David O. Russell
|David O. Russell|
|Born||David Owen Russell
August 20, 1958
New York City, New York, United States
|Residence||Santa Monica, California|
|Other names||David O'Russell|
|Alma mater||Amherst College (B.A.)|
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter, producer|
|Notable work(s)||The Fighter
Silver Linings Playbook
|Spouse(s)||Janet Grillo (m. 1992–2007)|
|Partner(s)||Holly Davis (2007–present)|
David Owen Russell (born August 20, 1958) is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. His early directing career includes works such as: Spanking the Monkey (1994), Flirting with Disaster (1996), Three Kings (1999), and I Heart Huckabees (2004).
Russell's three most recent films were critically acclaimed and commercial hits: The Fighter (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and American Hustle (2013). These films have earned Russell three consecutive Academy Award nominations for Best Director, as well as a Best Adapted Screenplay and a Best Original Screenplay nominations.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Ghetto Film School
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Filmography
- 6 Awards and nominations
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Russell was born in New York City to Maria (née Muzio) and Bernard (Markovski) Russell. His parents worked for Simon & Schuster; his father was the vice president of sales for the company and his mother was a secretary there. His father was from a Russian Jewish family and his mother was Italian American (of Lucanian descent). Russell's maternal grandparents were Frank Muzio, born in Craco, and Philomena Brancata, born in Ferrandina, both in the province of Matera. His paternal grandfather, a butcher from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, lost many of his relatives in concentration camps.
Russell was raised in Larchmont, New York, in an atheist, middle-class household. When he was 13, he made his first film for a school project and used a Super 8 film camera to film people in New York City. He attended Mamaroneck High School, where he was voted "Class Rebel". He fell in love with film in his teens (his favorite movies included Taxi Driver, Chinatown, and Shampoo) but aspired to become a writer; Russell started a newspaper in high school and wrote short stories. His parents worked for a publishing company, so he grew up in a household filled with books and novels.
Russell received his A.B. degree from Amherst College, where he majored in English and Politics, in 1981. He wrote his senior thesis on the United States intervention in Chile from 1963 to 1973.
After graduating from Amherst, Russell traveled to Nicaragua and taught in a Sandinista literacy program. He worked menial jobs, including waitering, bartending, and catering. Some of his bartending colleagues included members of the Blue Man Group. He worked for a booksellers' association and later became a community organizer in Maine. He used video equipment to document slums and bad housing conditions, which later became a documentary of Lewiston, Maine. Russell was a political activist and canvassed and raised money in neighborhoods; he also did community work in Boston's South End. In addition to working in several day jobs, he began to write short films.
In 1987, Russell wrote, produced, and directed Bingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions, a film about an obsessive bingo-playing mother. Two years later, he made another short titled Hairway to the Stars, which featured Bette Davis and William Hickey. Both shorts were shown at the Sundance Film Festival.
Spanking the Monkey
After Russell made an award-winning short film for a Boston television station, he received grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Instead of the money going towards a feature about a fortune cookie writer, he decided to make Spanking the Monkey, a film about an incestuous mother-son relationship. As a result, Russell had to return the funds to the NEA.
His first directorial effort was the 1994 independent dark comedy Spanking the Monkey. The film was produced by Dean Silvers, and starred Jeremy Davies as a troubled young man and Alberta Watson as his lonely mother. Despite the controversial subject matter, the film received critical acclaim and won him Best First Screenplay and Best First Feature from the Independent Spirit Awards, as well as the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
Flirting with Disaster
His next project was the Miramax comedy, Flirting with Disaster (1996), his second collaboration with Dean Silvers, and first with Harvey Weinstein. The film follows a neurotic man (Ben Stiller) who travels with his wife (Patricia Arquette) and a high-strung caseworker (Téa Leoni) to find his biological parents. The film also starred Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Alan Alda, Josh Brolin, Richard Jenkins, and Lily Tomlin. It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival, and was well received by most critics. Roger Ebert said of the direction, "Russell finds the strong central line all screwball begins with, the seemingly serious mission or quest, and then throws darts at a map of the United States as he creates his characters." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a 'B' and declared it "one of the ha-ha funniest comedies currently at a theater near you."
The success of those two films led to the Gulf War thriller Three Kings, starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze. Adapted from an earlier script by former stand-up comic John Ridley, the film follows three American GIs who devise a plan to steal hidden Kuwaiti gold during the 1991 Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein. Filmed in the deserts of Arizona, California and Mexico, and featuring actual Iraqi refugees as extras, Russell used several unique cinematic techniques to achieve a feeling of realism. He filmed using handheld cameras and Steadicam, and shot on Ektachrome slide photography stock that was cross processed in colour negative chemicals, to reproduce "the odd colour of the newspaper images [of the Gulf War]." He also insisted on filming all of the explosions in one shot, as opposed to a typical action film.
