Christmas Day will be extra special this season for soap opera fans, because four of the genre’s most acclaimed and notable performers will be appearing on the big screen in David O. Russell’s latest film, JOY!
General Hospital’s Laura Wright (Carly) and Maurice Benard (Sonny), Knots Landing and GH star Donna Mills (Ex-Abby, Ex-Madeline), and former All My Children icon, and now Devious Maids star Susan Lucci (Ex-Erica, now Genevieve) all take part in scenes woven through the movie within the fictional soap, “The Joyful Storm”.
JOY pairs O. Russell once again with Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role in story inspired by the rags-to-riches real-life struggles of Joy Mangano, who became the entrepreneur/inventor of the self-wringing Miracle Mop. Virginia Madsen plays Jennifer Lawrence’s soap-opera-obsessed mother, Terry, and throughout the film’s motif, there are dream sequences where the real life characters in the movie interact with the soap opera characters! O. Russell also brings back along with Lawrence his other dream team cast members of: Bradley Cooper, and the legendary Robert DeNiro for his third collaboration after the Oscar nominated films, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle.
On-Air On-Soaps conducted an informative, humorous, candid, and genre-appreciating roundtable interview with Maurice Benard, Laura Wright, and Donna Mills to find out: what it was like to work with the famed O. Russell and his A-team on the set, how they were cast in the movie, their thoughts on meeting Robert DeNiro and Jennifer Lawrence, their gratitude for O. Russell’s recent comments on the qualities of the soap actors, and much more. We couldn’t have more JOY than to bring you three of our favorites to mark this occasion for them, their fans, and daytime just as the film is set to open nationwide.
Each of you had a unique and interesting experience on how it came to pass that you landed your roles in JOY. Laura and Maurice, is it true that Jennifer Lawrence saw you in a scene on GH, and got David O. Russell to watch it with her, and then they decided to get in touch with the both of you?
LAURA: I was told they saw the scene where Carly and Sonny both got arrested. I was in one jail cell, and Maurice was in the other. I believe it was after Sonny was arrested for killing AJ. I was then called in and I actually auditioned with Jennifer Lawrence in front of David O. Russell, which was last November 2014. It was an improv scene. There are no “scenes” with David. (Laughs) He just kind of gives you a scenario and he says, “Go!”
Laura, what was that like for you being there with Jennifer and David … a surreal moment in your acting career?
LAURA: I am thinking to myself, “Am I really sitting here two inches away from Jennifer Lawrence (Laughs), and playing these emotional moments and beats, and doing improv with her while her dog is jumping all around us?” It was the weirdest experience ever, but it was so awesome. (Laughs)
What happened with you, Maurice?
MAURICE: I got a call that I’m going to Boston where they were filming. So, I had to fly. It has been ten years since I had flown. It scared the hell out of me, but I did it! But when I got on the plane I almost got off again, but my wife Paula looked at me with that look! (Laughs) So, I stayed on the plane, and when all was said and done I had a great time with Donna and Susan, and kinda Laura. (Laughs)
Donna, you actually first auditioned for the role of Joy’s mother in the film, correct?
DONNA: Yes. I got a call from my agent saying, “David O. Russell is looking for you!” I said, “Really? OK!” David brought me in to read for the part of Joy’s mother. The part ultimately went to Virginia Madsen. But, I had the same experience as Laura. David brought Jennifer Lawrence into read with me, which was really nice. It was all improv. It was all, “Fall down on the couch and pretend that you’re comatose, and do this, and do that …” David walked out of the room to take a phone call at one point. Jennifer said to me, “I know this seems strange, just trust him.” She then said, “The first movie I did with him (Silver Linings Playbook) I thought I will never work again in this business. This is the worst thing I’ve ever done.” She went on to say, “However, I trusted him, and it turned out great.” Telling me to just trust him, and go with it, was really the best advice that I ever got. So, I did not get that role, but then weeks, and weeks, and weeks later they called and said, “You got another role!” I said, “Oh! OK, great. What is the role?” They said, “Well, just go there. You’ll find out.” (Laughs) That is how this all happened. It was just wonderful.
LAURA: Yes, they said to me, “Just go there and find out.” Nobody had scripts.
DONNA: Nobody knew what they were doing, until we actually got on the set!
