Joy to the world

Virginia Madsen and Diane Ladd on family, vision and invention in Joy.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Virginia Madsen at La Grenouille
Virginia Madsen at La Grenouille Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper shine in David O. Russell's Joy with Édgar Ramírez, Isabella Rossellini, Elisabeth Röhm, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Dascha Polanco and Drena De Niro.

Two emotional centers of Joy, Diane Ladd and Virginia Madsen, also have their own family ties to two men, Bruce Dern and Michael Madsen of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, whom I encountered the day before. Ladd and Dern produced Laura Dern - Virginia and Michael Madsen are siblings.

Diane Ladd's It's A Wonderful Life moment: "Thank you for my wings."
Diane Ladd's It's A Wonderful Life moment: "Thank you for my wings." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

President of Fox 2000 Pictures, Elizabeth Gabler, Bob Balaban, Celia Weston, Tovah Feldshuh, Geoffrey Fletcher, Josh Mostel, Don Rosenfeld, Matt Budman, Neil Burger, Bruce Cohen, John Dilworth, Bob Dotson, Megan Ellison, Jimmy Picker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, CEO of The Mother Company, Abbie Schiller, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Isabella Rossellini, Elisabeth Röhm, Dascha Polanco, David O. Russell, Diane Ladd and Virginia Madsen attended the lunch at La Grenouille in a joyful celebration.

Joy is the story of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), the inventor of the Miracle Mop. Far from a biopic, David O. Russell begins with a look at what Joy's mother Terry (Virginia Madsen) is concerned with most in life - her soap opera. Terry has chosen to engage with the world inside the little box in place of her own - a decision that affected her daughter's life immensely. With her mother holed up in her bedroom, Joy takes on functions beyond her years.

The narrator is Joy's grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), the only person to really believe in her. Mimi does not believe in obstacles and adds some magical perspective to her support. Joy is good at making things and starts inventing as a child. When she meets future husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez), he says "I'm going to be the next Tom Jones," and she says "I invented a dog collar." He gets her to sing "Something Stupid," with him and off to the wedding they go.

Anne-Katrin Titze: It's really a fantastic role you have in Joy.

Jennifer Lawrence as Joy
Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Virginia Madsen: Yes, it was.

AKT: Behind it all, she is a tragic figure.

VM: Yes, she is very tragic and helpless and she is so funny. I didn't know I was funny, I just thought I was this sad, lonely figure. And then one day, I was doing a scene and David started laughing and he has this wonderful big laugh. I thought I had done something horribly wrong. He was crying because he was laughing so hard. And I said "Oh, I'm funny? I didn't realize, David!" And he goes, "Yes, you got it, you did it." That was in the first few days of filming.

AKT: It's a wonderful combination. It comes as a surprise because in many movies, mothers like that lack dimension.

VM: I think what I wanted to portray is that she's not a bad person. She's just a bad mother. And she doesn't mean to be. She's just kind of helpless.

AKT: She is clearly expanding her cicada life to over 17 years [in reference to a quote in the film where Joy reads about cicadas' life cycle].

VM: Yes, exactly. I think that's very true. And I think because her mother was not capable of mothering, Joy had to do that for her. One of the things that made Joy into a very strong person who could take care of all of those people in the house. And that part was very true of her story.

AKT: It felt a bit like Rapunzel in generational reverse. The mother is in the tower.

David O. Russell with Elisabeth Röhm
David O. Russell with Elisabeth Röhm Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

VM: Yes! And then in the end, she is finally out of her room, cooking with her handsome Toussaint [Jimmy Jean-Louis]. So that was totally David's invention. Suddenly this actor shows up, and I am like "Oh, there's a plumber. And now I'm in love."

AKT: Your performance actually explained a little something to me about my mother, that I didn't understand before.

VM: That's interesting. Thank you.

Earlier, David O. Russell, Dascha Polanco, Virginia and Diane, answered my childhood inventor inquiry to them at the La Grenouille lunch.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I liked your answer to my question, that you actually invented something as a child.

Diane Ladd: I did! It was a great pocketbook. I should pull it back up. Because all the pockets were on the outside, with a little note attached to whatever you needed. Also, I used to dig holes in the earth and I put a picture in the bottom and I'd put a piece of glass on top and cover it with dirt. And if you gave me a penny, I'd let you look at my picture. I made enough money to buy ice cream cones.

AKT: Everybody in New York knows how important it is to have a handbag with different pockets! That fits different occasions.

DL: They don't have one. I can never get the right bag [Diane was sporting a lovely Prada bag]! I'm going to pull out my invention.

AKT: With your narration in Joy, were you at all thinking of William Holden? You know what I am referring to?

Bruce Dern and Michael Madsen at The Hateful Eight press conference
Bruce Dern and Michael Madsen at The Hateful Eight press conference Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

DL: Yes, sure. But no. Clarence in It's A Wonderful Life was an angel. But I did send a note to David [O. Russell] to say, "Thank you for my wings."

AKT: Lovely. You do come back…

DL: I do come back. I am a ghost. I stand up for her [Joy] on the outside and I'm guiding her even though I'm dead on the outside. I'm still near her.

AKT: You are at times really the only one by her side, supporting her as the narrator.

DL: When they called me to narrate, they said a lot of good, nice compliments, but they said, "We feel you're the heart and soul of the film behind Jennifer. Because you're the only one - in real life it was her grandmother." I met Joy last night for the first time and she's fantastic. Her kids came up and grabbed me and they started crying and they said "You are our grandmother!" And I started crying.

AKT: The magic of movies?

DL: When you do something, when you do a part, especially based on reality, and then you discover that that person appreciates what you've done and you've succeeded, it is like a painting. Like having done a painting but nobody can see it really and know. I can't tell you the feeling, because my whole job as an actor is to fight for justice, to show you saint or sinner, so that we don't judge too quickly.

We judge often quickly in this world, we human beings. Do you have a car like I do? Do you drive the same car? Do you belong to the same club? What are you wearing? Who made that bag? It's all a joke! It's all baloney. It's all about you. You are the book cover and what's your book like inside? You know, we got to start reading the books of each other.

La Grenouille
La Grenouille Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Joy has something of a classic fairy-tale book about it - with switched roles. You could be a fairy godmother, Virginia Madsen's character is Rapunzel, Jennifer Lawrence as Joy saves the day. Do you need a prince? No you don't.

DL: She needed to fulfill her destiny. Because if she fulfills her destiny, 500 human beings, minimum, will get a job. Like in It's a Wonderful Life - suppose she hadn't achieved her destiny? And this is really true, what would those 500 people have done? Would one of them have gone bankrupt? Would another have killed himself? We each affect each other. Me talking to you, you talking to me - we don't really know why we're here talking to each other. Maybe there's another reason we don't even know about! That's the mystery of life and that's the magic of life. Because tomorrow you don't know what will happen.

AKT: That's why I was waving from up there to ask you about your inventions.

DL: That's wonderful that you were waving. I love the fact that you were waving and asked that question. That was a great, fun, uplifting Christmas question.

AKT: Thank you so much and Merry Christmas!

DL: You're very kind and I appreciate your questions. Merry Christmas to you!

Joy opens in the US on December 25 and in the UK on January 1, 2016.

Coming up, Robert De Niro, David O. Russell, the inventor, Bradley Cooper with his mum and Isabella Rossellini on Joy, parenting and Nando in Stig Björkman's Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words.

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