Arts Express: The Stars Talk American Hustle

If truth is stranger than fiction – or at least equally strange – that could not be more applicable than in the case of David O. Russell’s American Hustle. The film is based on the real life headline grabbing con artist ABSCAM FBI scandal playing out in the early 1980s. And when the lines between right and wrong, law and disorder, became weirdly blurred.

The stars of American Hustle – Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams – stopped by to shed light on their insanely dark comical antics in American Hustle. Which happened to include vague hunches about conning people for real, competitive dance moves, guy hair curlers, badgers, gophers, Ann-Margret, Cyd Charisse, Duke Ellington, and a little impromptu girl-on-girl lip locking.

Jennifer, did your character Rosalyn in this movie make you think at all about Katniss, and what do you think would happen if those two crossed paths with each other?

JL: I actually brought The Hunger Games books to set. Um, no! Every movie and every character is different.

And I have no idea what would happen between Katniss and Rosalyn. But every movie is different.

Amy, how about that kiss you plant on Jennifer’s lips?

AA: Well, I feel like Jennifer really made that contribution! I came up with the idea, but she executed it. In a way that felt driven purely from character.

It didn’t feel like a moment in which two girls are gonna kiss on screen. It felt, it was from somewhere emotional.

I mean, she killed it. And then the laugh she gives after! I mean, c’mon. That is genius. I didn’t direct it.

So I thought, what if I plant one on her. And Jennifer executed that in a brilliant way, that sells it. Comedically and dramatically.

And you know, it never feels like it shouldn’t have been there. It feels so organic. And that’s all due to Jennifer.

AA: I think I was going after a lot of kisses. That are unscripted! You know?

american hustle

Brad, talk about that dance scene you and Amy do together, and who is your favorite dance lady, Jennifer or Amy?

BC: Um, oh we had a ball.

AA: Yeah!

BC: Dancing. Together!

JL: Yeah, so did we!

BC: Um! Yeah, it was pretty good. Pretty good. Uh, yeah. It was, you know – they’re both wonderful dancers. Ha!

AA: Yeah, but who’s better, Bradley! C’mon now. C’mon, it’s a simple question! So simple.

JL: I have an answer!

AA: Ha!

BC: Um, you know what was great, though. We were in the office during pre-production. And David had a little record player.

And he was playing the Duke Ellington song. Then he went to a production meeting. Yeah. And Christian was downstairs – shaving his head!

And we’re sitting in the office. And then Amy just started dancing. Then Amy and I started dancing. And the door had a window, so you could see through it.

And as David was walking back and looked in, he was just standing there, watching this happen. And I think he and I were like giving each other looks, like this is amazing.

Because Amy was just dancing. And then all of a sudden, that became a big part of this movie. And this character’s story, her back story. And then it also fueled that scene between us.

AA: Um, I was trained as a dancer. So it’s always been a part of how I tell a story. It’s through my body and movement. I always find a character through movement.

So that was one of the things that struck me, once I had the wardrobe. And when I knew she was going to be a sexual being, I really thought about it.

And it’s people who also have an elegance with their sexuality, and the power that they have through their sexuality. So for me, dancing was sort of how I started to feel her, you know?

And I thought about Ann-Margret. And I thought about Cyd Charisse. And these dancers who still, they seemed like they were in control. Because of the way they moved their bodies.

So that’s what I kind of started thinking about, in that moment. And dancing with Bradley is awesome! He is such a good dancer. It was so much fun.

JL: He shoulda danced with me!

AA: There’s still time!

You left out talking about dancing with Christian in the movie too.

AA: We danced really well together too. It was just … hello! But you know, I didn’t tell him then, he danced like a badger.

So that’s what I kinda started thinking about. And it kinda reminded me, like you know at the end of Caddyshack?

That dance, that gopher at the end of Caddyshack, that’s kinda what it was like for me!

Jennifer, what’s it like working on a movie that pushes the envelope like that?

