Director David O. Russell thought there was "zero chance" Mary Tyler Moore would be right for the role of Pearl Coplin film "Flirting with Disaster."
But he watched her transform into the character he had written and completely changed his mind. He says that her eagerness to act made her performances "electric."
She was so hungry and excited about working and talking about this role, that I thought she had no chance of doing, that she became the character in the bar. And we borrowed a cigarette from another patron in the bar... and she just started being the character and put on sunglasses in the bar, and it kind of was amazing to me. And then I couldn't think of anybody else in the role.
He cast Moore as the neurotic, Jewish-Italian New Yorker — a far cry from the television roles that made her famous in the '60s and '70s.
On casting her in his film "Flirting with Disaster"
I was excited to meet her because she was the first icon I had met. She was a very powerful, famous woman who I'd watched on television, and I thought there was no chance - zero chance - that she would be able to play this role, but I was excited to meet her nonetheless. She showed up in that bar and she had on a very tight green dress for Christmas and her hair was red, to my shock, and was cropped, which is what we ended up going with in the movie. She had already shocked my expectations. She's an extraordinary woman. She was so hungry and excited about working and talking about this role, that I thought she had no chance of doing, that she became the character in the bar. And we borrowed a cigarette from another patron in the bar... and she just started being the character and put on sunglasses in the bar, and it kind of was amazing to me. And then I couldn't think of anybody else in the role.
It was special because she was America's sweetheart, and then she became this kind of Italian-Jewish New Yorker that I knew with my family, with this fierceness. It was all things at once. She was a consummate performer. She knew how to be funny and real and intense and emotional all in one breath.
On her Oscar-nominated role in Robert Redford's "Ordinary People"
She was extraordinary in that film and she showed a big dark side of her. For someone who had been this affable, lovable woman, who was very human and also with impeccable comic instincts, [she] played this cold-blooded terrifying person in Redford's picture, for which Redford won the Academy Award for director.
On her performance in "Flirting with Disaster"
When [it] came time to do the scene, she ran the scene. It was her scene. It was like an eight or eight-page scene and she set the bar for everybody. She showed up early and her character drives the entire. It's like a three-ring circus, that scene, with Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette and George Segal and Téa Leoni and the baby. She ran the whole scene and it was remarkable and she surprised everybody I think, including to when her nose was actually running and she was crying and it ends the scene when she blows her noise, which just happened organically. It's like a punctuation mark.
She was fearless and funny and she got the rhythm of everything. You had to run at her pace. She was so hungry to do it that she ran at a very fast pace and everybody was very excited to keep at her pace... it felt very electric when she was doing it because you don't expect someone who's supposed to be an ideal mother to be such a baroque, complicated person, who's verbally just running everything.
On watching "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" as a child
I watched her show religiously and she was like a Beatle to me. That show was extraordinary and she was extraordinary to me... She was a towering figure to me, and she was a feminist figure in the seventies because that was a new show that had a woman living on her own. It's hard to imagine now that that was considered in any way bold, but it was. And she was never married and she had a career, and that was someone my mother struggled with being at that time. So she was an important person.