A beloved English teacher in South Jersey, Matthew Quick may have been financially stable, but he was far from happy. With the support of his wife, Quick left his job at age 30, sold his house, and began writing full-time in his in-laws’ unfinished basement for three years. As he battled mood swings and severe depression, Quick became inspired to write “The Silver Linings Playbook,” which became an instant success and earned him a PEN/Hemingway Award Honorable Mention.
The novel has since been adapted into a new film opening this week, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. Directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter”), “Silver Linings Playbook” is considered by many movie pundits to be an early Oscar frontrunner, after winning the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (an accolade former Best Picture winners like “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire” have nabbed in recent years).
The East Valley Tribune sat down with Quick for an interview at the Hotel Valley Ho in October. During that time, he discussed what changes he enjoyed in the movie, what authors inspire him and why “I Heart Huckabees” is his favorite David O. Russell film.
Having read your novel and seen the film adaptation, I noticed quite a few major differences between the two. Were there any changes that you particularly liked or thought benefited your original story in any way?
As you know, I’m a big fan of the film, I really enjoyed it, but things that I thought might’ve made the movie better? I’ll start by saying that six years later, I’m still completely happy with “Silver Linings” as a book. David, it’s his job to make the story work the best it can on the screen given the circumstances that he has. One example is when he cast De Niro. De Niro and Bradley Cooper have a relationship off-screen; David told me that it’s almost like a father-son type situation and said that when you have that, as a director, that’s such a gift. Immediately he set to reversing the roles.
In the book, obviously, Pat really wants to have a relationship with his father but his father is emotionally incapable of doing that. In the movie, you see De Niro wants Pat around under the guise of saying that the Eagles will win if he’s there. You get the sense that the father really wants to be a part of his son’s life, so he reverses those roles a little bit. David, as a father himself, and De Niro, as a father, could relate to that, so we’re probably getting a better performance of those actors than if we had kept it original. As a director, David has to say, “How can I get the best performance of these actors?” so I think that was a really smart move for him. I don’t think it makes it better than the book but I think it’s good for the adaptation.
The book is set in New Jersey on the New Jersey side of Philadelphia in South Jersey, so it was a little different flavor in the book because of that. People from South Jersey, in that town Collingswood, which is a real town, consider themselves Philadelphians, even though they live in Jersey. David set it on the other side of Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania suburbs, so we got a little different flavor, you know? I think he did a really great job of capturing that but of course those weren’t the experiences I had growing up with in Philly and south Jersey, so it has a very different feel. Again, he did a great job with that. I don’t think it makes it better than the book but for what he had to do – because they were filming in Pennsylvania, that’s where they got the right to film – he did a great job.
Although you’ve said before that you struggled with depression while writing “Silver Linings,” how did you try to put yourself in the shoes of Pat? Did you do any sort of research or speak with people that have severe bipolar disorder?
Yeah, I mean I know people with bipolar disorder and I do swing through mood swings. I’ve never been diagnosed as bipolar, although my wife would tell you I’m bipolar. It’s not as severe as what Pat goes through but I’m someone who understands mood swings. I’m always talking about how – having worked in the mental health community and considering myself apart of the mental health community – how we kind of demonize that, right? We kind of say that, “Oh, the people in the mental health community, they’re kind of relegated to this other position,” but I’m always quick to remind people that my heroes are members of the mental health community.
Kurt Vonnegut is a hero of mine. He suffered from horrible depression and attempted to kill himself. Ernest Hemingway is a hero of mine, and we all know what happened to Ernest and the struggles that he had. I don’t think it’s any secret that as storytellers, when we start a story, the character is status quo, then they rise up to a climax, then the resolution and then they go back down. Then in the next story we tell, we have someone that’s status quo, then they go up and they have a climax, and then up and down, and up and down. These are the rhythms of bipolar disorder, and it’s not surprise that so many of our novelists, so many people that create stories and are great storytellers deal with depression and depressive episodes.
Pat, like any other character, goes up and down through that, and I think for me, as somebody who goes through swings and depression, that’s why I’ve always, always related to stories so strongly. I also am a very sensitive person. In the neighborhood I grew up in, in a blue-collar neighborhood, those are not the traits that you show, those are not traits that are valued, so I hid those for a long time in my life. I pretended that wasn’t who I was and when I wrote poetry in high school, I kind of hid that and wouldn’t talk about that openly.
As an adult, it was almost like a coming out process, like the Matt Quick that you know as this guy from the neighborhood also has all these feelings and ideas. It was funny, because when “Silver Linings” came out, I have friends that are people in the mental health community, and a friend that is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he came to me and was like, “How do you know about these things? This is really authentic,” and I said, “Well, I struggled with some stuff, too.” It was really refreshing to have those conversations with people.
I think when people read my book, they say, “Okay, this is a safe guy, he knows.” The flip side of that coin is there have been people who read the book and they’ll say, “I don’t believe Pat Peoples is a real character, I’ve never met anyone like him.” That’s always really disappointing for me, too. Not so much that they don’t relate to the book but they haven’t allowed themselves to have experiences with people from the mental health community, like they’re not willing to believe these people even exist. It can be quite polarizing.
Could you tell me about the creation of Tiffany? Was the character inspired by anybody you know?
