I saw your 2008 directorial debut, The Poker House, and people don’t really give you enough credit for “discovering” Jennifer Lawrence, since that was her first film credit. No shit! You can quote me on that. No shit. I cast her in her first film. Look, she deserves one hundred percent of her success, period. In addition to that, I think I passed along 25 years of experience of being an actress to her. But she’s amazing and the camera loves her, and that’s why I cast her. It’s like when I first saw Leo DiCaprio in This Boy’s Life. We were editing A League of Their Own and De Niro and them were editing This Boy’s Life next door. Me and Penny [Marshall] were inseparable because I wanted to absorb everything she was doing, so I’d go to post-production with her. So De Niro comes in and goes, “You’ve got to see this kid.” So we went into the room and saw some unedited scenes with DiCaprio and both went, “There’s another movie star.” That’s what happened with Jennifer. And Chloe Moretz is in The Poker House, too! She’s going to be around forever and ever. I wrote her half-page monologues, and she’d just knock them out of the park. It was a small budget, under $1.5 million, and she was doing like eight pages a day. I went up to her mom and said, “What do we do after lunch? I don’t want her to crash!” and she went, “Oh no, she’s fine. This is what she does.” She’s remarkable, that kid.
Where did you find Jennifer? I’ve lived in Venice since Point Break in ’91, and Mary Vernieu lives in Venice, so she cast The Poker House as a favor to me, and she’s brilliant and casts every good movie. So, I’m in Chicago and we’d already cast Selma Blair as the mom, and Selma is five feet tall and weights 90 pounds. Mary sends me these tapes of these girls and goes, “This girl Jennifer Lawrence is a star. You have to watch this tape.” But it said she was 5’9” on her resume, and I said, “I can’t fit them both in the frame! How am I supposed to have the mom be 5’ and the daughter be 5’9”?” But she said, “Just watch the tape.” So I watched the tape and was like, “Okay, great, that’s another movie star.” When I flew back to L.A., I put Jennifer, Chloe, and Sophi [Bairley], who plays the middle daughter, read together, and afterwards I said, “Do you want to be in a movie?” And they said, “Of course, that’s why we’re here.” And I said, “No, do you want to be in this movie?” And they said, “Yes, of course we do, that’s why we’re here.” And I said, “No, I’m offering you the part, do you want to be in this movie?” And they started jumping up and down and screaming. I did that because I hated auditioning for a part and then waiting five days for your agent to tell you that you got it.
And Jennifer Lawrence’s father pops up in the film, too, as the basketball coach. I forgot about that! He’s the basketball coach, yes. He was just hanging around. It was super low-budget and I had no producers looking over my shoulder. Steve Cannell, god rest his soul, just wrote a check and it was handled through his production company, so we were just humpin’ and making a movie. So I don’t know whose idea it was.