Jennifer Lawrence was working on the final installment of the Hunger Games when she received a call at 4 a.m. from director David O. Russell. “He said, ‘Do you want to play the part of the woman who invented The Miracle Mop?’ ” Lawrence took the unusual hour and the call itself in stride. “I’ve gotten a lot of middle-of-the-night phone calls from David,” she says with a laugh. But Joy ended up evolving into something else. “From that seed he went off into David land and it developed and changed, and now it’s a completely different story,” she says. “Usually [a film’s focus] is about the fight on the way to success and the happy ending. David goes on to tell the struggle that comes after that, along with all the sacrifices that come with finally getting what you want.”
Russell, who’s last three films — The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle — have all been nominated for Best Picture, was intrigued by the idea of doing a film larger in scope: an epic journey examing one woman’s life from age 10 to age 40, as she grows up, gets married, has children, and becomes an entrepreneur and matriarch. “It’s a woman’s soul over many decades of her life and how she changes,” he says.
Change is an important concept when it comes to a Russell production. Scripts and scenes and shooting schedules are, shall we say, fluid at all times. His actors just need to keep up. “It’s fascinating and terrifying working for him because he’s a mad scientist genius,” says Lawrence. “He’s inspired by anything. One time he wrote a scene by watching me get my hair done. He just went, ‘Oh! The sound of a shovel in the ground. Sinister!’ And then he ran out of the room.” She laughs. “I always see the wide eyes of people who’ve never worked with him before. I tell them, ‘You have to let go of all your s–t. You are the paint. He’s the paintbrush and the canvas.”
Édgar Ramirez (Zero Dark Thirty), who plays Joy’s husband, was one of those newcomers (along with Isabella Rosellini, Virginia Madsen, and Diane Ladd) joining Russell regulars Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper. “You have to be on your game,” he says. “There’s never a dull moment on a David O. Russell set. But that’s the beauty of it. That’s the magic.”
Less magical was the brutal winter that hit Boston during production last winter. “There was literally eight feet of snow outside,” says Russell, who was forced to move some locations, but still managed to see the upside. “It actually turned out great for us. The snow is very beautiful and Joy loves snow from a very young age.”
The actress who plays her does not, however. “I still have Snowst Traumatic Stress,” Lawrence says. “I feel like I’m in Game of Thrones, running around going, ‘Winter is coming again!’ ”
Joy marks the third Russell and Lawrence collaboration after Silver Linings (which won her the Oscar) and American Hustle, and they’ve developed a deep professional connection. “I almost don’t want to talk about it, it’s so special,” Russell says. “It feels like bad luck.” Lawrence, luckily, isn’t superstitious. “Working on his sets is like the Olympics of acting,” she says. “Everything moves so fast. It’s like watching someone do a giant abstract painting or sculpture and you go, ‘Where is this going?’ ” She laughs. “And then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a pegasus. It’s beautiful!’ ”
Joy opens on Dec. 25.