'Silver Linings Playbook' Director David O. Russell on Casting Jennifer Lawrence: 'She Was an Underdog'

"WE THOUGHT SHE WAS TOO YOUNG"

In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a former high school teacher who moves back in with his parents, (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) after a stint in a mental institution. David O. Russell, who directed and wrote the screenplay, confessed that the subject matter, mental illness, is one that is very close to his heart: His own son, 18 year old Matt, has struggled with bi-polar disorder. (De Niro also mentioned that he shared a “certain personal understanding” about mental health issues that helped him connect with the role).

The Fighter director appeared at a press conference with Cooper, De Niro, Weaver and Chris Tucker, who also appears in the film in a dramatic role. (It’s also his first first movie in five years.) De Niro looked completely uncomfortable being photographed, and perhaps would have been happier having root canal surgery; and co-star Jennifer Lawrence was supposed to be gabbing too, but had to go shoot a little film called The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Cooper, who is also a producer on the flick, says that the first time he met Lawrence the two had to rehearse a dance scene together which involved a lot of perspiration. “I was sweaty! She had to put her hands under my armpits. It was embarrassing!” he exclaimed. As to whether or not he considers himself ready for Dancing With the Stars, he’s not entirely sure. “I love to dance,” he enthuses, “but I can’t tell whether I’m delusional [about how good I am].”

Russell admits that initially he hesitated to cast the Hunger Games actress.

“She was an underdog,” Russell said. “We thought she was too young, that she wouldn’t have enough depth for the role. She came in late and stole the audition. Jennifer has great confidence, yet great vulnerability.”

The entire film was shot over a scant 33 days near Cooper’s hometown of Philly in a real home, which lent the film an undeniable realism. They even had someone cooking in the house!

The Hangover star says that he felt comfortable having De Niro play his Dad, especially since it’s the second time they’ve worked together. “I knew I could look at him and say ‘Dad’.”

Cooper clearly enjoyed working with Russell, calling the experience “one of the best things” he’s ever done, and said that it has definitely influenced his work. “Just on very practical things. I will steal from his direction completely. He’s a very special man. I’m impressed with everything he does. But more than a filmmaker, as a man and a human he has taught me so many things.”

He also admits that he was scared taking on such a complex role but, “you have to be willing to take that plunge into the abyss, and that David will be there saying, ‘Come with me,’ and he is. He would shout out lines to us that gave an immediacy and spontaneity. The camera was always moving around. David knew the characters and came up with things right there.

“You can’t fake it in David’s movies at all -- which is scary but fun.”

Silver Linings Playbook is now playing in select theaters.

-- Written by Nicki Gostin

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