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David O. Russell

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David O. Russell

David O. Russell
Russell at the Paris premiere of American Hustle, February 2014
Born David Owen Russell
(1958-08-20) 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
Years active 1987–present
Notable work(s) The Fighter
Silver Linings Playbook
American Hustle
Spouse(s) Janet Grillo (m. 1992–2007)
Partner(s) Holly Davis (2007–present)
Children 2

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.

Early life

Russell was born in New York City to Maria (née Muzio) and Bernard (Markovski)[1][2][3] Russell. His parents worked for Simon & Schuster; his father was the vice president of sales for the company[4][5][6][7] and his mother was a secretary there.[8] His father was from a Russian Jewish family and his mother was Italian American (of Lucanian descent).[9] Russell's maternal grandparents were Frank Muzio, born in Craco, and Philomena Brancata, born in Ferrandina, both in the province of Matera.[10] His paternal grandfather, a butcher from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, lost many of his relatives in concentration camps.[11]

Russell was raised in Larchmont, New York,[4][12] in an atheist, middle-class household.[13][14] 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.[15] He attended Mamaroneck High School,[16] where he was voted "Class Rebel".[17] He fell in love with film in his teens (his favorite movies included Taxi Driver, Chinatown, and Shampoo)[4] but aspired to become a writer; Russell started a newspaper in high school and wrote short stories.[8] His parents worked for a publishing company, so he grew up in a household filled with books and novels.[8][18]

Russell received his A.B. degree from Amherst College, where he majored in English and Politics, in 1981.[4][19] He wrote his senior thesis on the United States intervention in Chile from 1963 to 1973.[20]


Early career

After graduating from Amherst, Russell traveled to Maine. He used video equipment to document slums and bad housing conditions, which later became a documentary of Lewiston, Maine.[21] Russell was a political activist[22] and canvassed and raised money in neighborhoods;[17] he also did community work in Boston's South End.[8] In addition to working in several day jobs, he began to write short films.[21]

Russell directed a documentary about Panamanian immigrants in Boston,[23] which led to a job as a production assistant on a PBS series called Smithsonian World.[8]

In 1987, Russell wrote, produced, and directed Bingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions, a film about an obsessive bingo-playing mother.[3] Two years later, he made another short titled Hairway to the Stars, which featured Bette Davis and William Hickey.[3][24] Both shorts were shown at the Sundance Film Festival.[3]

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.[8] 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.[25] As a result, Russell had to return the funds to the NEA.[25]

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[26] 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.[27]

Flirting with Disaster

His next project was the 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.[28] 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."[29] 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."[30]

Three Kings

The success of those two films led to the 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 [33] 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."[34]

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.[35] These conflicts were first reported in a 2004 New York Times article[36] 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." [37]
The film itself was released to mixed reviews;[38] however, recent collaborator Jennifer Lawrence says it is her favorite David O. Russell film [39]


Nailed is a political comedy co-written by Russell and 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.[40][41] Actor James Caan left mid-production "due to creative differences and [the] split was amicable."[42]

The film, which is unlikely to ever be released,[43] 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.[44]

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,[45] and appearing on several critics' year-end top ten lists.[46] The Fighter also received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Russell, the first of his career,[47] 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.[48] 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."[49] The cast also includes Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and the veteran Bollywood actor Anupam Kher.[50] The film was released in the United States and Canada on November 16, 2012.[51]

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,[52][53] 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.[54][55][56][57] 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).[58][59]

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." [60][61]

American Hustle

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, [1], 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 remarkable life story about an American inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano, a struggling Long Island single mom 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.[62] The film is set for a December 25, 2015 release.[63]

Ghetto Film School

In 2002, Russell met Andrew Unger while receiving an honorary degree at Amherst College.[64] Unger introduced Russell to Joe Hall, president of Ghetto Film School.[65] After viewing some of the student work, Russell immediately joined the board of Ghetto Film School, located in The Bronx, New York.[66] 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.[67] 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."[65] In 2011, David O. Russell was honored at the Ghetto Film School's Spring Benefit,[68] 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." [69]

On June 16, 2014, Ghetto Film School opened its new branch in Los Angeles.[70] 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.

