Having known people who struggle with mental health issues, director David O. Russell says dispelling the public stigma of such conditions was part of the motivation behind Silver Linings Playbook.
Based on Matthew Quick’s novel, Silver Linings has been warmly welcomed at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and Anupam Kher, it follows the story of a troubled man trying to make amends and get his life in order after emerging from a mental-health institution following a violent breakdown.
"This movie, in a way, is about people who struggle with certain emotional issues that are bigger than the average issues," Russell told reporters at a Toronto press conference on Sunday.
"What interests me is not only how they're like us, [but] how they have to find their way."
First introduced to the novel by the late Sydney Pollack about five years ago, Russell agreed with the late filmmaking legend that a movie adaptation would depend on getting the tone just right.
'It's a great thing for a filmmaker to have something that's charged, radioactive, that people are scared of, that provokes reactions'—David O. Russell
Impressed by Cooper’s angry, intimidating performance in the comedy The Wedding Crashers and having completed his acclaimed The Fighter, Russell said he was ready to tackle Silver Linings, which treads a fine line between serious drama and the lighter, absurd moments people experience in real life.
"It’s a great thing for a filmmaker to have something that's charged, radioactive, that people are scared of, that provokes reactions," Russell noted.
'Weirdos' turn out to be film's sanest people: Russell
Cooper's and Lawrence’s outcast characters are "two of my favourite kinds of people because they inevitably tell the truth: unvarnished, bluntly. They're very often right. It's not comfortable. They're tagged as outsiders or weirdos, but they turn out to be the sanest people in the movie."
The fact that Cooper admitted he had gone through much personal change in recent years "was very interesting to me," the director added. "He had all these layers in him.... This role was a departure for him."
Cooper, dubbed People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2011 and known for pretty-boy roles in The Hangover films and The A-Team, threw himself into Silver Linings Playbook’s complicated lead role. He praised Russell’s ability to push his actors towards more realistic performances as well as the organic, explorative process of character development that the director encouraged.
Actors 'in the zone'
"He gets every actor to a place where they're out of their head and they're actually in the moment interacting with the other person in real time.Because of the way [the film] is written and the rhythms of each character, you start to have this cacophony of voices that create this sort of jazz music," Cooper told reporters.
"It's exciting to be a part of because once we were in it, we found that we were in the zone, and we were hitting it and hitting it…. You're not doing it just with your brain, but you're doing it with your body and your voice and your breath."
The absolute investment into character was also noted by Weaver, the Oscar-nominated actress and household name in her native Australia for her decades of stage work. Portraying the mother of Cooper’s character Pat, Weaver said she developed a real anguish and maternal instinct towards him.
"There was one scene particularly high key, emotionally," she said, recalling a tense, chaotic family dispute that featured Cooper, De Niro (as Pat’s father) and herself.
"We were all in tears and Bradley was going crazy. Well, Pat was. At the peak of the scene, I was meant to scream ‘Pat!’ and I screamed out ‘Brad!’ — because I was so involved and upset — and Bradley [in character]
yelled ‘Who the f--k is Brad?!’ So, we were in the moment," she chuckled.
TIFF continues through Sept. 16.