Three Kings was released in 1999 and was his biggest critical and financial success. It grossed $60 million in the United States and over $100 million worldwide. It holds a 94% at Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "Three Kings successfully blends elements of action, drama, and comedy into a thoughtful, exciting movie on the Gulf War." It ended up being the first of several collaborations with Mark Wahlberg. During filming, news spread of Russell and George Clooney nearly having a fistfight on the set. In a 2000 interview, Clooney described his confrontation with Russell after tensions on the set had been steadily increasing. According to Clooney, Russell was demeaning the crew verbally and physically. Clooney felt this was out of line and told Russell, "David, it's a big day. But you can't shove, push or humiliate people who aren't allowed to defend themselves." After the confrontation escalated when, according to Sharon Waxman in "Rebels on the Backlot," Russell actually headbutted Clooney and Clooney grabbed Russell by the throat, Clooney said Russell eventually apologized and filming continued, but Clooney described the incident as "truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life." When asked if he would work with Russell again, Clooney responded, "Life's too short." In early 2012, Clooney indicated that he and Russell had mended their relationship, saying "We made a really, really great film, and we had a really rough time together, but it's a case of both of us getting older. I really do appreciate the work he continues to do, and I think he appreciates what I'm trying to do."
I Heart Huckabees
Russell's next project was the existential comedy I Heart Huckabees. Russell had conflicts with Lily Tomlin during its filming, a video of which surfaced on video sites online. These conflicts were first reported in a 2004 New York Times article by Sharon Waxman in which she describes him calling Tomlin "...the crudest word imaginable, in front of the actors and crew." Additionally Waxman describes Russell storming off the set and back on again, continually shouting, which is corroborated by the leaked videos. The set was characterized as emotionally charged, with Russell begging nothing but his dream for the film from the actors, who were sometimes driven to their wits' ends after hours of takes. Afterward, Tomlin remarked that she and Russell are "fine", saying, "I'd rather have someone human and available and raw and open. Don't give me someone cold, or cut off, or someone who considers themselves dignified." In a 2011 interview with Movieline, Tomlin was asked about the incident and she replied:
It happens sometimes—but David is a very mercurial person, and that's part of why he's so brilliant. He almost reflects the movie. I did two movies with him, and I Heart Huckabees was so crazy, so all over the place, I think he kind of embodies intuitively whatever he's trying to make happen. It was just crazy, crazy stuff. We were always doing something, and then we'd get manic and crazy and I just flipped out on him. Then he flipped out on me. And you know, stuff goes on. But it's nothing. It's like family. If you have a big fight in your family, usually it's treated that way on the set. We don't want to misbehave; believe me, it's embarrassing. It's humiliating, you know? Because you just lose it. You act like a crazy person. [Laughs] But I adore David. I adore him as a talent. A lot of my friends said, "Well, you won't work with him again." I said, "Of course I would! I adore him, I love him. He's brilliant." 
Nailed is a political comedy co-written by Russell and Kristin Gore which stars Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tracy Morgan, Catherine Keener, Paul Reubens, Josh Brolin, and Kirstie Alley. Production was delayed or shut down four times in 2008, resulting in IATSE shutting down production because the crew was not getting paid. Actor James Caan left mid-production "due to creative differences and [the] split was amicable."
The film, which is unlikely to ever be released, revolves around the character of Alice Eckle (played by Jessica Biel) who gets accidentally shot in the head with a nail by a clumsy workman, eliciting wild sexual urges. The uninsured Eckle goes on a crusade to Washington to fight for the rights of the bizarrely injured. She meets an immoral congressman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who takes advantage of her sex drive and capitalizes on her crusade as Eckle heads into her own career in politics.
In 2010, Russell returned with The Fighter, a biographical sports drama produced by and starring Mark Wahlberg. The film focuses on junior welterweight boxer Mickey Ward's rise to claim the WBU Light Welterweight title, as well as his difficult relationship with his mother, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo), and his older half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). The film became a major critical and financial success, grossing $125 million, and appearing on several critics' year-end top ten lists. The Fighter also received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Russell, the first of his career, and earned awards for both Bale and Leo, for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.
Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook was adapted from the serio-comic novel by Matthew Quick. Bradley Cooper plays Pat and Robert De Niro, who starred with Cooper in Limitless, co-stars as his father. Jennifer Lawrence plays the lead female role of Tiffany. She commented about Russell, "He’s really my favorite director since I started watching movies." The cast also includes Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and the veteran Bollywood actor Anupam Kher. The film was released in the United States and Canada on November 16, 2012.