JL: What was the question? I’m so sorry, I keep doing this thing! Where I look at people, and keep thinking I’m listening! And then I’m like, huh?

Um, well I think there’s you know, a couple of ways that I look at it. Because sometimes, you know, real life can be so dramatic.

And it can be so awful. That it’s actually kinda funny! But David, his characters are just incredible. And you have so much freedom. Emotional freedom.

Um, that sometimes what’s on the page, turns into something completely different. When David starts, you know, yelling these ideas! And when you’re on your toes.

And midway while I’m talking … and forgetting your question again! Um, ha! Somebody else answer, please!

Okay, we can circle back to you.

JL: Please don’t!

Okay Amy, this movie is about conning people, so have you ever conned anybody for real?

AA: Why would I tell you! Uh, no! Nope, I’ve never conned anybody. Yeah. I’m a horrible liar! But … I’ve tried!

It just doesn’t usually work. I usually have to come back with the truth. Pretty quickly! Yep!

Why this movie, that exaggerates reality?

AA: That’s the thing. I feel David exemplifies reality, he doesn’t push it. He finds the example within reality, and you show them.

Um, not everything in reality is subtle and slow. I mean, when I lose my cool, it is over the top! And in life, Amy is over the top. At times!

And that’s how we are as humans. And I think David has examples in his life. And we all have examples in life.

You know, of moments. And what I think David does, is exemplify reality. He finds the moments in people’s lives where that reality is the truth. It’s the truth of these characters.

Amy, talk about getting inside the head of ‘the other woman’ in a relationship. And having two guys simultaneously, like Bradley and Christian.

AA: It was a very delicate balance. Because it was sort of, I mean this is a girl who says she wants to be anyone other than who she is.

And that’s where we meet her. She’s already at a point of invention. And she meets Christian’s character, and he presents to her, who she wants to be.

And he sees her as smart. He sees her as intelligent. And he sees her as a lady. He brings her in, you know?

And she loves him. She feels found. And then he betrays her. That’s not cool! So she says she’s gonna go after Brad’s character Richie instead.

But I think there are moments within, going back and forth, where she’s not sure how she feels. She’s starting to believe her lies.

You know, maybe this could work with Richie. Maybe I do like Richie, you know? I think she says that, and I think I feel that maybe I could go there.

And I think that’s when, it was a really interesting dynamic. To play a woman who is torn between, it isn’t even that she’s torn between two guys.

She’s torn between truth and a lie. And is she gonna believe the lie that she’s telling herself. Or is she going to land in the truth.

And I don’t know that she’s really had to confront that before. And the truth hurts, and the truth is a lot harder.

And I think when Richie says, I love you, I care, I went there. And I think the melt is, could he love me. And that vulnerability.

And wanting so much for that to be real. It’s really just wanting somebody to see the truth of who she is. And wanting her.

I think every girl knows how that feels! She’s just a little crazy about it. But um, it was a really interesting and difficult dynamic to play.

But really fun. Those guys, working with them, they’re the best actors in the world. So it made it a lot of fun.

So, yeah. I mean, that’s the survivor in her. We talked a lot about that, the theme of survival. And reinvention. You know, that’s the survivor.

Bradley, now about that hair of yours in all those curlers …

BC: I can talk about that! Hmm … You know, Richie has this sort of exterior, the crustacean around this sort of spirit. That David was creating.

And it all was informed by this idea that he’s a child, really. He’s a young boy. He, Richie. Not David! You know what I was talking about.

And also, we wanted to look different. That maybe I’d be a bit unrecognizable. Then we thought, maybe curly hair.

And then there was David’s sort of idea. Oh yeah, he curls his own hair. Because he wants to look different.

He’s tried to be like these guys that he sort of thinks are these archetypes. You know, that are kind of men to him.

Like Doc Ellis, this baseball player, who curls his hair. And then he chooses tongue. It’s a way of sort of like this manly thing.

