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David Owen Russell born in August 20, 1958 is an American film director and screenwriter. He has been praised for the loose, comic energy that characterizes his work, and notorious for his explosive confrontations with cast members.

Personal life

Russell was born in New York City, New York to a Jewish father and an Italian American Catholic mother, and was raised in an "atheistic" household. He graduated from Amherst College in 1981, majoring in Political Science and English. He is good friends with film directors Alexander Payne and Spike Jonze.


His first directorial effort was the independent dark comedy Spanking the Monkey in 1994, starring Jeremy Davies as a troubled young man who develops an incestuous relationship with his mother (Alberta Watson). Despite the controversial subject matter, the film received critical acclaim and won him Best First Screenplay and Best First Feature from the Independent Spirit Awards, as well as the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

His next project was another independent comedy, Flirting with Disaster (1996), about a neurotic man (Ben Stiller) who travels with his wife (Patricia Arquette) and a high-strung caseworker (Téa Leoni) to find his biological parents. The film was well-received by most critics. Roger Ebert said of the direction, "Russell finds the strong central line all screwball begins with, the seemingly serious mission or quest, and then throws darts at a map of the United States as he creates his characters." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a 'B' and declared it "...one of the ha-ha funniest comedies currently at a theater near you."

The success of those two films led to the Gulf War thriller Three Kings, starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze. Adapted from an earlier script by former stand-up comic John Ridley, the film follows three American GIs who devise a plan to steal hidden Kuwaiti gold during the 1991 Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein. Filmed in the deserts of Arizona, California and Mexico, and featuring actual Iraqi refugees as extras, Russell used several unique cinematic techniques to achieve a feeling of realism. He filmed using handheld cameras and Steadicam, and shot on Ektachrome slide photography stock that was cross processed in colour negative chemicals, to reproduce "the odd colour of the newspaper images [of the Gulf War]." He also insisted on filming all of the explosions in one shot, as opposed to a typical action film.

During filming, news spread of Russell and George Clooney nearly having a fistfight on the set of Three Kings. In a 2000 interview, Clooney described his confrontation with Russell after tensions on the set had been steadily increasing. According to Clooney, Russell was demeaning the crew verbally and physically. Clooney felt this was out of line and told Russell, "David, it's a big day. But you can't shove, push or humiliate people who aren't allowed to defend themselves." Russell, said Clooney, replied, "Why don't you just worry about your fucked-up acting?! You're being a dick. You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me." Clooney said Russell then grabbed him by the throat and Clooney "went nuts", pummeling Russell. Clooney said Russell eventually apologized and filming continued, but Clooney described the incident as "truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life." When asked if he would work with Russell again, Clooney responded, "Life’s too short."

Three Kings was released in 1999 and was his biggest critical and financial success. It grossed $60 million in the United States and over $100 million worldwide. It holds a 94% at Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "Three Kings successfully blends elements of action, drama, and comedy into a thoughtful, exciting movie on the Gulf War." It ended up being the first of several collaborations with Mark Wahlberg.

Despite the success of Three Kings, the controversy of the on-set fight led to difficulties in financing his next project: the existential comedy I love Huckabees. Russell had conflicts with Lily Tomlin during the filming of I Heart Huckabees, video of which has surfaced on video sites such as YouTube. These conflicts were first reported in a 2004 New York Times article by Sharon Waxman in which she describes him calling Tomlin "...the crudest word imaginable, in front of the actors and crew." Additionally Waxman witnessed the following which is corroborated by the leaked videos: "Mr. Russell ends his tirade by sweeping his arm across a nearby table cluttered with production paraphernalia. He storms off the set and back on again, continually shouting. Then he locks himself in his office, refusing to return." Waxman also comments to the effect that Russell made an effort to destabilize the actors to improve their performances. The set was characterized as emotionally charged, with Russell begging nothing but his dream for the film from the actors, who were sometimes driven to their wits' end after hours of takes. The noted instance circulated on the Internet was one such dramatic exchange. Afterward, Tomlin remarks that she and Russell are "fine", saying, "I'd rather have someone human and available and raw and open. Don't give me someone cold, or cut off, or someone who considers themselves dignified." The film itself was released to mixed reviews.

After a six-year hiatus Russell returned with The Fighter, a biographical sports drama produced by and starring Mark Wahlberg. The film focuses on junior welterweight boxer Mickey Ward's rise to claim the WBU Light Welterweight title, as well as his difficult relationship with his mother, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo), and his older half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). The film became a major critical and financial success, grossing $73 million as of January 26 and appeared on several critics' year-end top ten lists.

On January 25, 2011, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominees for the 83rd Academy Awards. The Fighter received seven, including Best Picture and Best Director for Russell, the first of his career.

Future projects


Nailed is a political comedy co-written by Kristen Gore which stars Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tracy Morgan, Catherine Keener, Paul Reubens, Josh Brolin and Kirstie Alley. Production was delayed or shut down four times, for reasons ranging from on-set conflict that resulted in James Caan quitting the film, to financial trouble that led IATSE to shut down production because the crew was not getting paid. The movie revolves around the character of Alice Eckle (played by Jessica Biel) who gets accidentally shot in the head with a nail by a clumsy workman, eliciting wild sexual urges. The uninsured Eckle goes on a crusade to Washington to fight for the rights of the bizarrely injured. She meets an immoral congressman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who takes advantage of her sex drive and capitalizes on her crusade as Eckle heads into her own career in politics.

The Silver Linings Playbook

Russell is set to direct The Silver Linings Playbook, adapted from the serio-comic novel by Matthew Quick. Anne Hathaway and Bradley Cooper have been cast in the lead roles, and is tentatively set for release sometime in 2013.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

On October 8, 2010, it was revealed by Columbia Pictures that David O. Russell will be writing and directing an adaptation of the bestselling video game Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. A month and a half later, actor Mark Wahlberg confirmed that he is set to play protagonist Nathan Drake. He also mentioned the possibility of actors Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci signing up for roles.
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