In the first moments of Joy, David O. Russell's latest cinematic tour de force—whose title character, Jennifer Lawrence, just won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical—we're delivered a message that the film is "inspired by the true stories of daring women. One in particular." That woman, as housewives across America well know, is Joy Mangano, an inventor, entrepreneur, and HSN fixture known for creating game-changing home products like the self-wringing Miracle Mop and Huggable Hangers. "Let's just say that I severely inspired the movie," Mangano told InStyle before an appearance at The Container Store in N.Y.C., hours before Lawrence was bestowed with a statue. Below, more about her intriguing past, working with Russell and Lawrence, and what her life is like today.
You were in your mid-thirties when you developed the prototype for the Miracle Mop. How does it feel to be portrayed by a 25-year-old onscreen?
Honestly, it was never something that crossed my mind. Jennifer deserves Number One Actress in the World, if there was even an award for that. The moment I met her, I thought she had to have lived other lives. She's wise beyond her years. It wasn't just Joy from Long Island on the screen—she brought a more global character, with far more depth.
Did you have any idea that someone would one day make a movie about your life?
Years ago, Barry Diller asked me to be a judge on a pilot for an inventor show on USA, and when it was over, the producer, Ken Mok, took me out to dinner and really got me talking. It was a long dinner. Afterward, he said, "One day, I'm going to write your movie." I laughed it off, but sure enough, a few years later, he called me with some very heavy-hitters from Hollywood and said he was going to do it. Then David O. Russell called.
Had you ever met David O. Russell before that?
No, but I spoke to him for hours and hours. He would call me in the afternoon, and it would be pitch-black outside, and we would still be talking. I've never experienced somebody that's so brilliant. He delves into certain aspects of life that other people would normally glaze over. Things that appear to be ordinary, he makes extraordinary.
That scene where you have your first on-air segment was pretty nerve-wracking to watch. What was going through your head at that time?
It was one of those surreal moments in life. My big goal was to depict the product, and the features and benefits of it, and at the same time, have the consumer know that I'm not just a face—I am behind that product from its every detail. I want to be reachable and tangible to them.
Did you really freeze up like Lawrence does in the film?
To this day, I still feel like it's the first day of kindergarten when I go on-air, so you can imagine the state I was in at that point! Thank goodness, something happened when the light went on, and whatever was inside of me that had the ability to perform came out naturally. I think if you believe in something hard enough, it'll work.
What were you like as a child?
I made all sorts of things: drawings, sculptures—I was doing origami before I even knew the word. I was constantly creating.
Did you know you wanted to be an inventor?
I always had this sense of something dramatically big and beautiful, but it wasn't a fairytale romance—it was more undefinable. It wasn't until my adult life that I realized that what I was doing was always toward this end. That's why I hope this movie, and my story, will inspire people to be courageous and accomplish things they've never done.
You just debuted the newly redesigned Miracle Mop and sold 210,000 units, which would've made for a great ending, but when we leave Joy in the film, she's advising other aspiring entrepreneurs. Is that something you still do today?
I'm fortunate to have success, but it was a long and challenging road, so I try to make that not be the case for other women. People come to me all the time with their ideas—even the little boy that says he has the best vegetable slicer. I'm very passionate about that, because there was no clear path for me. And if I wasn't such a gutsy person, I wouldn't be sitting here today. I work harder now than I ever did.
Watch the trailer for Joy below, and catch the movie in the theaters now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.