At a screening of their 1996 film Flirting with Disaster at the AFI Fest on Friday, director David O. Russell gave Lily Tomlin a bouquet of roses. Russell and Tomlin were there to talk about the independent comedy on its 20th anniversary year. But Russell’s flowery gesture may have struck some audience members as a tacit apology for the blow-up that occurred during the shooting of a different Russell film, I Heart Huckabees. In 2007, a video of Russell screaming and swearing at Tomlin during the shooting of 2004’s Huckabees was leaked online, exposing a tense working relationship. But judging from Friday night’s panel, the actress and director have reconciled, and are able to look back fondly on their first film together.
“I was so blessed to get a comic icon like Lily Tomlin to be in [Flirting with Disaster],” Russell told the audience (via Indiewire, a co-sponsor of the screening). The film, an ensemble comedy about a new father (Ben Stiller) who goes to great lengths to track down his birth parents (Tomlin and Alan Alda), was only Russell’s second feature film. Fourteen years later, he received his first Best Director Oscar nomination for The Fighter (2011), followed by nominations for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013). At the time, however, he was a quirky newcomer who appealed to Tomlin with his sense of humor.
“When I read the script, I laughed every time,” she said of Flirting. “It was just so hilarious.”
During the conversation (moderated by Mad Men creator Matt Weiner), Russell praised Tomlin’s contribution to one of the film’s best sequences: A dinner scene at which Tomlin’s character reveals her drug-dealer past, as well as the butterfly tattoo on her thigh.
“That tattoo [idea] was completely Lily’s,” Russell said. “It just happened in the middle of the scene, and it’s perfectly timed.”
Tomlin and Russell have both previously stated that their much-publicized feud is water under the bridge. “Lily Tomlin and I love each other, and would work together tomorrow,” Huckabee told the New York Times Magazine in 2013, while refuting his reputation as a “difficult” director. Speaking to Moveline in 2011, Tomlin said that the leaked video just captured a tense moment with a man who is “like family” to her. “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?” she explained. “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!‘”