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Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005

Rustling up a masterpiece

Director David O. Russell turns up for an interview looking very much like his protagonist Albert: long hair, rumpled suit, no tie, sneakers, and the general impression he might have just hopped off a bicycle. Not surprising, given that Russell was a writer for the socialist 'zine "In These Times" and a director of the low-budget Sundance sensation "Spanking The Monkey" before he started doing $50-million Miramax flicks with George Clooney.

News photo
David O. Russell

Russell's more famous now, but hasn't been bitten by the Hollywood bug. Unlike most spin-friendly LA types, he indulges his quirks, whether it's humming into a journo's tape recorder or leaving questions with frustratingly vague answers when he deems fit.

How did you assemble such a wide-ranging cast?

The hardest thing is having them all be available at the same time. The first part is having a relationship where you respect each other and like each other, and I don't believe in working together unless you have that. And these people all agreed to work for very little money, which is why you have to be lucky with their schedule, because it might be their time to make money.

In "Three Kings," Mark Wahlberg plays a character who gets oil poured down his throat, and in this film he's obsessed with petroleum. Is there a connection?

I think the consistency is history. History links them both, and my reaction to history. So some of that passion, I gave to Mark in both movies. I know Mark very well, and I know he has a lot of passion in him that he's very private about, but I know he'll do it in a movie with me.

You had a difficult relationship with George Clooney on "Three Kings" -- did you learn anything from that?

Yeah. I just won't repeat that. Now, I wouldn't make "Three Kings," or on day two, I'd say, "This isn't working out." But I would never choose to work with him in the first place. You have to choose people you have a very good connection with. Life's too short.

You once described yourself as "a filmmaker with A.D.D.," and that you had a hard time keeping the tone consistent from beginning to end in a film. Have you managed that with "Huckabees?"

I feel that this film was more consistent, but I still think that I can keep getting better at it.

How did you pitch the film? A comedy about "existential detectives" seems like a hard sell.

Because of "Three Kings," we had an opportunity to take a risk, if we got a good enough cast and the movie was made cheaply. Some people just read the script and blanched.

It's the same budget as "Sideways," but we needed stars because it's a much more ambitious, weird story.

The intention is to reflect the fetishizing of other people. Jude and Naomi are kind of movie stars at Huckabees, and Jason aspires to be a star of poetry. And that's the poison, this obsession with being noticed. Which I can identify with from the film business, which I think is a very strange trap.

Is it true you wanted Britney Spears for Naomi Watts' role?

Yes, it's true, Britney came to my house three times. I wanted to use her, but the studio didn't. I think she might have been wonderful.

Have you ever done any isolation-tank work?

No, but I've done a lot of meditation.

Have you ever had any experiences where your mind goes blank and things start drifting in . . .

As soon as I sit down! I think all day, every day, is an experience for your brain like TV, channel surfing, lots of different thoughts, desires, fears, obsessions, loops of repeated concerns or fears. To me, what meditation is saying is, well you wouldn't watch TV without a clicker, so why would you let your brain just fly all over the place ? Why don't you try to calm it down a little bit, replace some of the destructive shit with something more useful?

Have you ever done visualization? It seems like you were parodying it . .

Well, I didn't just want to take the piss out of it. I also believe in it.

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