Credit: Francois Duhamel

Damn, it must feel good to be a hustler. Coming off a New York Film Critics Circle best picture win and whispers of Oscars buzzing in the air, the stars of American Hustle celebrated the film’s world premiere Sunday night at New York’s Ziegfeld Theater.

Inspired by the 1978 Abscam scandal in which the FBI set up a sting operation to capture corrupt political officials, the dramedy started off as a kernel of an idea in the mind of screenwriter and executive producer Eric Warren Singer 15 years ago. But for him, the movie all started with one character — irresistibly charming con man Irving Rosenfeld, played by Christian Bale.

“I found the guy who Irving is based on, Mel Weinberg. I did three weeks worth of interviews with him, and those interviews were how the movie was born,” said Singer. Yet as the final product is brimming with colorful and complex figures, Singer stated, “All of the characters really bring something interesting and dynamic — it truly is an ensemble piece.”

Oscar-nominated actress Amy Adams remarked on the complexity of her character, Irving’s partner-in-crime, Sydney Prosser. “She’s walking a very fine line between different personas and different hustles, but that’s what makes it fun. Anything that’s challenging is what excites me about being an actress, so it was a lot of fun. And David, of course, is the kind of director you get to do that with.

Described by Singer as the “Frank Capra of our time,” writer-director David O. Russell in turn praised the cast for their transformative takes on the larger-than-life characters based on real ’70s-era figures. “I love being the one who has Christian Bale being funny and warm and charming in addition to being intense or charming, said Russell, continuing, “And I’m happy to be the writer-director who brings Amy to be fierce, extremely glamorous, and sexy as well as raw and truthful emotionally.”

Russell also lauded the “electric” chemistry between Bradley Cooper, who plays FBI agent Richie DiMaso, and Adams. Recalling his notes for a particular moment, he told them, “In this scene, you’re going to have sex but you’re not going to have sex. I want to be able to cut the air with a knife, it was so thick — and they made it happen,” said Russell.

American Hustle makes film two of three recent features to star both Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence — Silver Linings Playbook as the first and the upcoming Serena as the third. Although Cooper and Lawrence don’t share moments together in this film, he still calls her “amazing to watch,” and describes filming with such a top notch cast as “a thrill on so many levels.”

Actor-comedian Louis C.K. does share much of his screen time with Cooper, playing against type as straight-laced FBI agent Stoddard Thorsen. His character suffers abuse from the more hotheaded DiMaso, making him the brunt of frustration and enthusiastic celebration, including one moment that is sure to be the Internet’s newest favorite GIF.

“Well, Bradley’s a very believable guy, so it makes it easy. I think if someone is good in a movie, it means that the other person was probably good. So, he was just easy to act off of. When someone’s kinda doing a sh—y job, that’s when you really have to be much better,” he said with a laugh.

When asked if Russell’s most recent films The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook carry an overarching theme that continues in this latest movie, producer Richard Suckle replied, “No question, David’s talked about it. This is sort of the third part of this trilogy.”

Suckle described his interpretation of what that running theme is, centering on Russell’s emphasis on character. “Characters like Dickie in The Fighter or Pat Solitano in Silver Linings, these characters have these moments of reckoning very early on in the movie. The journey is for them to figure out whether or not they’re going to find a way get by and hopefully come out on the other end in a better situation, he said, adding, “Characters that are struggling to survive and find their place not just with themselves but with their loved ones and find their place in the world, that’s very much in play in American Hustle as well.”

American Hustle opens in limited theaters Dec. 13 and nationwide Dec. 20.

American Hustle
  • Movie
  • 138 minutes