real. All those laws, where people get a plea bargain and are admitted into a mental hospital.
The fact that every time he steps on stage, he’s speaking that legal language. The unlikely alliance that forms between him and Bob, over the good luck, and he calls him jailhouse lawyer, that’s a gift. That poor guy had to memorize all that legal language, no one else could have remembered it.
Q: Bradley, would you like to talk a little bit about the dancing?
BC: It’s a hell of a way to meet somebody. I didn’t know Jennifer; the first time I met her was in a small, third-story walk-up on Chestnut Street, a small studio space. The next thing you know, we’re sweating. She had her arms under my armpits during rehearsal, and she was wonderful.
(‘So You Think You Can Dance’ choreographer) Mandy Moore, who was the dance choreographer, was fantastic. The dance came to life very much the same way the rest of the movie came to life. It was a very collaborative experience, very organic. David would come often to rehearsals, look at something, tweak it, and then it morphed.
Then Chris’ character came in, and I don’t know if that was originally in the script, but he influenced the dance. It all sort of happened by David looking at what he had in front of him, and going from there. It was very exciting.
The dance actually reflects their relationship in many ways. It has this bipolar aspect to it, in some ways. I like to dance, so it was fun. But I felt bad, Bob and Chris had to watch us rehearse for three days, for 16 hours. (laughs)
Q: Bob, you’re in a very pivotal role, in terms of salvaging the relationship as a husband and as the father. Can you talk about that pivotal point, and how all three of you built that family, because it’s very real, and has a lot of specificity to it, like with the gambling? How did you establish that family, to make it feel real?
BC: In terms of the feeling of family, a huge, soothing aspect was that I was going to play Bob’s son. We had done a movie together prior (last year’s ‘Limitless‘). He really did, truth be told, champion me to get the role.
I confided in him early on that I didn’t know if I could do it. He said, you’re from Philly, you’ll be fine. I knew that I could say the word Dad and look at him, and that would come from a real place. So that was built in.
Jacki was just a miracle. She’s the same height as my mother. She was somehow able to command her spirit, and it all sort of just clicked right away.
The house was also very much a part of that magic that occurred. It felt like when you saw the two of them in that house, they had lived there. It also helped that we had someone cooking in the kitchen. This kitchen always smelled like these homemades were always being made. There’s nothing like walking into one of those houses, and smelling Italian food being cooked. It just sets the tone for the whole crew, as well.
So that chemistry felt very potent while we were acting. It felt very authentic. We also had the locals from that street watching as we were going into and out of the house. They would say hello, and one woman would make the homemades. It very much felt like a ritualistic experience, that was heavily embedded on that block.
DOR: That was the joy of it. As a filmmaker, I discovered the joy of these homes. When you make a film like ‘The Fighter,’ you go, what a specific world. It was an Irish family, and I’m Italian-American and Russian Jewish-American, and I said, know these people.
Then the same thing with this world. I said, I know these people, and that’s a warm feeling. I think when you have that warm feeling, everyone on the set feels it.
JW: Part of the work for me was not being over-awed of working with Robert De Niro. (laughs) Like most actors of my generation feel, he was the master, but I don’t want to embarrass him. Working with him, you see why he’s a master. It’s all brilliant, what he does.
To know Bradley is to love him. It was important to get the familiarity, so that’s when being overawed wouldn’t have been helpful. (laughs) But yes, I feel like we were a family at the end.
I’ve got a son around the same age as Bradley. So it wasn’t very hard to conjure up the feelings I had for him for Brad.
RDN: There were a lot of things that were built in that David pulled together. My relationship with Bradley, and when he cast Jacki, it pulled it all together. It’s a pleasure when that happens.
Q: David, what do you think are the elements that turn a romantic comedy into a classic?
DOR: To me, I wouldn’t define it as a romantic comedy. Like with ‘The Fighter,’ was that a fight film? Not really. To me, it’s a film about these specific people. If you have an invested, emotional drama, specific to a group of people, that the romance happens to occur in, that’s the secret right there. Then the world world will feel real and emotional, and the romance will surprise you, as it surprises the characters.
I think it snuck up on all of us, the device of Matthew Quick’s novel-these two people are supposed to be staying away from each other. The whole movie, he’s supposed to stay away from her, and then she’s in the house. There’s the explosive scene, when she’s in the house. They’ve been dancing together the whole movie, which is like a loaded gun.
When it’s an original landscape, that has real people in it, that’s different. You’re not starting off, announcing what it is. I love how uncomfortable people are during the beginning of the movie. People say, “Bradley Cooper from ‘The Hangover.’ What’s happening? This is a very scary character. Who is this guy? What’s he going to do next? He’s disturbing.”
Chris Tucker, from ‘Rush Hour. That’s scary, what’s happening? It’s not who I know.” Suddenly, you get to know everyone again. That’s the great thing as a director.
Q: For the actors, how did you distance yourself from your characters, emotionally, when you were done filming?
BC: I always think I shake it off, but you’ll have to ask the people close to me. I may not.
DOR: People get into it, like a song. They’re enjoying it. It’s like a coat you enjoy putting on everyday. I was a little sad when it was over. You create a home and a family. We celebrated the holidays, we celebrated Halloween and Christmas in that house. It did feel like there was a life in that house.
Q: Robert, you’ve played some unhinged characters in your films, like ‘Taxi Driver,’ ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘King of Comedy.’ Were you able to draw on any of the unhinged characters you’ve played in order to interact with an unhinged character, or any of your own experiences from the real world?
RDN: Well, you draw from all those things. It wasn’t from those characters; I drew things I would understand and part of yourself that’s applicable to the situation and circumstances. I also have some personal understandings of the situation. They were different, but you could apply all those things.
