Joy: Interview with Jennifer Lawrence, Joyful and Joyous Star (and Muse) of David O. Russell

“We got here from hard work, patience and humility.  So I want to tell you don’t ever think the world owes you anything.  Because it doesn’t”–Joy (played by Jennifer Lawrence).

joy_posterThe story of JOY gave Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence a role different from any she’s tackled so far:  a portrait of a self-made woman, depicting her rise from dreamer to housewife to magnate over four decades of learning to believe in her ideas, jockey for power and stay true to her ideals.

Lawrence, just 25 years old, is already renowned for her broad, nuanced range seen in roles that stretch from the iconic heroine of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, to her Oscar®-winning role as a youthful widow in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook.  She also received Oscar® nominations for her role as an Ozark girl determined to hunt down her father in Winter’s Bone and as a loan shark’s jealous wife in Russell’s American Hustle.

But JOY was a world apart from all of those.  Lawrence was thrilled to take on perhaps Russell’s most complex female character yet – and to explore the spirit that keeps people pushing ahead even when it seems they have to put their grandest dreams aside.  She approached Joy as someone who is constantly evolving, and who refuses to be just one thing.  She is all at once an intrepid creator, a weary single mom, a cool-hearted, unflinching negotiator, a dismayed daughter and a woman who discovers her own hard-won sense of jubilation in holding together the whole thing.  Lawrence says exploring the scope of all that called to her, partly because Russell would be collaborating on it.

joy_6_lawrence“I would do anything for David, for a million different reasons,” Lawrence explains.  “When he called me and asked ‘do you want to make the story of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop,’ I thought, what an incredible character to put into David’s hands. I knew it was going to be something special.  It’s full of David’s imagination.  It’s not only a story of a woman’s battle to be a success, but also to understand what joy and happiness mean even after you’ve reached your goal.”

Says Russell of why Lawrence, who some see as his artist’s muse, was a lock-and-key match with Joy:  “I’ve always thought Jennifer has an old soul.  When we met on Silver Linings, I thought, ‘Is she twenty or is she forty?’  I mean, she could be either one.  She was always the only person who could play Joy.  She has that huge heart and wildly creative spirit. As an artist, I’ve seen that she’s someone who can express numerous worlds, and can also go into the unplanned or unexpected. And as a person, I’ve had the pleasure to watch her go on a big journey.”

joy_5_lawrence_cooperIn this film, that journey is something new. “This is the first time, Jennifer carries a dramatic movie, emotionally, from the center,” notes Russell.  “It’s a performance about capturing the breadth of a person’s soul. It took a tremendous amount of work and spirit for her to find the way to be the center of every room — not in a loud or gigantic way, yet with tremendous power. She lets us into Joy at her most vulnerable and tender, at her most fierce and at her most maternal, as a person of great forgiveness and forbearance but also as a formidable defender of her family and her business.  She had to link up to that little girl who was filled with magic and then bring that into a young woman who still has that burning spirit but is caught up in a life that has become disappointing and then bring that to a mature woman who is ready to bet her entire life on something.”

Lawrence was fascinated by how Joy stays so focused on her family’s constant needs– and then, suddenly, takes a dauntless leap for herself.

joy_4_lawrence_de_niro“I think Joy always felt she had to be the rock of her family, the foundation holding everyone up,” she observes. “She forfeited her dreams to support everyone else and put them on hold for almost her entire life.   She put other people in front for so long that I think it took time for her to realize there was something else inside her that had to be expressed, that had to breathe.  And I think that’s why the story of Joy had to span four generations, because it often takes that long to create a full life.  Joy kept burying that inventive part of herself but when she finally finds the faith in herself to move forward, it’s unstoppable when that happens.  It’s addicting when you find that inner strength.”

Getting to know Joy Mangano personally lent further inspiration.  “Joy’s mind is endlessly fascinating.  She still has hundreds of ideas for inventions,” Lawrence muses.

Mangano in turn was stunned to watch Lawrence entwine with her persona.  “If I had ever dreamed of having the chance to pick someone to play me it would have been Jennifer Lawrence,” Mangano laughs.  “I’m truly honored Jennifer took this role, especially after getting to know her, because she is possessed of so many talents and such brilliance. As soon we started talking, I almost felt like she was looking into me.  And of course, she was looking into me — because that is what she does.”

joy_3_lawrenceA fresh challenge for Lawrence was taking Joy into middle age, still in her own distant future.  “Playing a character through four generations was exciting, and I’ve never done it before. Yet it felt so organic with David’s writing.  I’ve observed one thing that seems to happen as you get older is that you calm down.   So I worked with subtle changes in Joy’s voice and mannerisms – they get more confident, smoother and slower,” Lawrence explains.

Russell found Lawrence’s transformation revealing.  “As she became older, everything about Jennifer changed,” he recalls.  “She carried herself differently.  Her voice changed. Everything started to feel different, and it reminded me a bit of Christian Bale in American Hustle, the way she transformed. At the same time, she brought this stillness that, as Joy’s grandmother predicted, becomes Joy’s strength:  the ability to be the un-anxious presence in the room who holds everyone together.”

joy_2_lawrence_de_niroLawrence believes the key to viscerally feeling the impact of Joy’s success comes from seeing her at rock bottom “Part of what I love about David’s story is that it really gets into the years where Joy doesn’t believe in herself, when everyone’s led her to believe that her dreams are preposterous and silly,” she says.  “I think this is a really important part of telling a story about somebody who becomes successful – it’s important to see all those years where they didn’t know they had that in themselves.”

A lot of Joy’s confusion about how to go after what she wants is wrapped up in how to keep her close-knit yet crazy-making family going at the same time.  Though they drive her mad in a million different ways, her sense of responsibility to them never wavers.  “Joy has a complicated family dynamic because she loves her family to the ends of the earth and they love her dearly, too — but they don’t exactly support her hopes in the way she might like,” Lawrence laughs.  “I think they’re just trying to protect her from getting hurt, but it’s hard for a person to fight against that.”

Joy’s family came to life via a vivacious ensemble–many of the actors have worked together before on Russell’s movies.  She’s exhilarated by the idea of being part of a continuous repertory.  “On the one hand you look at these actors and see the same people that you already know,” she remarks, “but on the other hand, we’re all playing entirely new characters and the chemistry is completely different, which makes it so exciting.”

Lawrence especially loved reconvening with Robert De Niro – this time as his daughter.  “In so many ways Bob has been a paternal figure to me, raising me through movies and fame, and I always feel I can ask him anything,” she says.  “So having him play my father felt really touching and personal to me. On top of that, acting opposite Bob is like driving an Aston Martin.  It’s just something else.”

Lawrence felt bolstered to channel Joy’s spirit–and to be more daring in her own right — by the tight link she has forged with Russell. “It’s the strangest, most powerful bond,” she reflects.  “But I feel that David knows how to tap into a part of my heart and I’m so grateful to him that he wants me to be a part of his work and legacy.”