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How Director David O. Russell Discovered 'Joy'


David O. Russell is clearly on a roll. "American Hustle" was a big hit, as was "Silver Linings Playbook." So there are great expectations for his new movie, which opened yesterday, "Joy," but it is not a Christmas movie. It's a semifictional film about Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop, the self-wringing mop, which made her rich, although riches did not come easily and came finally because she was one of the first heroes of home shopping on cable TV. David O. Russell joins us from our studios in New York. Welcome to the program.

DAVID O. RUSSELL: Thank you, Linda. Thanks for having us back.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the theme of the movie will be familiar to your fans - ordinary people struggling through their lives. The cast of the movie will be familiar to your fans - Jennifer Lawrence. This time she's in the starring role.


JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (As Joy) Hi, would you like to try a new mop?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) No.

LAWRENCE: (As Joy) It's a self-wringing. You can remove the mop head, throw it in the washing machine, no germs.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) No, no.

LAWRENCE: (As Joy) No.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Look at that.

LAWRENCE: (As Joy) You want to just try it? You can just try it. It self-wrings.

WERTHEIMER: Robert De Niro is the saner of her two parents, which is not, by the way, a high bar. And Bradley Cooper plays a TV cable channel executive. Let's start with doing a movie about a real person, although Joy Mangano is not exactly an ordinary person.

RUSSELL: Well, I kind of thought I'd never seen a picture that had many of these things in it. I'd never seen a picture that was about a woman who is sort of trapped in ordinary circumstances. A family that loves her but imperfectly - that sort of makes her who she is and that she rises to become kind of a matriarch and that we tell it over the course of a lifetime, like the dreams of a little girl when she was 10, you know? It's only about half based on the real Joy Mangano. But there were many good details we got from her.

WERTHEIMER: Did you get to know the real Joy a little bit?

RUSSELL: I spent about probably 100 hours on the phone with her and we got a very strong impression of her when we sat with her once because I didn't want to meet her for a long time because I didn't want to feel beholden as - and I asked for her blessing to tell my own fictional fable in cinema. And she said yes.

WERTHEIMER: You said that you got a lot of amazing details out of Joy Mangano that you might not have heard otherwise. What kind of details? Give us a detail.

RUSSELL: Her father ran a metal garage and I find that kind of fascinating. So here she is. You got metal garage in this little girl's psyche with welding and big pieces of metal and the making of things. You've got a mother who's a very sweet person and she retreated from the world as some people do but she did take inspiration from ladies who were fierce on soap operas. And I knew many women in my family that did that. And I think finding inspiration in fiction or narrative is a completely legitimate way to get through life. And so we got to have those soap operas, which we created across four decades, you know, with some icons such as Susan Lucia and Donna Mills. And that was really fun to do from the '60s to the 2000s. And that's another part of this little girl's psyche that was true from Joy's life.

WERTHEIMER: Now, in addition to working your movie out through the life of an actual person, you also have your troupe trope. Why do you do that? Why do you cast your movies from a sort of personal ensemble company?

RUSSELL: If something - if you have a good rapport then you're friends and you're offered projects together or you discover stories together. Jennifer and I discovered this story together, and it was evident to us we would only do it with each other. You know, you have Scorsese who worked with De Niro and - or DiCaprio. You have William Wyler who worked with Bette Davis. You have George Cukor who worked with Katharine Hepburn. I just - people get to be friends and then there's a - that's a - you can take risks together and each time out you take a different risk.

WERTHEIMER: There's a title page at the beginning of the movie - inspired by true stories of daring women. That's what you were looking for, daring women.

RUSSELL: Yeah, that's what I think we - I hadn't made that movie before and when I ever met the real Joy Mangano, which happened because De Niro insisted we meet her and her father, that's what she felt like to us. She impressed us with her quiet, serene authority with herself

WERTHEIMER: Do you think Jennifer Lawrence pulled it off?

RUSSELL: Oh, unquestionably, I think Jennifer Lawrence is that inside of herself. As long as I've known her she's been both 10 years old and 50 years old. And we've watched her grow up since she walked on "Silver Linings Playbook" as a 20-year-old and had not been - "Hunger Games" had not come out. And I've watched her have to take on and deal with a great deal of attention and resources and people. And that is also what the movie's about, going beyond success, what is success 'cause I think success is misperceived as just a cake and it isn't. There is many things inside that success. There's a maturity and a heartbreak and sadness and broken glass. And if you can come through that and still have some connection to your joy you felt when you were a child that's a very mature kind of a joy that I find inspiring. And Jennifer has all that in her, and I've watched her have to go through it even in the last five years.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. Russell's newest movie is called "Joy" with Jennifer Lawrence in the title role. David O. Russell, thank you very much.

RUSSELL: Thank you very much, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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