‘Amsterdam’ Stars Christian Bale and Robert De Niro Still Love David O. Russell’s Unique Directing Style

“This is the most David film that I’ve ever come across,” Bale tells TheWrap

Amsterdam Christian Bale Robert De Niro

“Amsterdam,” the new David O. Russell historical mystery, has enough mega-watt stars to power a midsized American city.

The cast includes (but is not limited to) Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Zoe Saldaña, Timothy Olyphant and Matthias Schoenaerts. If there’s a lead in the movie, it’s Christian Bale, who developed the project with Russell and who stars as an injured veteran of World War I who is now looking to help his fellow wounded soldiers start their new lives in New York. He has one eye, extensive prosthetics and walks hunched over (his character has a back brace). It’s enough to remind you of an earlier Robert De Niro role, where he would transform himself physically to fit the needs of the character. Oh and De Niro is in the movie too, as a powerful ally, who can help expose a growing conspiracy.

TheWrap spoke to Bale and De Niro about re-teaming with Russell (Bale has made three movies with him, De Niro has made four), Russell’s unorthodox way of shooting and whether or not De Niro was relieved to let the younger actor assume the burdens of the physical transformation.

Christian, we know you and David had worked on this story for a long time. Had you always envisioned Mr. De Niro in this role?

Christian Bale: That’s David’s choice and I was blessed to be able to work with Bob. I believe that David and Bob actually originally started talking about a different character. And then through their research and their conversations, and it’s their fourth film together, I’ve only done three with David. I’m a beginner. But Bob and David are veterans. They go back much further than me –

Robert De Niro: Oh stop it. He’s the lead. I just do a little thing.

Christian Bale: And then as I understand it, the two of them chose Dillenbeck, the most appropriate role for Bob.

You’ve both done many movies with David and he has such an idiosyncratic way of shooting things and making movies. Has that process had evolved over the movies that you’ve done with him and has your relationship with him evolved as well?

Robert De Niro: No, well in my case it’s been kind of the same, but things always evolved and changed and so on. But the basic thing is always there that David does. And the attraction to working with him is because he’s so special and that the movie at the end of the day and hopefully the character will have a special reverberation. And that happens with him. It’s fun and exciting to work with him. But you also know it’s not for naught. It’ll be something that can always be recognized as a special project that people will remember.

Christian Bale: Yeah, absolutely. I think that in my experience from “The Fighter” to “American Hustle” to this, I’ve seen David lean more confidently into how he likes to direct and embrace the cast and crew who love it too. And he gets to know that, who enjoys it, who doesn’t. And I would say, I mean in my experience obviously really being involved way more with “Amsterdam” than any other film, this is the most David film that I’ve ever come across. And he embraced it really fully.

David, as Bob had said, he’ll be behind the camera given outlines. We always shoot the script, but then we go off script. And David also, so often with me when I’d be there, he’d be next to my chair or something and he’d be slapping at my ankles or whatever. Or he’d be under the tablecloth over there and sometimes Chivo [cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki] would turn the camera and because you don’t always know who he’s going to turn the camera on toward. And then he’d have to say, “David, I see you, you’re in the background.” And David would be scurrying around trying to get out of the shot. It’s the way he works and I love it. I love it. And clearly Bob loves it as well. Like any great filmmaker. David’s very unique in his point-of-view and rhythm and perspective.

Have you ever seen anybody freeze up? I’m assuming that style isn’t for everybody.

Christian Bale: Yeah, no. David occasionally would send me to be an ambassador just to explain. So we’re going to be good. It’s all going to be good. Just trust the process and enjoy the process. I saw an actor once just stunned. They didn’t know what the… They had to adjust. It was interesting.

Mr. De Niro, you’re known for these amazing physical transformations. Do you look at Christian and think, Thank God I don’t have to have one eye and crazy prosthetics anymore and be hunched over the whole movie?

Robert De Niro: That was a lot that he did. It was a lot. It was great. And part of me did say thank God. But he’s great. I mean, he is great at what he does. It’s really something. Yeah. And I am so impressed every time. Amazing.

Christian: See this man right here set the bar. You know?

“Amsterdam” is now playing exclusively in theaters.