Amsterdam follows three friends — Valerie, Harold, and Burt — who witness a murder, become suspects themselves, and uncover one of the most outrageous plots in American history. It is set in the 1930s and it has quite the incredible cast. During this interview, the cast and filmmakers discuss how things came together for the film, as well as their characters.
- Christian Bale (Burt)
- Margot Robbie (Valerie)
- John David Washington (Harold)
- Robert De Niro (General Gil Dillenbeck)
- Rami Malek (Tom)
- Mike Myers (Paul)
- Michael Shannon (Henry)
- Andrea Riseborough (Beatrice)
- David O. Russell (Director)
The Cast and Story Coming Together
As we said already, Amsterdam has a star-studded cast. When asked about bringing them, and this story, all together, Director David O. Russell explains that he started talking to Christian Bale about it years ago.
“Christian and I were very interested in creating original characters that we would want to hang out with. That he would love to play, and I’d love to be around, and other characters that we’d want to be with who are original. Characters we’ve never seen before, characters we’ve never seen him be, or Margot be, or John David be, or any of these people be before. And that’s where it began. So we started with a doctor, and we started to learn from history the unusual circumstances of this doctor and his two best friends. Which, we wanted to have three best friends who were fixers, who could handle any situation, who went through something together. Something epic, something that would be fun to follow, and inspiring to follow, and also shine a light on some history that we had a hold of that many people don’t know, we didn’t know, as we discovered it.”
It all started with David and Christian about five years ago, in a diner. They met there to bring the story of Amsterdam together. Margot Robbie eventually joined in the conversation, and was present for three or four of those years, David explains. Then more and more people just started joining in the conversation, helping to shape Amsterdam into what it became. David confesses that after being alone for thirty years of writing, it was nice to come together a few times a week with others to work on a project together.
Christian adds that he was “just delighted and have so much gratitude to David for inviting me along for this epic journey.”
David goes on to explain that they took some recorded history that’s explosive and fascinating, but then invented the friendship of those who were never really recorded — and the people they got to meet along the way. “That was the invented friendship of the greatest freedom they ever had, and fun they ever had together. That made life worth living for all of them. When they faced death, they said, ‘Let’s live.'”
The Cast on their Characters
Margot Robbie plays Valerie in Amsterdam, and when asked about prepping for her, she admits that maybe she had a little too much time to be able to do so. “Fortunately I had a long time to prep Valerie. Longer than I’ve ever had to prep a character. Not only because David was so collaborative that he wanted to speak about Valerie and this film, in general, years before we made it, but then also because we shut down because of COVID. So I really had a long time to prep Valerie. Maybe a little too long, to be honest. I started making a lot of art. [LAUGH] Valerie, kind of, art at home in lockdown, and it was getting very weird. And she’s cooky, and artistic and… nuts.”
Margot laughs as she explains that one time her husband walked in on her with bits of metal and fake blood and “all this crazy stuff” and he told her that she was taking the character a bit too far, and that she needed to calm down. She also says that she fell in love with Valerie because she marches to the beat of her own drum.
John David explains that “just from the performance perspective, the bedrock of this set was one of humility and optimism. So it was an easy way in, when we’re starting there with love and respect for one another. There were no egos that I felt on the set.” This allowed him to become vulnerable and try anything, even if you end up falling on your face, because the cast members would pick each other up.
He adds that “Christian Bale was a great leader in that way. Like the second day on set, he comes into my little quarters and says, ‘Welcome. All right, you made it through your first day. Like, it’s going to get better from here.'”
John David also says that he did his research going into the film. “I was getting all this information about double victory, and what it was like for African Americans to fight for this country. What it was like fighting over there, and what kind of freedoms that they had. They had more freedoms there in a lot of ways, than they did in their own country. Amsterdam Newspaper was started by a black man in Harlem. It’s little things like that, that it may or may not make the film, but it’s a touchstone that’s something that you can have, that you can hold one to, that can inform how you listen and how you react and respond to your costars.”
Robert De Niro says that he always has a terrific time working with David, which is what drew him to Amsterdam. “We talk, we talk, he get’s his way, we talk, we talk, finally we arrived at where we did with this. Making me then aware of this Smedley Butler character, which I found fascinating, because it was at that time, between the first and second world war, a momentous time in American history, world history, as it is today. And so there was this character, this hero, this military hero, this part of the military elite. Yet at the same time, a person who related to the, if you will, the common man. The lowest ranking soldier, the people who needed the most help and support. A lot of great things that this guy did, and I never heard of him.”
David adds in that when Robert finds a character he loves, he wants to know everything about him — from the way he dresses to the way he behaves.
Michael Shannon is new to working with David O. Russell, and in Amsterdam his character is an avid birdwatcher, along with Mike Myers character. Michael says that he had never considered birdwatching before, but since doing the film he finds himself paying more attention to birds. “I was walking through Time Square and there were these pigeons flying around in formation, and I just kind of forgot where I was for a minute and stared at them. And that’s such a great thing when you do a job and it turns you on a different wavelength about something you hadn’t really thought about before.”
And what drew Mike Myers to the film? He says that his mother was in the Royal Air Force during World War Two and his dad was in the Royal Engineers. “My mom used to say, I wish it had never happened, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. That’s what my mum always said about it. And she said it’s the clarity of how the Nazis are just bad guys. And when David called me and said, would you like to be in this movie, I love his work so much.”
Rami Malek knows what he says is a cliché, but that it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “I mean, look, at this audience, we have right now. You have a film that spoke to me. When you have something as simple as weighing love versus hate and to have that resound throughout your film, when you can deliver that as this great comedic thriller and deliver us this amazing, shocking, untold history but all the while have these themes that just resonate to all of us. I think when we’re done with this film, you asked yourself, what is my Amsterdam? What is that moment where I had emotion, but I also had this great connection with human beings that led me to a place where I was able to transcend.”
Last, but not least, Andrea Riseborough says that her character Beatrice is “a little bit of a mixed bag in the sense that her psychology makes about as much sense as a bowl of frogs. She is representative of the upper echelons, or the aspirations to be part of the upper echelons, of New York society and sort of triumphs and fails at every turn, but really wants desperately to connect.”
See how they all come together in “Amsterdam” when it hits theaters on October 7th.