Meeting David O. Russell (Director of “American Hustle”) 10 Years ago and then Hearing him Speak again 10 Years Later. My Thoughts.

Sorry for my unintended hiatus since the New Year. I have been thoroughly swamped mentally and physically and I it hasn’t been until now that I’ve had the time or have been inspired to write.

85th Academy Awards Nominations Luncheon - Portraits

Michael and I were able to go see David O. Russell the other night at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara.  We fortunately live downtown so we are only 4 blocks away from the theatre and were able to walk there from our house. There is something super magical about that moment when you are childless for the evening and hand in hand with your love. Of course the moment would have been even better if we didn’t have that lingering guilt about leaving Gigi crying at the door when we left….

I digress. David O. Russel is famous for his most recent (and most amazing) films such as, “The Fighter” Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” What I didn’t know until Michael read his bio out loud before the show is that he  also happens to be the director for “I Heart Huckabee’s” which has special significance to me.  The film didn’t do that great in the box office and it was a sort of an off beat film that didn’t quite have the level of quirkiness to make it a “cult classic.” But when I was 22 and working at Cheesecake Factory I waited on two gentlemen who happened to be working on the film and invited me to the set. I was an “aspiring” actress (aka waitress) at the time and the offer to visit a REAL set was of course thrilling.  I do believe that these guys had some kind of romantic interest in me (otherwise why the heck would they have extended this invitation?) but I was with Michael at time which I explained to them and which didn’t seem to phase them. I was extremely naive in my earlier years… So off I went to the set and David O. Russell was the first person I met. His hair was sort of shaggy and I seem to remember it being past his ears. He was holding/eating a sandwich and wearing a seer sucker suit. I was introduced to him and he ran up to me and hugged me say, “Hi, Anna from Cheesecake Factory!” I was very embarrassed to be addressed in this way because in my mind I would have preferred to have been a mysterious girl that was important enough to invite to the set of a major motion picture. NOT some girl from Cheesecake Factory that was picked up by the stunt guy. I also was pretty frozen after the hug and awkwardly shuffled my feet waiting to see what I suppose to do next…After that I was escorted to a trailer in which Jason Swartzman was residing during breaks and watched with him and some other members of the entourage clips from “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. (This is starting to sound like a dream I once had but seriously its true…) I remember asking Jason Swartzman (who I hadn’t hear of at the time and would later become a huge fan of) whether he has seen “The Graduate” before and he said, “No.”  He probably was being feciscious…I then mentioned quite philosophically how the last scene was the best scene in the movie. Another attempt at trying to appear more sophisticated than I was… When the shooting of the movie commenced I was introduced to none other that the great Dustin Hoffman. Actually, he introduced himself to ME by saying., “Hi, I’m Dustin” and shaking my hand.  It was quite enthralling. Mr. Hoffman’s son was in the film and had a bit part as the valet. I remember they were filming his scene at the time and everyone was enamored by the effortlessness of his acting.  In the scene, Jude Law was trying to valet his bike, and the line Dustin Hoffman’s son said was, “Its not a car its a bike.” After the line was delivered everyone laughed uproariously at his understated delivery.

Finally, I was introduced to Jude Law and in my final attempt to seem cool, collected and important I commented to him that he had a beautiful son (who was on set as well). He looked at me for a long pause and then turned away without making a comment. Great. While there were many more moments that could have been told I’ll stop there as this is really about my recent experience in 10 years later hearing David O. Russell speak about his career, films and personal life.

David O. Russell of today is much like the David O. Russell 10 years ago. He was extremely personable, likable and down to earth. One of the first stories he related was on how he started. He use to bartend for fancy parties often at Jackie O’s house when he was first working at being a director. Evidently he served Martin Scorscese one night  after his movie “Good Fellas” had come out and told him that he’d like to be doing what he is doing someday. Marty Scorscece said, “I’ll have a vodka tonic.” Evidently he didn’t begin his career until after he was 30 and had spent his 20’s getting a degree and teaching ESL.  One of his first opportunities in filmmaking was  a grant he received to do a movie about a chinese restaurant owner that planted hidden microphones at his patrons table to listen in on their conversations and give them personal and inappropriate fortune cookies. Evidently that idea never panned into anything but he made a completely different film  had to give the grant money back (since he never completed the original project). Fortunately his film was eventually bought and so he was able to pay the money back. Years later during the filming of “I Heart Huckabee’s” his son began to have serious problems and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The ultimate failure of Huckabee’s along with the divorce from his wife and son’s problems all helped him gain personal experience that lead him to his later films success. “The Fighter” about a failed boxer and his brother trying to make a comeback struck a chord with him because of  his failure in “Huckabee’s.”  He said that if he hadn’t failed to a degree in directing he would never have had the personal connection to “The Fighter.” ” Silverling Playbook” was based off his experience with his sons bipolar disorder and those hard and daunting moments he went through.  I greatly appreciated his being transparent about his successes and failures and all the experiences along the way that have shaped him into the person he is today. I personally feel like my life is mostly a collage of embarrassed failures. I don’t say this to garner any sympathy or fish for complements but to be real about my own humanness. And I felt a connection with the recounts of his life because he’s had very real triumphs and failures just like the rest of us. I loved how when asked by the interviewer if he likes doing one type of film more than another his reply was, “I feel grateful to make a film period. So I love making any film.” Or his response to whether or not he enjoyed film festivals he said, “If you don’t love to award shows and festivals then you’re in the wrong business.” I was a fan of David O. Russell without knowing it purely from loving his recent films. Now I’m a fan him from a personal standpoint. His genuine nature, example of perseverance and  down to earth qualities made the evening not only lovely but also insightful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s