David O. Russell for ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Eye on the Oscars: The Director

There are no silver linings without dark clouds. Balancing the two proved writer-director Russell’s consistent challenge in a story centered around a bipolar protagonist. The mandate was “to make sure all of the characters in the story were coming from a real emotional place, including the comedy,” he says. To help his actors “feel the heartbeat,” Russell shared stories about his son’s battle with bipolar disorder. “Fortunately, Mr. De Niro also had personal experiences like that, so we were able to set the tone for everybody.”

Still, finding the right tone for the main character was tough. “Bradley Cooper really let himself go in the role, and there were times when he reminded me how far Christian Bale could go in ‘The Fighter,’ when he became extremely intense and dark — a little too ‘Aspergey.’ That was important for us to explore, because when the actor has lived that, the character has lived that,” the director says. “But it was also important for us to pull back. We quickly understood that a little of that goes a long way.”

Co-star Jennifer Lawrence was a major contributor to equilibrium. “Her chemistry with Bradley very quickly established a footprint for both of them. As we were finding the balance, Jennifer arrived, and her natural frankness and intensity were locked in on the very frame that we had been zeroing in on.” Her first scene, an outdoor run in which she returns a letter to Cooper’s character, was “a very striking day for both Bradley and me. It all just fell into the right pitch.”

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