Often acting as the writer, director and producer of his own films, David O Russell is a near one-man band After a short hiatus in the mid 2000s, Russell returned to Hollywood in a blaze of glory with a fantastically impressive run of films, starting with The Fighter (2010) and most recently Joy (2015). Even though Russell’s acclaim and recognition, particularly with awards, has come later in his career, he has consistently brought complex characters to the screen whose willingness to survive and lead fulfilling lives overcomes their dark situations. His work addresses a number of important theme such as mental illness and reinvention; and he tackles them all with enviable ease.

AP Images/Invision

(l to r) Bradley Cooper, Director David O. Russell and Amy Adams on the set of Columbia Pictures’ AMERICAN HUSTLE. Getty Image

Born in Manhattan, New York City, Russell was constantly surrounded by books and novels as his parents, Maria and Bernard, both worked for a publishing company. Although he had shown interest in film-making, having made his own film at 13 for a school project using a Super 8 camera, and developed a passion for cinema, writing was Russell’s main aspiration. He founded a newspaper in high school and graduated from Amherst College in 1981 where he majored in English and political science. Upon graduating, Russell worked many manual jobs, including being a waiter and a bartender, all the while writing short films. In the late 80s, the New York native wrote, produced and directed Bingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions, a film about a bingo-obsessed mother. He made several more shorts before making his feature-length debut in 1994 with Spanking the Monkey, a dark comedy about a troubled young man who starts an incestuous relationship with his mother. The film received many notable awards, including the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Following the success of Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster (1996), Russell made the satirical Gulf War black comedy Three Kings (1999) and assembled his most impressive cast of his career up until that point. Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze, the film grossed over $100 million worldwide and was highly praised by critics for its successful blending of action, drama and comedy. However, production was often a fraught experience as Clooney and Russell would come to blows, with one altercation and disagreement resulting in a physical fight. The pair reportedly clashed over Russell’s treatment of the extras but producer Charles Roven eventually mediated the situation. Clooney would later describe the incident as “truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life” but suggested that he and Russell had made amends. Although the pair haven’t worked together since, Russell has further collaborated with Wahlberg who starred in and co-produced 2010’s The Fighter for which Russell received his first nomination at the Academy Awards for Best Director.

On the set of Columbia Pictures’ AMERICAN HUSTLE. Getty Image

He would go on to garner two more nominations in the same category for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013) and the main cast for both features would also receive nominations for their work, with Jennifer Lawrence winning Best Actress for her role as Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Playbook. Lawrence and Russell have thus far worked with each three times (SLP, American Hustle and Joy) with Russell noting of the alliance, “We share a sense of humour. We share a sense of what we cry about. We share a sense about what we love. We really like each other and like to laugh together and have fun.” Like many other auteurs and his contemporaries, Russell aimed to create television content. The project he devised was to be produced by Amazon and Julianne Moore was positioned to star, as well as Russell regular Robert De Niro. However, after the sexual harassment and rape allegations made against Harvey Weinstein (one of the show’s intended producers) and the suspension of Amazon Studios head Roy Price following similar allegations, the costly series was scrapped. But the director, like always, will bounce back with new and distinct projects – most likely starring his trustee handful of Hollywood talent.     Unmissable Picks:
  • Spanking the Monkey (1994)
  • Three Kings (1999)
  • I Heart Huckabees (2004)
  • The Fighter (2010)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
  • American Hustle (2013)
By Evie Brudenall
Author: Estelle


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