Writer-director David O. Russell and Parenthood showrunner Jason Katims stepped out from behind the camera on Wednesday night to help raise money for a private boarding school for kids with special needs.
Russell and Katims participated in a New York City fundraiser for Connecticut's Glenholme School, which also honored Russell for his work to raise awareness about mental health.
In addition to making last year's Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook, Russell has long been involved with the school, helping to raise funds and make sure the kids get the resources they need and even getting celebrities like Jim Carrey, Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Biel, Tracy Morgan, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper to help.
But the school gave him the first Excelsior Award, which they plan to give out for years to come, for helping generate attention and awareness of mental-health issues through the platform given to him by Silver Linings.
The inscription on the award reads, "For Mr. David O. Russell who uses his gifts both on and off screen to help those without a voice, lifting us all ever upward."
Russell kept his remarks brief, praising the school and those affiliated with it. "Our family always felt like outliers trying to find a way to belong. When you come to Glenholme you belong…You can cry on each other's shoulders and tell each other not to give up."
"I could say so many things, but I don't want to say so many things," he added. "I want to just speak with my actions and say thank you all. I've got a lot of love for everyone in this room."
Even though it's been almost a year since Silver Linings was released, it's still resonating with people, Russell said.
"In the last year it seems like everything's come out of the shadows. What was a very private thing suddenly is in the open and discussed. People come up to me in the supermarket and tell me what a difference the film makes and about things that are happening in their homes," he said.
In fact, even the other day, after a meeting at HBO, one of the execs told him, "I want to tell you about my daughter," which is all he needed to say for Russell to understand.
"If you'd been there, you'd know," Russell said. "You know you've been through the f---in' wringer."
Russell's still fighting for mental health issues, explaining that he's working with legislators to try to get mental health parity, and he said he'll try to get the cast of his upcoming American Hustle to help with the cause the way other stars have.
"I'm always putting the arm on people," he explained.
He also said he wants to make at least one or two more movies about mental illness, but he acknowledged that they can't all be about that.
Still, his experience with mental illness in his family has shaped his view of characters in films that may not seem to be directly about the issue.
"In The Fighter, Silver Linings and American Hustle, there's a thread of people and their behavior and ways of handling things driven in part because of intensity and a little crazy," he said.
And Russell sees his fight as a life-long one, saying "They'll close the box on me while I'm still fighting for all these causes."
Later that night, he helped raise money for Glenholme's scholarship by auctioning off two male and female roles (for a total of $60,000) in one of his upcoming movies. (He wouldn't reveal which one, but he has several projects in the works.)
Russell has auctioned off roles for many of his previous films, noting that many people in attendance had parts in Silver Linings and American Hustle.
In fact, the crowd even got a glimpse of American Hustle when Russell had one of the school's board members, who has a part in the movie, deliver his speech from the film.
Actress Natalie Dormer, who's starring in The Counselor and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay with frequent Russell collaborator Jennifer Lawrence, helped with the auction.
Katims, who spoke at the beginning of the event, has raised awareness of Asperger's through one of the characters on Parenthood. He talked about how the school, which he recently became involved with, has helped his family.
"In the past eight months, the Glenholme School has simply put been a life-changing experience for…our family," he said. "Our only regret is that we didn't find Glenholme sooner."
Katims said he couldn't think of a better excuse to fly across the country and urged people to give generously.