Personal life

Russell was married to Janet Grillo, who was a producer at Fine Line Features,[4] from 1992 to 2007. He has been with his partner, Holly Davis, since 2007.[14] Davis is a costume designer. Russell has two children, one with ex-wife Janet Grillo, and an adopted son with his partner Holly Davis.[71] He resides in Santa Monica, California.[72]


Awards and nominations


  1. ^ Klein, Amy (March 3, 2005). "Q & A With Sharon Waxman". Jewish Journal. Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  2. ^ Futterman, Ellen (February 23, 2011). "Oscar night for the Jews". St. Louis Jewish Light. Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d Jesse Fox Mayshark (2007). Post-Pop Cinema: The Search for Meaning in New American Film. Praeger. p. 94.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, Chris (April 29, 1996). "The Hang-Up Artist". 29, issue 17. New York. p. 40. 
  5. ^ Film (2004-11-23). "The nutty director". London: Telegraph. Retrieved September 19, 2012. 
  6. ^ Published: May 24, 2000 (May 24, 2000). "Paid Notice: Deaths RUSSELL, MARIA MUZIO - New York Times". 
  7. ^ NEWMAN, BRUCE (September 12, 1999). "THE NEW SEASON/FILM: EMERGING DIRECTORS; Cutting the Apron Strings, a Director Turns to War - New York Times". Retrieved September 19, 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Gabler, Neal (December 11, 2013). "David O. Russell: In Conversation". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  9. ^ Anderson, Ariston (October 13, 2014). "David O. Russell to Receive Italian-American Icon Award". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  10. ^ Benardello, Karen (2012-11-21). "The Cast and Crew Talk About Silver Linings Playbook". Retrieved 2013-12-07. 
  11. ^ Pfefferman, Naomi (January 23, 2013). "For David O. Russell, it takes family". Jewish Journal. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  12. ^ Houpt, Simon (December 14, 2013). "How filmmaker David O. Russell learned to master the Hollywood hustle". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  13. ^ Rich, B Ruby (November 1, 2004). "This film is part of me". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c d Galloway, Stephen (February 5, 2014). "'"The Wild Imagination of David O. Russell: 'I'm an ADD Guy. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  15. ^ "David O. Russell speaks about first childhood film at AFI FEST presented by Audi". YouTube. November 9, 2013. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  16. ^ "David O. Russell’s Oscar Nomination Tops Mamaroneck News This Week". Daily Voice. January 19, 2014. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  17. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan (October 6, 2004). "David O. Russell & Jason Schwartzman". A.V. Club. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Outstanding Director Award – David O. Russell". SBCC. February 17, 2014. Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  19. ^ "David O Russell". The New York Times. 
  20. ^ "Before They Were Stars". Amherst College. Spring 2011. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  21. ^ a b c Chen, David (February 20, 2011). "Interview: David O. Russell Talks Incest and Music in ‘The Fighter,’ Plus ‘Uncharted’ And Other Projects From The Past". Slash Film. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  22. ^ C.K., Louis. "DAVID O. RUSSELL". Interview Magazine. Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  23. ^ Jesse Fox Mayshark (2007). Post-Pop Cinema: The Search for Meaning in New American Film. Praeger. p. 93.  
  24. ^ "Hairway to the Stars". Sundance Film Festival. Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  25. ^ a b Feinberg, Scott (February 1, 2014). "Santa Barbara Film Fest: David O. Russell Steals the Show at Tribute". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Spanking the Monkey Reviews". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  27. ^ "Awards for Spanking the Monkey". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  28. ^ "Flirting with Disaster Reviews". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  29. ^ "Roger Ebert's review of Flirting with Disaster". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  30. ^ "Lisa Schwarzbaum's review of Flirting with Disaster". Entertainment Weekly. 1996-04-05. Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  31. ^ "Box Office Mojo: Three Kings". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  32. ^ "Three Kings Movie Reviews". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  33. ^ "Playboy Interview: George Clooney". Playboy. July 2000, p. 2 of online interew
