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Jennifer Lawrence hearts David O. Russell's "I Heart Huckabees," a jovial Russell told the Santa Barbara International Film Festival audience at the Outstanding Director Tribute in his honor last Friday.
"That was Jennifer Lawrence's favorite film," said Russell. Almost a year ago to the day, Russell had accompanied his "American Hustle" star down those very same dark stairs in the Arlington Theatre for her Santa Barbara Tribute -- and she was singing as they walked.
While the 2004 film has its enthusiasts, like Lawrence, the ensemble comedy with Jason Schwartzman and Lily Tomlin about existential detectives was a professional low-point for the director. "I was not happy with myself at the time," Russell confessed, going on to explain that it coincided with his divorce to Janet Grillo, the placement of his young son in a special boarding school, and financial pressures.
"I call that my head-in-my-ass period," Russell said. And yet the director could recognize a silver lining in hindsight. "If I didn't go stumbling through that period I couldn't have made 'The Fighter.'"
The failure of "I Heart Huckabees," compounded by Russell's personal problems, and criticisms of egomania, became a wake-up call for the director: "Ego is really fear," he told the audience. "When someone is acting important, it's really fear."
And the worst was yet to come: a movie that never got made. "Nailed," Russell's unfinished collaboration with Al Gore's daughter, Kristin, got shut down nine times, according to the director. The uncompleted film starred Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal. Russell described "Nailed" as the "nadir," the low-point, of his professional career.
Mark Wahlberg helped turn Russell's career around when he brought him "The Fighter." Like a one-two punch, along came "The Silver Linings Playbook," Russell's first collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence.
Of casting Lawrence, Russell said: "She Skyped her audition from her parents' home in Kentucky. She killed a spider in her father's bathroom behind her. She's a gift. She's a great discovery."
And her career is on the rise in no small part thanks to Russell.