On Sunday, September 18th, the cast of Amsterdam – Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, and Andrea Riseborough – and writer/director David O. Russell sat down for a virtual press conference to answer questions about the 1930s-set murder mystery comedy and it’s messages, and these are the five key things we learned from their discussion.
1. This was a collaborative project.
David O. Russell – best known for his multi-Oscar-nominated movies The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle – is seen as a one-man show most of the time, often producing, directing, and writing his films. However, Amsterdam was one of the most collaborative projects he’s ever worked on. In the press conference, Russell talked of meeting with lead Christian Bale in a diner “over the course of five years,” with “other people [joining] in over those years as part of the conversation” (including Bale’s co-star, Margot Robbie) as well. Russell went on to say that, “as a writer, [after] being alone for 30 years of writing, it’s nice to be able to go talk to a friend or colleague or collaborator to grow it together.”
2. Christian Bale believes this is the film David O. Russell has been “working up to doing” his whole career.
Elaborating on his collaboration with Russell, Christian Bale noted that Amsterdam feels like the culmination of Russell’s career in a way, tying together all of the themes found in most of his films thus far. Bale specifically gave a shoutout to the themes of “the wisdom of how to deal with adversity,” “the absolute love of people who deal with pain and suffering in their lives with optimism and hope,” and “not becoming broken by life,” while moderator Heather Phillips noted the comparison between the characters in this film and Russell’s past protagonists, as “underdogs” who “retain [their] resilience” throughout the most troubling of times.
3. Margot Robbie prepped the character of Valerie throughout the entire pandemic, even making art like hers.
Because the coronavirus pandemic shut their production down, Margot Robbie had more time than she’s ever had in the past to prep her character in this film, Valerie Voze – a nurse with artistic ambitions. She went so far as to even make art as Valerie would while at home, stating that, “at one point, my husband walked in, and I had bits of metal and fake blood, and I had my Super 8 out, and I had a mask on, and I had all this crazy stuff like x-rays, and he was like, ‘I think you’re taking this character too far.'” with a laugh. Additionally, some of Robbie’s art even made it into the movie when all was said and done.
4. John David Washington did research on African Americans in WWI to better embody his character.
To better understand the mindset of his character Harold Woodsman – a former soldier turned lawyer – John David Washington worked on getting information about “what it was like for African Americans to fight for this country” in WWI ahead of filming, noting that “they had more freedoms [overseas] than they did in their own country,” which influenced his portrayal of how at peace Woodsman was in Amsterdam as opposed to America. Washington also added that his research helped him discover new facts about hidden victories for the Black community, including that the Amsterdam newspaper was started by a Black man in Harlem.
5. Amsterdam blends fact and fiction.
David O. Russell discussed how certain recorded history – namely the “Business Plot,” a 1933 political conspiracy that most of the movie is centered around – served as the foundation of his film, and that that was his “secret plutonium… to share as a dramatic tool.” However, he – along with Bale, Robbie, and Washington – then invented their own friendship of people whose lives were rarely recorded in history to surround this story, and showcase “the greatest freedom they ever had” and the greatest “fun they ever had together.” This blend of fact and fiction allowed for their creative expression to be as playful – and powerful – as possible in the final feature.