David O. Russell

David O. Russell Biography

Filmmaker, Screenwriter (1958–)
David O. Russell is an Oscar-nominated director, writer and producer known for films like 'The Fighter,' 'Silver Linings Playbook' and 'American Hustle.'


Born in New York, New York, on August 20, 1958, David O. Russell is a director, producer and screenwriter who, in 1994, released his debut feature-length project, Spanking the Monkey. He later directed the action drama Three Kings (1999) and the comedic I Heart Huckabees (2004). Russell has earned Oscar nominations for his directing work on 2010's The Fighter, 2012's Silver Linings Playbook and 2013's American Hustle.

Background and Early Career

David Owen Russell was born in New York City on August 20, 1958. Russell's early career seemed to be at least partially influenced by his parents' work background; his mother was involved in political activism and his father worked in sales for a book publisher. Russell went on to attend Amherst College, graduating in 1981, before leaving the states to teach English in Nicaragua. He later worked as a teacher in Boston, Massachusetts, and then as a community organizer in Lewiston, Maine.

Having a passion for literature and language, Russell worked on screenplays outside of his day jobs and had started to direct his own film shorts by the mid-1980s. He was able to complete his first full-length feature, 1994's Spanking the Money, via a mixture of private funding and grants. The controversial debut, which had a comedic, Oedipal take on a teen's relationship with his mother, helped Russell to create industry buzz. He next directed and wrote 1996's Flirting With Disaster, a family-centered outing starring Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette.

Hit With 'Three Kings'

David O. Russell scored a commercial hit with his 1999 film Three Kings, a tale of Gulf War veterans searching for treasure that starred George Clooney, Ice Cube and Mark Wahlberg. The movie earned more than $100 million worldwide and became a precursor to the 2004 documentary on war veterans that Russell helmed—Soldiers Pay.

The year 2004 also saw the release of I Heart Huckabees, a philosophical, satirical dramedy that Russell produced, directed and wrote, and whose ensemble cast included Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law, Naomi Watts and Wahlberg. Huckabees was considered a disappointment, and by this time Russell had also garnered a reputation as being a belligerent, abusive director, having major altercations with Clooney and Tomlin.

Academy Award Recognition

Some years passed before Russell returned to the big screen. Then, 2010 saw him receiving much critical recognition for directing The Fighter, which told the story of real-life boxer "Irish" Micky Ward. The drama found Russell reunited with Wahlberg—who'd brought the film to the director—and also starred Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. The project earned more than $100 million worldwide and garnered seven Oscar nominations, with Russell receiving a directing nod and Bale and Leo going on to win in the supporting actor and actress categories.

Russell continued to put forth work of distinction with the 2012 release of Silver Linings Playbook, which he both wrote and directed and which featured Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. The film tells the story of a man suffering from bipolar disorder and looks at his surrounding familial and romantic relationships. Garnering scores of high marks from critics, the film was nominated for eight Oscars in 2013. The aforementioned cast all received nods in their respective categories; Russell earned another directing nomination and a nod for the screenplay, which he adapted from a 2008 novel by Matthew Quick.

'Hustle' and 'Joy'

It turned out that 2013 would also be a big year for Russell. On December 25, he released American Hustle, which received rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. He continued working with actors that had previously taken part in his films, such as Lawrence, Adams, Bale and Cooper, but also worked with other big Hollywood names such as Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K. The film, which centers on a con man who is forced to work for the FBI, gained 10 Oscar nominations in 2014. Russell was nominated for best director and best original screenplay.

Going back to a lineup that has been box-office gold, it was announced that Russell, Cooper and Lawrence would team up again for Joy, a film based on the life of inventor Joy Mangano, with Lawrence taking the lead. Set for a Christmas Day 2015 release, Joy seems primed to generate more Oscar buzz for its director and actors, with both the film and Lawrence receiving Golden Globe nods.

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