LAURA: All the crew laughed at us. We were like, “Do we get a script?” And they would go, “Umm. Yeah, but it doesn’t really meaning anything!” (Laughs)
DONNA: It was a very unique experience. He is a very unique director. I think a bit of brilliant, really. David has such a vision in his head, and he knows what he wants. I don’t think every actor could work with him, because it’s a very strange way of working, but he loves actors! He loves what you can do. So, just like Jennifer said, you just have to trust him.
LAURA: David is also very passionate about it. It’s his words, and his vision. He is very supportive and wants to hear what you have to say, and he is a 100% part of the scene, because he is right there with you.
Maurice, what was the role you played in the soap opera “The Joyful Storm”?
MAURICE: I don’t know! (Laughs) I just play a guy. David would tell me to say things and I would do it. I had a nice scene with Susan Lucci. It was scary, but it was a blast. You basically get on the set. David would say things like, “Maurice smile.” You kind of had to listen, and not listen. It’s a challenge, but I was into it.
DONNA: David was usually shooting with two cameras, too. So that one camera would be getting a close up of Laura, and one camera would be getting a wide shot, etc. However, you never knew what camera was shooting what.
So Maurice, you don’t play a Sonny Corinthos-type mob boss then?
MAURICE: I kind of decided to play it like the Sonny character, unless David would tell me not to do that, but he never did. So, I just kept doing what I was doing. We would kind of figure it out and then we just do the scenes.
Soap fans are trying to envision how the fictitious soap opera “The Joyful Storm” is woven into the movie. It has an integral part in telling Joy’s story. What can you share?
LAURA: The character Terry, that Virginia Madsen plays, is obsessed with soap operas, and that is basically how she kind of raised Joy in that world. With the journey that Joy goes on, she flashes into this dream world of daytime television, and that’s where we are. We are in our own world, per se. We never worked directly with Virginia. Susan Lucci had a bit more direct contact with Jennifer Lawrence, but it still was in a very dream-like state.
The stills from the motion picture reveal there are a lot of big soapy hair styles going on for the female soap characters!
LAURA: I have to say at first I was so proud, because I was going, “I don’t have to use a wig!” But now, you don’t know how bad I wished I had used a wig! Donna and Susan would walk in and put the wig on their heads and be done; meanwhile I am still sitting there in hair and make-up being teased and pulled – it was awful!
DONNA: Well, that’s because you have great hair!
MAURICE: I had a wig on the whole time! (Laughs) And, I did have sideburns, too!
DONNA: We actually have four different looks in the movie spanning four decades.
Maurice, what did you think when in his Hollywood Reporter roundtable interview with other noted directors, David O. Russell called you the “Marlon Brando of soaps”?
MAURICE: Marlon Brando was an idol of mine when I started acting. I was just so humbled from David saying that. Laura called me “Marlon Brando” just today!
LAURA: Laura does NOT call him “Marlon Brando” (Laughs). I call you some things Maurice, but I can’t say them here! (Laughs)
In several mainstream press interviews, David has commended very highly the talent, the work ethic, and the professional athlete-type qualities that actors in the soap genre bring to the table. It has been such a major moment for this medium, when often old-school notions in Hollywood have always held that those who work in daytime dramas are the poor step-children of the profession, etc. When you saw David’s remarks on how all of you impressed him, what went through your minds?
MAURICE: I was talking to some people on the set of GH just the other day, a bunch of directors, etc. I don’t think anybody ever, director or what not, has praised daytime actors as much as David has. For us, we have so much respect, and so much love for that. We are not used to hearing that. Would you agree with me, Donna and Laura?
LAURA: You’re right, Maurice. I have never seen this amount of press and praise to a group of actors in a medium that most people couldn’t even handle, especially the way we shoot the episodes now.
DONNA: The way it’s done now, it does take an Olympic athlete to do it, I think.
Donna, you and I had previously talked that when you did your very first arc on General Hospital, you were trying to get a handle on the pace of daytime, nowadays. It was very challenging for you at the beginning. It is a far cry from when you first appeared on the daytime soap Love is a Many Splendored Thing at the beginning of your career. Many who don’t work in the medium don’t understand, or respect the work that actors do, and the performances they are able to pull off with basically little to no rehearsal. But someone like David O. Russell clearly got it, and the type of talent it takes to perform in the rigors of soaps.