Russell received the Hollywood Director Award at the 16th annual Hollywood Film Awards and an Indie Impact Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival for his work on the film, as well as two Independent Spirit Awards (Best Director, Best Screenplay), two Satellite Awards (Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay), a BAFTA Film Award (Adapted Screenplay), and the AFI Award for Movie of the Year. Silver Linings Playbook won the People's Choice Award at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and garnered four Golden Globe Award nominations (with one win for Jennifer Lawrence, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy) and eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Russell), Best Adapted Screenplay (Russell), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bradley Cooper), Best Actress in a Leading Role (winner, Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver) and Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers).
Silver Linings Playbook is about a former teacher, played by Bradley Cooper, who suffers from bipolar disorder, and moves back in with his family. The film was inspired by Devereaux Glenholme School, a 12-month special education boarding school in Washington, CT. Russell's son is currently a student there, and Russell stated, "I was so familiar with the issues in the story that I knew how emotional and funny and original it could be. Without this community I would never have made this film." 
Russell's next project was American Hustle (2013), a fictional comedy loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s. The film's plot revolved around skilled con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) being forced to work for unhinged FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Their complicated operation eventually involves Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of Camden, New Jersey, as well as Irving's unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). The film reunited Russell with Bale and Adams after The Fighter, as well as with Cooper, Lawrence, and De Niro after Silver Linings Playbook. Saïd Taghmaoui, the Iraqi captain from Three Kings, also makes an appearance.
The film received 7 Golden Globe nominations, including Best Motion Picture Comedy & Best Director for Russell, and three wins including Best Motion Picture Comedy, Best Actress for Amy Adams and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Lawrence. Additionally, the film received 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, , along with a Screen Actors Guild Award win for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
In January 2014, Russell's upcoming project was announced that he was set to rewrite and direct a drama film about the life story about an American inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano, a struggling Long Island single mother of three children. Russell set Jennifer Lawrence to play the lead role in the film, which John Davis and John Fox would produce the film for Davis Entertainment along with Ken Mok, while 20th Century Fox would be holding the distribution rights. The film is set for a December 25, 2015 release.
Ghetto Film School
In 2002, Russell met Andrew Unger while receiving an honorary degree at Amherst College. Unger introduced Russell to Joe Hall, president of Ghetto Film School. After viewing some of the student work, Russell immediately joined the board of Ghetto Film School, located in The Bronx, New York. Along with fellow board members, Russell brought filmmaker friends, movie studios, and industry professionals to donate money and lend their time to teach classes and support the growth of young black and Latino filmmakers from the South Bronx and Harlem. One of the connections Russell brought to the school, Rachael Horovitz, currently serves as the board chairman. In a 2007 interview, president Joe Hall went on record saying, "Without David there is no Ghetto Film School." In 2011, David O. Russell was honored at the Ghetto Film School's Spring Benefit, where president Joe Hall explained that the name was "meant not to shy away from the notion of the term 'ghetto' - to use it in a positive way, a creative and educational way." 
On June 16, 2014, Ghetto Film School opened its new branch in Los Angeles. Russell is serving on the Los Angeles branch's board and enabling the school to host guest lecturers and accomplished film professionals. 21st Century Fox is also a supporter and partner of the Los Angeles branch.
Russell was married to Janet Grillo, who was a producer at Fine Line Features, from 1992 to 2007. He has been with his partner, Holly Davis, since 2007. Davis is a costume designer. Russell has two children, one with ex-wife Janet Grillo, and an adopted son with his partner Holly Davis. He resides in Santa Monica, California.
Awards and nominations
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- "Spanking the Monkey Reviews". Retrieved 2010-01-26.
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- "E.A. Hanks: Q & A With Joe Hall Of Ghetto Film School". Huffington Post. 2007-10-19. Retrieved 2007-10-19.
- Rohter, Larry (2010-09-05). "A Bronx Film School Tale". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-05.
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- Nick, Andersen. "David O. Russell and Friends Salute the Ghetto Film School". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
- D'Addario, Daniel. "Ghetto Film School Tribute to David O. Russell: What's in a Name?". New York Observer. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
- "EGhetto Film School debuts in L.A., David O. Russell on board of directors". Los Angeles Times. 2014-06-16. Retrieved 2014-06-16.
- Mandell, Andrea (December 11, 2013). "Exclusive: Inside the last days of 'American Hustle'". USA Today. Retrieved October 30, 2014.
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- Waxman, Sharon, ed. (2005), Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System, HarperEntertainment.
- Official website
- David O. Russell at the Internet Movie Database
- "Notes on Quirky" Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism
- David O. Russell collected news and commentary at The New York Times
- Literature on David O. Russell
- TWC Director's Gallery: David O. Russell
- David O. Russell - Official Youtube