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(Credit: Richard Goldschmidt / Georges Biard)

Film

When David O. Russell assaulted Christopher Nolan with a chokehold

David O. Russell’s popular 2004 comedy I Heart Huckabees stars Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin as a pair of “existential detectives” who are hired by various clients to figure out the true purpose of their terribly banal lives. Some of the top actors in the industry feature as those clients, ranging from Mark Wahlberg to Jude Law among others. Described on the poster as an “existential comedy,” the film acts as an examination of pop philosophy on the mainstream consciousness.

In an interview, Russell explained the origins of the project: “I wanted to make a short film, that later became I Heart Huckabees, about a guy who sits in the back of a Chinese restaurant with microphones on every table to surreptitiously listen to everybody’s conversations, then write perversely personal fortunes for each of the people. I tried to write that into a feature—about two years. I probably wrote about 20 versions, but it just wasn’t happening.”

The cast for I Heart Huckabees initially had Gwyneth Paltrow in it but she dropped out of the project because she was still grieving the loss of her father, according to Russell. In addition, Jude Law declared that he was quitting as well. The filmmaker later revealed that the actor felt the need to do a big-budget production because of an upcoming divorce settlement but Law’s agents denied that there were financial reasons behind this move.

Multiple reports had confirmed at the time that Law had been offered a promising part in Christopher Nolan’s 2000 thriller Memento. While that would have been a fascinating addition to the actor’s oeuvre, David O. Russell had something else to say about the whole thing. The director took things into his own hands and engaged in condemnable behaviour.

According to the New York Times, when Russell ran into Nolan at a Hollywood party, he publicly humiliated and embarrassed Nolan by physically assaulting him. Although Russell had already entered discussions about replacing Jude Law with Jim Carrey, he put Christopher Nolan in a headlock in front of all the guests at the party. During his juvenile public display, Russell demanded that Nolan release Law immediately as a gesture of “artistic solidarity.” The very next day, Law was back on the roster for I Heart Huckabees.

Later in his career, Russell labelled I Heart Huckabees as his worst work and called it his “mid-life crisis movie.” Adding, “I was exploring these ideas of hiring someone to spy on you and then tell you about your life if you were in a crisis, like I was. ‘What do I do about my marriage? What do I do about my bipolar kid?’ But in retrospect I overthought it too much. There was too much worrying around it, and I checked out of it a little bit. If I could do the film again, as proud as I am of many parts of it, I would make it sweaty and intimate.”