Breaking: David O. Russell doesn’t think American Hustle is a comedy either.
“I feel like we’re telling stories, characters and stories, that are beyond category,” he told EW shortly after learning about his film’s seven Golden Globe nominations, including one for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy). In his mind, Hustle is tonally similar to his 2010 film The Fighter – which was nominated at the Globes in the Drama category. “Obviously it was a bit less of a comedy,” Russell explains, “but Christian Bale was incredibly funny in that movie. I love to be the director who can bring that out of him, but it’s done from the heart of the dramatic character that he creates. So as far as he and I are concerned, we’re doing a drama.”
That said, adds Russell, “I would never have said that was just a boxing movie. I would never have said that Silver Linings Playbook was a romantic comedy. I’m always shocked at any of the categories. So to me, people can put [American Hustle] wherever they want. To me, the film has both. ‘Beyond category.’ That was Duke Ellington’s ultimate wish, and that’s my ultimate wish while creating something.”
Generally speaking, Russell tries not to get too bogged down in “dissecting this whole awards thing.” Instead, he says, “I just kind of make the best picture I can, and the rest of it’s pretty much out of my hands.”
Even so, Russell won’t shy away from correcting popular misconceptions about his films – especially if they act to downplay the work he’s put into them. For example: There’s a widely cited interview in which Christian Bale says that Russell “threw [Hustle’s] script out of the door completely,” leading to a movie that was largely improvised. Not so, says Russell: “I spoke to Christian about that, and I went ‘No, it’s not.’ You can’t make films like this that are improvised. Each of these films has to be scripted many times, 20 drafts at least… Everything is planned and discussed, and planned and discussed. We developing a scene on the set, when we’re performing it; we may adjust it or decide to try different things. But there’s no scene that every beat isn’t written and decided.”
It took a lot of extra work to transform Eric Singer’s original screenplay American Bulls–t – a script included on the 2010 “Black List” of best unproduced screenplays – into Russell’s Hustle. For starters, Russell explains, “that other movie had a cynical title; I don’t make cynical movies. I don’t really like cynicism. It’s not really appealing to me. And so my movies are sort of about the opposite of that in a way. They’re about real people and emotion and hope and heartbreak and love. So I was really interested in creating a story about these people and the love in their hearts, and as they reinvented themselves.” Russell overhauled the script, working closely with each of his main actors to write scenes tailored specifically for them: “At Christian Bale’s house, I would say, ‘This is what I want to do,’ and then we would talk and then I would go write three scenes. I said, ‘Amy [Adams], I want to create a character for you that has all these characters and ranges,” and then I would go and do that.”
Clearly, Russell has an affinity for the four actors who have starred in his most recent projects: Hustle unites The Fighter’s Adams and Bale with The Silver Linings Playbook’s Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Could this film’s success mean that Russell is forming a sort of repertory company for his future works? It’s possible, the director says: “I write for these guys, and I talk to them all the time, and they inspire me. They and everything about them and how they work inspires me to want to create for them.”