It’s funny; people ask me that all the time, like, “Did you know someone who needed to sleep with everybody in the office?” and the boring answer is “no.” I think what Tiffany really represents is that explosive quality that forces you to take a hard look at yourself. Pat is delusional – especially in the book, he’s much more delusional in the book. He just does not want to face reality and Tiffany is the one that grabs Pat’s head and makes him look squarely in the mirror at someone that he doesn’t want to see.
My wife is nothing like Tiffany at all; she’s not loud, she’s not going to walk into a room and command a room, but very quietly, my wife Alicia and I are in a great debt of gratitude and love. She knew in my 20’s that I wasn’t the very best that I could be and I had kind of given up on dreams. She very purposefully made me look at that. Around my 30th birthday, we had some very long talks about what we wanted out of life, whether we were in the position that we wanted to be.
When we met – she was 17, I was 19 – we had all these dreams, but we ended up in suburbia, living lives that were great and fine if that’s what you want, but they weren’t the lives that we wanted. She made me take a real hard look. I was set up in a job: I was a beloved teacher in possibly the best high school in South Jersey with tenure, I could’ve cruised there forever. She really made me look at the fact that I wasn’t happy, I was depressed; I was drinking too much at night because I was trying to self-medicate. She was saying, “You have to look at this.”
Growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood, you didn’t talk about stuff like that. To use the word “depression,” that was not something I was comfortable with for most of my life and I think my wife really forced me to look at the fact that I was not happy, I was depressed, I had anxiety issues and I wasn’t really living the life that I wanted to live. That was a hard thing for me to admit in my 20’s. I think, metaphorically, that experience probably inspired, on a subconscious level, Tiffany.
Are there any authors that have inspired your writing style or the kind of story you wanted to tell with “Silver Linings”?
Yeah I mean like, in roundabout ways, absolutely. I would probably say Vonnegut is one of my biggest inspirations. Not only because he told quirky tales, but because he’s a great humanist and could really capture the fact that kindness could save us. Metaphorically, I’m a big fan of his work, just because he tells such absurd tales and they’re just so bizarre and I think they’re so brave. I always think about his quote, “Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail.” I like to read about the absurdity of life.
I did my thesis in my MFA at Goddard on the Chinese Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian and he wrote a book called “Soul Mountain.” He talks a lot about cold literature, and you know, you hear a lot about things that are hot, like you know, “This book is hot.” He says that we should write cold literature, and what he means by that is you should just write what you need to write and not follow the trends. I think that inspired me a lot. Even though there’s been a lot of commercial success with “Silver Linings,” I always think about Gao Xingjian and the fact that I shouldn’t try to tell the stories I wouldn’t tell and just chase the markets.
What would you say is your favorite David O. Russell movie and why?
You know, “I Heart Huckabees” was so polarizing, and I was with David last week, and I think he even has mixed feelings about it, although I don’t want to speak out of turn. I loved that film just because it was so weird and it was so bizarre but it was so brave and I really hadn’t seen anything like that on the screen before. I loved it so much, but really all of his films I like. Even going back to “Spanking the Monkey,” I thought it was great.
David, he really puts you into a scene with these people and I feel like you experience his movies. With “The Fighter,” you’re just in the living room with these people and “Silver Linings,” you’re in the living room, like you’re a member of the family. I think the artifice of the screen and everything just kind of fades away. Overall, I would probably say “Huckabees,” I like that one the best. I don’t even know if it’s the “best movie,” per say, if we’re talking about what is the best movie, but I think it’s a personal favorite of mine.
In the book, Pat gets very worked up every time he hears “Songbird” by Kenny G. Is there any song that you strongly dislike or get annoyed by?
I don’t know; I really like all different types of music. I’ll tell you a funny story about that. In the movie, it’s “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder, and originally in the book it was “My Cherie Amour.” David didn’t know that it changed in the book, so I think he was really surprised by that. We couldn’t get the rights for “My Cherie Amour,” like you have to pay and get permission to use lyrics and we couldn’t get it.
Late in the process, we found that out so my wife said to me – and we only had a couple weeks to make the changes – “You know, if we’re going to get permission for a song, you’re going to need a song without lyrics,” and I said, “Well, what song would work?” She was like, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if it was Kenny G? If he got freaked out by Kenny G?” I thought that was so funny, but those scenes are quite different in the book; even though they’re horrific, they’re just so comical and weird, whereas the “My Cherie Amour” thing, that was much sadder and much more tragic. That’s how that change came about.
In terms of songs that I hate, I don’t really know. I try not to hate anything if I can. When I was young, I used to be really snobby about music and movies and everything else, but my philosophy as I get older – and I sound like I’m a million years old – is the more things you like, the happier you’ll be. I try not to “hate” anything.
And I know the film has already been called an early Oscar frontrunner. Do you know if you’ll be attending the Academy Awards ceremony in February?
I would love to do that; it would be great. I’m going to the New York premiere on Nov. 12, and that will be the moment with all the stars and I can’t wait for that. Again, with the Oscars, there are so many people that are involved with the film and you always read online every time there’s a novel adapted and the novelist doesn’t get invited to the Oscars, and I’ve read really bitter, angry posts on blogs. I’m not going to be that guy, like if David invites me, I’ll be thrilled to go and support David. If I’m not at the Oscars, I’m still really happy to be involved in this process but hey, I would love to go. So David, if you’re reading this, that’d be great.