  34. ^ Galloway, Stephen. "George Clooney: The Private Life of a Superstar". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012-02-15. 
  35. ^ "Lily Tomlin Fights With Director". YouTube. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  36. ^ Waxman, Sharon (September 19, 2004). "The Nudist Buddhist Borderline-Abusive Love-In". New York Times. 
  37. ^ on Robert Altman, David O. Russell and a Lifetime of Achievement"Tomlin"Lily . Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  38. ^ "I ♥ Huckabees Movie Reviews". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  39. ^ "'"Jennifer Lawrence's Favorite David O. Russell Movie? Hint: It's Not 'American Hustle. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  40. ^ Finke, Nikki. "David O. Russell Film Shut Down 4th Time". Deadline. 
  41. ^ "Jessica Biel Mourns David O. Russell’s Nailed". /Film. 
  42. ^ "'"Caan Quits David O. Russell's 'Nailed. Entertainment Weekly. 2008-04-23. 
  43. ^ New Details On David O. Russell's 'Nailed,' Film Unlikely To Ever See The Light Of DayIndiewire, August 22, 2012: Retrieved 2013-02-27
  44. ^ Goldstein, Gregg. "'"Gyllenhaal in bed with Biel for 'Nailed. The Hollywood Reporter. 
  45. ^ "Box Office Mojo: The Fighter". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  46. ^ "The Top Tens: January 12, 2011". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  47. ^ "Nominees for the 83rd Academy Awards". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  48. ^ "David O. Russell to Direct The Silver Linings Playbook". Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  49. ^ Vlessing, Etan (2012-09-09). "Toronto 2012: New-Found Fame Stressing 'Hunger Games' Jennifer Lawrence". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  50. ^ "Anupam Kher teams up with Robert De Niro". Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  51. ^ "Anne Hathaway To Star In David O. Russell's THE SILVER LINING PLAYBOOK". 
  52. ^ King, Susan (2012-09-28). "David O. Russell to be honored at Hollywood Film Awards". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  53. ^ Sneider, Jeff. "Variety". Hyphenate to be feted at 10 Directors to Watch event in Palm Springs. 
  54. ^ "Spirit Awards 2013". 
  55. ^ "International Press Academy". 2012 Winners. 
  56. ^ "BAFTA Film". 
  57. ^ "AFI Movies of the Year". 
  58. ^ Silver Linings' wins Toronto's People's Choice"'". Variety. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  59. ^ The Oscars. "2013 Oscar Nominees". 
  60. ^ "Big Bashes, Intimate Affairs". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2012-10-25. 
  61. ^ "The Glenholme School News". Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  62. ^ Fleming Jr, Mike (30 January 2014). "‘American Hustle’s David O Russell, Jennifer Lawrence Circle Joy Mangano Story At Fox 2000". Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  63. ^ Busch, Anita (6 June 2014). "David O. Russell’s ‘Joy’ Gets Christmas 2015 Release Date". Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  64. ^ "David O. Russell '81E". Amherst College. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  65. ^ a b "E.A. Hanks: Q & A With Joe Hall Of Ghetto Film School". Huffington Post. 2007-10-19. Retrieved 2007-10-19. 
  66. ^ Rohter, Larry (2010-09-05). "A Bronx Film School Tale". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-05. 
  67. ^ "Film school set for Bronx". Variety. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  68. ^ Nick, Andersen. "David O. Russell and Friends Salute the Ghetto Film School". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  69. ^ D'Addario, Daniel. "Ghetto Film School Tribute to David O. Russell: What's in a Name?". New York Observer. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  70. ^ "EGhetto Film School debuts in L.A., David O. Russell on board of directors". Los Angeles Times. 2014-06-16. Retrieved 2014-06-16. 
  71. ^ Mandell, Andrea (December 11, 2013). "'"Exclusive: Inside the last days of 'American Hustle. USA Today. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  72. ^ Foundas, Scott (February 14, 2014). "Interview: David O. Russell". Retrieved October 31, 2014. 

Further reading

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