And that gives him some sort of bravado. But it’s a very strange thing to do.

And probably stress related. And all these different sort of physical things, that are fun to play as an actor.

And he constantly is making noise. I don’t think he’s ever, even when he’s sitting there idle, he’s groaning in some way!

You know, he just wants to be present. He wants to be recognized, and part of the world. And that’s why he becomes so enamored with those two hustlers.

And really, he falls in love with Amy’s character. Like a boy falls in love with a girl. And that’s the way he behaves.

So all of beautiful, wonderful, playful physical attributes that I enjoyed doing, are really all grounded by this idea that David had of who Richie is. No? Maybe I just killed this interview!

Amy, what excited you about playing this woman?

AA: I think my favorite part, was playing the vulnerability of my character. Because if she was just like, yeah she is this veneer. And she has physicality, and she has this power.

But if I don’t ground that in any true emotion, it’s not gonna be that much fun to play. Because there are no players. She won’t be multidimensional.

David always makes sure that his characters are multidimensional. And that his women – thank you, David! – are multidimensional. So playing those dimensions, is just a thrill as an actress.

Jennifer, you do something really strange in this movie, turning it into a musical all of a sudden and bursting into song. How come?

JL: David came to me, we were gonna go over the script before we started shooting. And he said he had a vision of me – Roslyn. Wearing yellow cleaning gloves!

And running through the entire house. Singing Live And Let Die! And I thought that sounded incredible. But um, how is it gonna make sense.

And then we, it’s kind of, I think the song, it just sounded so stupid. I was like yeah, I’ll dance. I’ll sing. Whatever.

But it’s kind of, she’s so angry. And she’s at this point where she’s been lied to, for so long. Um, and she’s been left out of everything.

And she’s getting to this point in this marriage that she’s been fighting for, so long. And that she’s been imprisoning this man for so many years, in this marriage.

And you know, then she’s finally ready. To just let it die! Um, and so I think that was really great. A crazy moment.

And I threw my neck out, actually! And then you pan over, and my five year old has been watching the whole thing. God, yeah!

Jennifer, what is the excitement of acting for you?

JL: Um … yeah! I’ve never felt, the only thing is … Because it is, it’s a study of people.

It’s kind of like all of these things I’ve been doing since I was little.

And that were always useless! You know?

In Kentucky, like just watching people, and studying them. And being able to mimic their body language. And things like that.

And being able to figure out a person. Like what kind of person are you playing. How do they move, how do they walk.

Um, and between ‘action’ and ‘cut,’ it’s kind of almost like meditating. In a weird way. Because anything that you’re feeling, like if I’m cold, between ‘action’ and ‘cut,’ I’m not.

Or if I’m in physical pain like between ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ Like I’m not. I’m in a completely different frame of mind. And that’s a high.

Brad, talk about working with Louis CK.

BC: Uh yeah. Man, I hit the jackpot I think, in working with the two best around – Zach Galifianakis and Louis C.K.

And you know, he was just unbelievable. And David did just perfect casting. But you know, you never do know when you get into the room with somebody.

But we just flowed. It was, it just worked. It was effortless. And addictive. And we wanted more. We’ve become friends since.

And both sort of look bad in those scenes. With a lot of the light! And you know, it was Louis’ idea to put that last thing in, about the final exchange.

Which was, we were laughing on the day. That when we were walking down the hallway and they were yelling at each other about the ice fishing story, it just got to that point.

But yeah, he was wonderful. And it’s funny, when you say working with Louis C.K. My memory of it, is all of us working together.

Because the way we made this movie, is not just the two actors talking to each other. David is right there, and it feels like he was in the scene with us.

You know, along with the camera operator, and the boom operator. So he came into the fold of the community.

I mean, there really is like a sporting event, almost. And that like everybody gets on the field, every day. Yeah, it just made me think that, when you asked about working with him.

JL: Can we go now?

Uh, what?

BC: She said that every day on the set!

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.