Jennifer Lawrence has been a "Hunger Games" heroine and a "Silver Linings" head case. But she'd never played a Hauppauge housewife. Not until "American Hustle."
"I wanted Jennifer to be unlike anybody's ever seen her," said director David O. Russell, whose wryly comedic, only casually fact-based new film ("Some of this actually happened," says the intro) is inspired by ABSCAM, the corruption sting of the late '70s-early '80s. Run out of an FBI office on Long Island -- and retold in "The Sting Man," the 1982 book by Newsday journalist Robert W. Greene -- the operation led to the bribery/conspiracy convictions of several public officials, including one U.S. senator and six congressmen.
In the movie, which opens Friday on Long Island, the names are changed but the identities are clear enough: Christian Bale plays con man Irving Rosenfeld, suggested by ex-Long Islander Mel Weinberg, who helped the FBI mastermind the sting; Amy Adams is his partner/paramour Sydney Prosser, inspired by Weinberg's mistress, Evelyn Knight; Bradley Cooper is the overly ambitious federal agent Richie DiMaso. And Lawrence, following up last year's Oscar-winning performance in Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," is Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irving's wife and, to some extent, a repository of cliched Islandisms.
"She was a wacky broad," said Weinberg, the former con man and ABSCAM choreographer. "She never wanted to leave the house, that's the way she was. The house was sanctuary."
An acute native cunning
In the film, Rosalyn is all upswept hair, plunging necklines and inappropriate comments -- she embarrasses Irving, uses his son as a hostage to keep her husband, if not in line, then at least on the leash. Under the sexy facade lay an acute native cunning.
"Rosalyn was interesting for me," Lawrence said recently in Manhattan, "because she was doing all these awful things and saying all these awful terrible things but finding a reason why -- a nice reason why. She sees marriage as being for life, so 'I'm going to entrap this man and dangle his son in front of him if I have to, because that is the right thing to do.'"
Lawrence said she and Russell spent about three weeks creating Rosalyn. "We were both bouncing around these ideas, and I said, 'I think she watches infomercials. I think her hair, her makeup, she's watching all these do-it-yourselves. She has every exercise/thigh-buster thing that she sees on TV. I thought she was hilarious."
The real Marie was something else. By various accounts a deeply unhappy woman, she committed suicide in 1982. "It wasn't the first time she attempted it," Weinberg said from Florida. "She tried it three times before."
ABSCAM, he said, was pretty much the way Russell envisioned it, except for his supposedly close relationship with the mayor of Camden (Jeremy Renner), who is based on ABSCAM co-conspirator Angelo Errichetti. "The mayor was a crook," Weinberg said. "He was a likable guy, but he was a thief. He offered the port of Camden to drug runners."
'It was a complete mismatch'
Some of the crazier aspects of his story, Weinberg said, weren't in the movie at all: Karim Abdul Rahman, the nom de sting assumed by various FBI agents (including actor Brian Dennehy's brother Michael), was a real sheik whom Weinberg met in the upstairs lounge of a Pan Am flight. Rahman was coming to Manhattan to shop for furnishings for his 14 rooms at the Carlton Hotel in Nice.
"I told him there was a better place to buy stuff at Roosevelt Field," Weinberg said. "I gave him my limo to take him and his wife shopping. I get a call later that the limo's full. I had to send a truck."
Weinberg was "what I would refer to as a character," said Greene's son, Robert Jr., who keeps in touch with Weinberg. (Greene died in 2008.) "He was very quick, very detail-oriented. It was a complete mismatch." Greene said the FBI agents, who were supposed to be entertaining high-rollers and congressmen, were "pencil pushers" who'd cut corners. "They'd bring in booze from their homes, half-empty bottles. They were supposed to be entertaining a sheik and someone brought in a Hebrew National salami. The guy being scammed said, 'Salami?' And Mel quickly said, 'He loves it. Can't have it in his own country, so he always has it when he's here.'"
"American Hustle" seems to be an Academy Award contender. Will Weinberg be going to the Oscars? "Sure," he said, "if they'll pay for me to go."