Author Matthew Quick on David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook”: “A f*#ked-up fairy tale”


One of the surefire Oscar contenders opening this holiday season is Silver Linings Playbook, written and directed by David O. Russell (Flirting With Disaster, Three KingsThe Fighter) and based on acclaimed novelist Matthew Quick’s dramedy. Silver Linings Playbook won the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September; many past Audience Award winners—including Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech—have gone on to Oscar glory. Opening in limited release this weekend in New York and L.A. and opening locally next Wednesday, November 21, the film has already been lining up certain nomination “locks” in Oscar pools for categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.

When Pat (Bradley Cooper) returns home from his stay at a state institution for eight months on a plea bargain, he has basically lost everything. His wife has left him, he’s lost his job and his home, and he’s picked up by his mother (Jackie Weaver) to go and stay with his folks, including his Philadelphia-Eagles-obsessed father (Robert DeNiro). He wants nothing more than get back together with his wife and get back to everyday life. When he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recent widow, who seems to be stalking him on his daily run, they form a unique bond and when Tiffany offers to help Pat reunite with his wife, he wants in—only Tiffany has a request for Pat to help her out with something that Pat reluctantly agrees too.

Enter Quick, a novelist, who wrote the source material and was surprised that his book was optioned for a film. He has written two other novels in addition to 2008’s Silver Linings Playbook: 2010’s Sorta Like a Rockstar and 2012’s Boy21. He has another novel coming out in August 2013 called, Forgive Me Leonard Peacock, about a teenage boy on his 18th birthday who takes a gun to school with the intention of killing his former best friend and himself. Quick said about the new book, “Thematically, it’s very consistent to what I’ve written, but tonally it’s a lot different.” He has written another adult book to follow up Silver Linings Playbook but says, “my agents said I’m not allowed to talk about it now.” 

Quick was in the Twin Cities last month for a press tour and even did a Q&A following one of the screenings. I had the opportunity to sit down with him to talk about his experiences as a writer, working with David O. Russell, and his thoughts on seeing his book transformed into a film for the first time.

What inspired or motivated you to write Silver Linings Playbook? 

I always wanted to write. I taught high school English for about seven years, and around my 30th birthday, I felt very trapped. I had tenure, had a house, health insurance, my wife had a great job—but we met in college and wanted to be fiction writers, and we both had settled for something that we didn’t necessarily want. It was a good life, but the problem was I was going into my classes everyday and the students were being pushed into the sciences, since that is where the money is, but I’d say, “It’s okay to make art. You can be a writer.” And we would read the classics and I had all these pictures of authors around my room and after awhile I started to feel like a hypocrite. I was telling my students it’s okay to take risks and follow your bliss, but I didn’t do that. I fell into a serious depression. I was completely functionally at work and put my good face on and kept being a great teacher. I felt like the best part of me was dying, and my wife encouraged me to follow my bliss and she came up with this plan to sell our house, quit our jobs, travel for a while, and then live with my in-laws. So I was living with my in-laws and writing full time and when you make that jump and you tell people that you want to be a fiction writer, I mean, when you tell people at 18 you want to write fiction, it’s cute. When you’re 30 and you tell people, “I’m going to quit my job and sell my house and write books in my basement without being paid,” people think you’ve lost your mind. So it was a very lonely time for me. I hadn’t sold any [writing] in two years and I wrote some books that weren’t great. I was running one day and I saw this beautiful cloud in the sky and there was this electric silver lining around it and I said to myself, “What if it’s an omen? What if I am going to make it as a writer? What if you allow yourself to believe and you get some fuel out of that?” And then I thought, “What if I had a character did that?” And Pat was born in that moment and I knew I had something immediately and the book just flew out of me.

So once the book came out were you then approached about having Silver Linings Playbook turned into a movie?

There was interest in L.A. even before I had a publisher in New York. My literary agent had sent it to Rich Green at CAA in New York without even telling me, and [Green] loved it. He then passed it on to producers Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack; they were ecstatic and they wanted to do it. They contacted David [O. Russell] and Harvey Weinstein and it happened rather quickly. When Anthony and Sydney passed away, there was a hiccup and it went away for a while, and then David got back involved. David wrote the screenplay and was actually set to do this film before he did The Fighter, but Silver Linings got delayed. Then, after he was done with The Fighter, he came back and started working on Silver Linings.

Were you ever approached to adapt the book into a script? Did you have any creative input with David?

Well, my first question to Rich Green when the book was optioned was, “Can I write the screenplay?” And there was this long pause and he said, “Ah…maybe David O. Russell will write the screenplay.” It was mind-blowing to hear that—I’ve seen all of his films and he is a storytelling hero of mine. I always tell young writers, when you make art alone in a room, you’re an artist. When you send your art to New York or L.A., you’re a professional. So, when I heard David was attached, it was much easier for me to act professionally. I got to be on set with him for the shoot and I came to the realization that this was his first adaptation and he has such a strong vision and presence as a storyteller. I look back and see what a leap of faith it was for him to take, and he needed space. When I write, I need the door closed and I turn off the phone. As a film director, he is working with hundreds of people on set, and he’s got to keep all of these straight in his head.

What were your initial thoughts on the film when you first saw it?

I saw it in New York and David called me the night before and I could tell he was concerned whether or not I would like the film. I think it was more of a [gesture of] respect from an artist to artist, and that meant a lot to me. So when I got there I was very nervous and was stressed about it thinking, “What has he done to my story?” [laughs] I was watching the film as about seven different people, as the author of the source material, someone who loves Philadelphia, someone who lived with these characters, being a fan of David’s, and being a film lover all at once. What lines would survive? What lines would be mine? What would he change? And my fists were clenched, and I was anxious, but after about a half hour in, my fists opened and I started to laugh at the dialogue and I finally could just watch the film. At that point, I knew this was going to be a special film. I think that’s what stories do: they transport you out of your everyday life and worries and when you can have transcendent experience, you know that storyteller has done his/her job. The big key that David did well and I hope I did well is that you don’t want to laugh at the characters, but at the absurdity of life.

Out of all of the performances is there one actor who really nailed the part as you had written?

I think all the performances were fantastic and I don’t think there was a false note in the whole cast. The most authentic to my characters in the book? Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is I feel the most authentic representation to what you will read in the novel, and most people who have read the book would agree. The fact that she is getting so much buzz about it is near and dear to my heart. I know from talking to David that Jennifer Skyped her audition in and she had the script, the book, and had a done a lot of research, and that really comes across in the film.

What would you like people to take away either from your work as an author or from the film?

First and foremost, I’m a storyteller. I hope to tell an engaging story. I’m very interested in illuminating the struggles of people to make it, the outsiders. I have a good friend in Philly who says I write fucked-up fairy tales, and I think Silver Linings is definitely a fucked-up fairy tale. It’s ugly and it’s about these people who have problems, but they figure out ways to make it. I would like to think my work is realistic enough that people can relate to it. I hope when they finish my books, they feel they can make it too.