Based loosely on the life and rise of inventor and home shopping star Joy Mangano, starring Jennifer Lawrence in the titular role for which she is nominated in the Best Actress category in this year’s Academy Awards, the genre-blurring story of “Joy” follows the wild path of a hard-working but half-broken family and the young girl who ultimately becomes its shining matriarch and leader in her own right. Driven to create and take care of those around her, Joy experiences betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love. Ultimately, she finds the steel and the belief to follow her once-suppressed dreams. The result is an emotional and human comedy about a woman’s rise – navigating the unforgiving world of commerce, the chaos of family and the mysteries of inspiration while finding an unyielding source of happiness.
Joining Lawrence is a typically wide-ranging Russell ensemble including Robert De Niro as Joy’s hot-tempered yet hopelessly romantic father; Edgar Ramirez as Joy’s ex-husband, a struggling musician living in the basement … with her father; Diane Ladd as Joy’s insightful and influential grandmother; Virginia Madsen as Joy’s soap-opera addicted mother; Isabella Rossellini as her father’s well-off Italian lover; Dascha Polanco as Joy’s life-long friend and confidante,; Elisabeth Rohm as Joy’s rivalrous sister and Bradley Cooper as the mogul-style home shopping executive who becomes both Joy’s ally and adversary.
Outside of Joy’s family, her biggest ally – and later her greatest business rival – is QVC executive Neil Walker, portrayed by long-lived David O. Russell collaborator Bradley Cooper, an Oscar® nominee for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle as well as Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. Cooper and Russell talked about bringing a dash of early Hollywood mogul to the character, having Cooper explore an easy flair and optimism new to their work together.
The character both soothes Joy with his exuberant love of invention and fires her up to outdo his expectations. Cooper explains: “Neil’s a fictional composite of several people at QVC who worked with Joy. What’s so interesting about him is that he’s a guy who becomes more relaxed the more the pressure increases. I liken him to certain coaches I had growing up who were always on an even keel amidst utter chaos – and in that way I think he has a kinship with Joy. At the same time, he takes his business very seriously. He sees himself as a Jack Warner or Daryl Zanuck, building an empire of dreams. He’s not messing around and there’s no irony to him. He believes everything he says.”
Rather than a typically malevolent corporate presence, Cooper approached Neil as someone who is exhilarated by giving people that one-in-a-million shot. “Neil is someone who doesn’t look like other television executives, just as Joy doesn’t look like an inventor,” Cooper observes. “And he’s very aware that he was given a chance by Barry Diller to make QVC work. So he loves that he’s now in a position to give others who might be iconoclasts the chance to realize their biggest ideas. When he meets Joy, she’s on the precipice of changing her life and he gives her that opportunity.”
Cooper notes that he grew up with QVC. “My mother always ordered from QVC, and it was always on in my parents’ bedroom,” he recalls. “I’d come home from school and the front door would be wedged open with a QVC package waiting. I even had the Miracle Mop in my college dorm.”
He had fun exploring the behind-the-scenes life of that world he only saw from the other side. But Cooper’s greatest pleasure was watching Jennifer Lawrence fully embody Joy. “She has become this incredible force. She always was from the start – but now it’s being realized in new ways,” he comments. “She has this grounded, very rooted way of walking through a movie. It’s similar to what I’ve encountered with De Niro; I find them very similar in terms of the way they approach the work. That’s probably why David works with both of them over and over.”
“Joy” opens February 17 in cinemas from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.