DONNA: Right, and even when I did do daytime on Love is a Many Splendored Thing, it wasn’t like it is now when I have been on General Hospital. It wasn’t that kind of intense. It was always sort of intense, but not like it is now, that’s for sure. That was a hard transition for me to do. I really loved the fact that David recognized what it takes, and because of the way he works, he tapped into actors who could do it in a second, who didn’t falter and pause, but just went and did it. He loved that, because he is very in the moment, and of the moment. David wants his actors to be that way, too. We all could do that. I think he was really impressed by that. I wouldn’t doubt that somewhere along the line he will do something else with soap opera actors.
LAURA: Also to what Donna just said, it’s so true … David is so in the moment. He just goes for it, and gets so caught up in the scene. I think that’s why it changes so much and no one knows what they’re doing, because as its unfolding his mind is going: “Now try this. Now do this, and do that.” He loved that we were able to do that without stopping, and going, “Well, wait a minute. I don’t know …” I think then it would sort of break him out of his moments of inspiration. So, working with people who can really work on their feet, and can go with it, and trust that it’s going to be put together well, I think is very important to him.
DONNA: David kept talking in the press interviews he did: “I told Susan Lucci and Donna Mills to have a catfight, and they just went and had the catfight.” But it didn’t make into the picture.
LAURA: The catfight was amazing! It was so good. I was standing right there going, “Oh, my God. This is awesome!” (Laughs)
What are your character names in “The Joyful Storm”? Susan Lucci’s is Danica, we know that much. (Laughs)
LAURA: I think mine was Clarinda.
MAURICE: I think it was Jared, but I don’t know. Donna, do you know? (Laughs)
DONNA: Maurice, your name kept changing! (Laughs) I don’t think I ever had a name. Wait, the name of my character was on the dress rooming door, but nowhere else! (Laughs)
LAURA: So funny!
Did each of you work with Susan Lucci in your scenes?
LAURA: We were all together a lot in the scenes. We would all go to dinner together, as we all stayed in the same hotel.
MAURICE: Laura never invited me out, though. But, I forced myself to go. (Laughs)
LAURA: (Laughs) The one time we go out Maurice’s wife Paula and I got lost, and Maurice was pissed off in the passenger seat, because we couldn’t get back to the hotel, and we missed the turn three times in a row! Then we couldn’t stop laughing, and so we missed it again, and then I accidently stabbed Maurice in the face!
MAURICE: Exactly, with her nail! (Laughs)
LAURA: It was a mess! (Laughs)
DONNA: And it was like two degrees in Boston at that time. It was so unbelievably cold! (Laughs)
When you finally saw the movie JOY, what did you think of it?
DONNA: I was pissed off the catfight scene wasn’t in it! (Laughs). I think the movie is really wonderful, unique, and different. It goes right to your heart, and gets under your skin. I think JOY is fabulous. I think Jennifer Lawrence, and everyone one in it is fabulous. The cast is different than they have ever been before in David’s films. I have never seen Robert DeNiro do a part like this.
LAURA: I’m going to go see it Christmas Day when it opens with my kids. I can’t wait!
MAURICE: I haven’t seen it yet, either!
Did you all meet and work with the other Oscar winner on the set, the incomparable Robert DeNiro?
DONNA: He came and introduced himself on the set going, “Hi. I’m Bob DeNiro.” And we were going, “No, kidding!” (Laughs)
LAURA: At one point, we were all on the set of the soap opera world together, because we were the soap opera characters, and then we kind of became their characters. So, we went into the background as they came into the scene, and that is when we met Robert. It was great! We all just hung out on the set together like actors do waiting to perform.
Did the three of you have a pinch-yourself-moment of “Oh, my God. This is thee Robert DeNiro?”
DONNA: Oh, yeah!
LAURA: Of course!
MAURICE: When I was young, Robert DeNiro was like a God. So when I was introduced to him I was trying to be cool, but you get nervous. Robert could not have been nicer. The other actors treated us great, and with so much respect. It was truly a special experience for us.
So, what did you think about the comments from Laura, Maurice, and Donna on working on the film of JOY? Can we score this as a major victory for the daytime genre, where these talented actors are being recognized for their performances and work ethic by acclaimed director/writer David O. Russell, and Oscar-winning actors Robert DeNiro and Jennifer Lawrence? What do you think of the premise of the fictional soap “The Joyful Storm”? Will you be hitting the theatres to see Maurice, Laura, and Donna over the holiday season? Share your thoughts on our roundatable discussion in the comment section below!