David O. Russell

David O. Russell Biography

David Owen Russell (born August 20, 1958) is a BAFTA Award winning American film director and screenwriter. His films include Spanking the Monkey (1994), Flirting with Disaster (1996), Three Kings (1999), I ? Huckabees (2004), The Fighter (2010), and Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

Early life

Russell was born in New York City, New York, the son of Maria (née Muzio) and Bernard Russell, who was a sales executive for Simon & Schuster. His father was from a Russian Jewish family, while his mother was Italian American and Catholic. He was raised in an atheist household. Russell was married to Janet Grillo from 1992 to 2007.


Early career

His first directorial effort was the independent dark comedy Spanking the Monkey in 1994, starring Jeremy Davies as a troubled young man. 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.

His next project was another independent comedy, Flirting with Disaster (1996), about 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 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."

Three Kings

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 Cloony 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 ? Huckabees. Russell had conflicts with Lily Tomlin during its filming, a video of which surfaced on video sites such as YouTube. 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."
The film itself was released to mixed reviews.


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.

The Fighter

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

Russell's latest film, 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."

American Hustle

Cast includes Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K. and Amy Adams.

Legacy of Secrecy

Russell will write and direct "Legacy of Secrecy", an adaptation of Lamar Waldron's non-fiction book of the same name, based on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The film will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

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 has brought to the school include Rachael Horovitz, who currently serves as the board chairman. In a recent interview, president Joe Hall went on record saying, "Without David there is no Ghetto Film School."


Year Film Credit/Role Notes Ref.
1987 Bingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions (short) Director, writer and producer
1990 Hairway to the Stars Director
1994 Spanking the Monkey Director, writer and producer Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature (shared with Dean Silvers)
Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay
Sundance Film Festival " Audience Award (Dramatic)
Nominated " Sundance Film Festival " Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic)
1996 Flirting with Disaster Director and writer National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay (3rd place)
Nominated " Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated " Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay
1999 Three Kings Director and writer (story by John Ridley) Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Director
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Film
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Director (2nd place)
PEN Center USA West Literary Award
Southeastern Film Critics Association Award for Best Director (2nd place)
Southeastern Film Critics Association Award for Best Screenplay (3rd place)
Nominated " Satellite Award for Best Original Screenplay (shared with John Ridley)
Nominated " Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay (shared with John Ridley)
2002 The Slaughter Rule Producer
2004 Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy Producer
2004 I ? Huckabees Director and writer (with Jeff Baena) Nominated " Gotham Award for Best Film
2004 Soldiers Pay Director and producer
2004 Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie Executive producer
2010 The Fighter Director Palm Springs International Film Festival " Director of the Year Award
Nominated " Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated " Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
Nominated " Golden Globe Award for Best Director
2009 Outer Space Astronauts (TV series)
2012 Silver Linings Playbook Director, writer (based on Matthew Quick's homonymous novel) and producer BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Hamptons International Film Festival Audience Award " Narrative
Hollywood Film Festival Award " Director of the Year
Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Screenplay (2nd place)
National Board of Review Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Philadelphia Film Festival Audience Award " Honorable Mention " Special Presentations
Toronto International Film Festival " People's Choice Award
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated " Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated " Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated " Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated " Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
Nominated " Chlotrudis Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated " Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay
Nominated " San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated " San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Director
Nominated " Satellite Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated " Satellite Award for Best Director
Nominated " Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
2013 American Hustle Director and writer Filming
TBA Nailed Director and writer (with Kristin Gore) Unfinished and unreleased. During production in 2008, production was halted as financing collapsed.

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