‘American Hustle’: David O. Russell on fact versus fiction

Highlight from the Envelope Screening Series presentation of “American Hustle.”


Writer-director David O. Russell sweats the details. For “American Hustle,” his new film loosely based on the FBI’s Abscam sting investigating political corruption in the 1970s, that meant mulling everything “from the clothes to the comb over.” But that doesn’t mean he’s a slave to history.

Speaking at the Envelope Screening Series, Russell talked about how he drew inspiration from the true Abscam story but then used it to tell his own story, one that was emotionally honest if not always historically accurate.

“I don’t think of making a period movie,” Russell said. “People say, ‘Oh, you captured the period,’ or they go, ‘Oh, you captured Lowell, Mass.,’ or ‘You captured Philly.’ We never, per se, set out to do that. Or I’d never say ‘The Fighter’ is a boxing movie or [‘Silver Linings Playbook’] is a romantic comedy. I would never in a million years think those things.”


VIDEO: Watch ‘American Hustle’ director, editor discuss film

He added: “I understand that people say those things, but to me, I just think of the characters from the feet up, and I fall in love with them, and I want the audiences to love them in spite of whatever mistakes they’re struggling through. And I end up loving their world and wanting to make their world.”

Russell admitted that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. “If I told you what it was based on in truth,” he said, “you’d be surprised what was true and what wasn’t true … what is true about these actual people at that actual time, and what did we fictionalize for the sake of cinema and the story. Because I care about what’s going on in the people’s hearts and use the story almost as a blowtorch to move the emotion of the characters, and to get to know these people, who are really making decisions in their hearts about who they want to be. That’s what exhilarates me when I go to a movie.”

For more from Russell on “American Hustle,” including a great story about Robert De Niro meeting Christian Bale, watch the full video above. And check back tomorrow for another highlight.


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