"I didn't want to do an impersonation," Melissa Rivers tells PEOPLE of playing her late mother Joan in Joy
Like mother, like daughter.
In the David O. Russell-directed film, which is inspired by real-life entrepreneur Joy Mangano, played by Jennifer Lawrence, Rivers appears as her late mother in a scene set at a taping of Joan’s QVC show.
“It was David’s idea,” Rivers tells PEOPLE of how she ended up in the film. “I literally one day got a call saying David O. Russell would like to meet you. Huh? What?”
Rivers says she thought long and hard about what the small role would entail physically and emotionally, and credits O. Russell and the film’s producer John Davis, who is a longtime family friend, with making her feel comfortable with accepting the part.
“I thought, ‘Seriously when am I ever going to get to work with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell?'” she says. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’m in.'” And then she had to go through the “bizarre” experience of being made to look like her late mother.
“I think I was more freaked out in the hair and makeup tests than I was once I got on set,” says Rivers. “It was bizarre. I stopped looking in a mirror.”
Rivers admits she had quite an effect on cast and crew when she stepped on set in full hair, makeup and wardrobe. “It was quite something,” she recalls. And no one was more delighted to have her on set than her Oscar winning costar Lawrence.
“My mother had a couple lovely encounters with Bradley and she was a fan of Jen’s even though there was a situation once at Fashion Police where someone said something and Jennifer didn’t like it and kind of fired back,” says Rivers. “It wasn’t my mother who said it and it kind of got lost in translation. The first thing Jennifer said was, ‘Even though we had that disagreement that really had nothing to do with her, I was a huge fan,’ and quoted back her favorite Fashion Police line ever to me: ‘That dress is so ugly it looks like it would be good at math.’ So here she is quoting my own show back to me, then she said to David, ‘I’m so happy you brought me someone to play with!'”
Rivers says she had a wonderful experience working on the film and if nothing else, she hopes she captured her mother’s kindness and her sense of humor.
“It sounds so Pollyanna to say, but everyone from David on down, could not have been lovelier or more supportive,” she says. “It didn’t hit me until I got home what a huge emotional risk I took because I don’t think any of them ever allowed me to go there. I did not want it to be an impersonation and I don’t think it came off that way,” she says.
And finally, what does Rivers think her mom Joan would say about of all this?
“I think she actually was the voice in my head of, ‘You get to work with these people?! Run, don’t walk,'” Rivers recalls with a laugh.
Joy hits theaters on Dec. 25.