You use whatever works. That’s the most important thing, as long as you don’t hurt anybody or yourself. You draw on whatever’s going to work for that.
Q: You spoke about the relationships between the cast, and the one person missing here today is Jennifer Lawrence. What kind of catalyst did she provide in this chemistry?
DOR: Well, she’s very much like the character in the film, I think. She was a late arrival to auditions. We had our choice, fortunately, from a lot of great actresses, since it was such a great role. They all wanted the part.
I did not expect her, she’s an underdog. We thought, perhaps she’s too young or inexperienced. We didn’t know how much depth she had, and at the last minute, she came in and stole the role. She possesses many aspects of the character. She possesses a great maturity, emotionally, and a great confidence, but also a great vulnerability. So I think she was an exciting presence for everybody.
When you have somebody there, in the moment, that has a lot of charisma, it just helps the whole process. It was exciting for us. She was taking off like a rocket ship while the film was being shot. From the beginning of the film, she’s asking Bradley, what it’s like to have people want to photograph you on the street? By the end of filming, she had some idea. She literally, before our eyes, was blowing up. So that was an interesting thing to see.
Q: Bradley, how did you prepare for your role, to get into Pat’s head? Did you go to hospitals, or meet with patients?
BC: Well, the first thing, it always starts with the script, that’s the primary source. Then David sent me a bunch of footage of people, and documentaries about depression.
Then it was, as Robert said, you use whatever you can from your personal life. It really helped that I’m Italian-Irish, that I come from a very similar background. Everything felt and smelt and looked real, because that’s how I grew up. I was very lucky in that I had 37 years of preparation for the role.
Then I had David guiding me, and we were exploring it together. We asked, what is it to play bipolar? Like David said, no two are the same. It’s very specific to this guy, and traumatic events trigger something in him that puts him in a manic state. Why doesn’t he have a filter? He’s also very sensitive.
It’s about finding all of those moments, and inserting that into the scenes so that it’s not overbearing. Pat’s the foil, in which you meet all of the other characters, and are told the stories. So he’s going to be your partner in this movie, for better or worse. So we were very conscious of that. It was a wonderful experience, and really bound in the doing.
That’s the great thing about David. His exploration, the research, the working out, all happens in the field, which is incredible. To do that in 33 days is a feat that I don’t know many directors can accomplish.
DOR: I think it’s a great thing when characters have a challenge. Bipolar people, or like the drug addict that Christian Bale played in ‘The Fighter,’ these people are very challenging people, and I don’t care if you say it’s a cliche, but when they do it for real, it’s real. Those people make everyone around them rise. You either rise or fall when you’re faced with a challenge like that.
It’s about second chances, both films are about second chances. You’re faced with a bipolar person in your family, or a drug addict in your family, what’s everyone going to do? That’s what I find fascinating.
At the same time, they’re struggling economically. We set it in 2008, when the economy collapsed. Like many people, the character that Bob plays lost not only his job, but his pension. What do you mean my pension’s gone? Well, it’s gone, the bank lost it. Suddenly, he’s a book maker. The same volatility of a bipolar person is the volatility of the economy and the volatility many people are facing with their homes and lives. Everyone has to face it.
These are the lessons I learned from my son. My son taught me things I would have never known. I never would have made a movie called ‘Silver Linings’ without him. I learned certain people can’t afford a negative attitude. It’s a luxury to have a cynical or negative attitude. These are all things that come from these situations.
Q: It’s only for a moment, but ‘Midnight Meat Train’ is on the movie marquee. Whose idea was that?
DOR: Bradley made a movie, which is some of his most distinguished work, called ‘Midnight Meat Train.’ (laughs)
BC: I’m very proud of that movie, by the way.
DOR: It’s a horror film, and that’s what’s on the marquee.
BC: Plus the one-sheet.
DOR: It’s on Halloween, when he and Jennifer are under the movie marquee, with all the kids and the costumes.
BC: I remember when David said, what do you want the movie to be on the marquee? I didn’t know if he was joking when he said ‘Midnight Meat Train.’ Then I show up, and there it is. (laughs) The poster’s in the entrance way, too. It was fantastic. The camera almost sees it, it says ‘Midnight Train.’ (laughs)
Q: Did you screen it, so the other actors knew what it was?
BC: I own all the copies. (laughs)
Q: David, one of the great things about the movie is how relatable it is, even though they have the different illnesses. They were just trying to get through the day, and live their life. You really felt like you’ve been there. Were you conscious of that when you were creating this world?
DOR: I’ve learned from the great cinema I’ve seen is that it does that. It’s like you’re spying on people, and that’s the whole thing. Everyone has to trick themselves. When I’m writing, I trick myself as a writer. If I’m conscious of it while I’m writing, and I feel all this pressure, it doesn’t feel as real. It seems to not count as much.
When I say, oh look at that, I did a whole scene, and it comes from an unconscious place. Same thing as when the actors are going take after take, and they forget, somehow we all get lost. It’s like when you’re in a house, you don’t think about it when you’re in a house. You have to trick yourself into being in the moment, and it just happens. That’s one of my favorite things about the film, the immediacy of it.
BC: The final takes of a lot of scenes would drum up moments that hadn’t happened before then. That happened very often in this movie. We would do one more, and have the camera have free rein. All of a sudden, things would come alive. Discoveries would be made, and we would go and cover that. It was very exciting, and it was done on every level.
DOR: Everyone would say, oh, we’re done. They would start to walk off the set, and Bob would say, let’s do one more. They would say, what? They would come back, and that’s when he would cry.
Like in the attic, I said, is he trying to remember his lines? He would be quiet, and no one would know what was happening. He didn’t tell anyone he was going to do that. It just happened on the last take.
Written by: Karen Benardello