It's hard to steal scenes from Bradley Cooper, but that's exactly what John Ortiz does in Silver Linings Playbook, one of the clear frontrunners this awards season, with an avalanche of nominations, including Best Picture at the 2013 Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and the Independent Spirit Awards.
The movie, based on the novel by Matthew Quick, is not a romantic comedy or a romantic drama; it's something in between, with characters so crazy they make you feel good about yourself while you laugh so hard you almost cry. And then you actually cry.
That the film does family dysfunction so well is not surprising -- David O. Russell (Spanking The Monkey, Flirting With Disaster, The Fighter) wrote and directed it. The Hollywood Reporter recently chronicled the filmmaker's evolution from 90s indie darling to Oscar contender.
But Russell could not have created one of the year's best movies without this stellar cast, led by Cooper as Pat Solitano, a former teacher who does a brief stint at a mental institution and then tries desperately to reconcile with his ex-wife. Robert De Niro plays Pat's father, a man struggling to keep his family from financial ruin and failing miserably at relating to his son. Jennifer Lawrence further complicates things when she enters the picture as Pat's love interest with her own set of mental issues. But a lot can be forgiven when you look like that. Even Chris Tucker comes out hiding for this one.
Ortiz (Ronnie) is one of the few people in the world who doesn't judge Pat when he comes out of the loony bin. The moments in which Ronnie – whose life in suburbia is seemingly perfect with a house, car, job, wife (Julia Stiles) – and Pat bond are some of the movie's most memorable ones.
If the Puerto Rican actor, 43, looks familiar it's because he's been steadily working in Hollywood for the last 20 years, ever since he played Al Pacino's young cousin Guajiro in 1993's Carlito's Way. As artistic director and co-founder of the LAByrinth Theater Company in his hometown of New York City, Ortiz also has a long-standing love affair with the stage.
Ask Ortiz for a Pacino story and he'll happily oblige, offering the one where he kept blinking in a scene in which he was supposed to be dead and Pacino lifts his head, the camera closing in on his face. It's one of the movie's first scenes and a critical one, setting the tone for one of Pacino's best gangster flicks.
"I guess I was nervous and had had a lot of coffee, but every time we'd do the scene, [the director] Brian De Palma would yell, 'Cut!' says Ortiz.