The magnitude of the five year development fiasco that preceded the green light for this weekend’s fanatically anticipated release, The Fighter (directed by David O. Russell), seems unparalleled. Based on the life and career of the legendary “Irish” Micky Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter offers far more than your average boxing flick. For those of you looking to get your “Rocky” on, fear not, the fight scenes are plentiful. But in addition to upper cuts and toothless mongrels comes an unexpected level of heart and thematic poignance. We recently had the opportunity to speak with the film’s leading men to discuss their involvement in picture…
The film chronicles Micky and his half-brother, Dicky (Christian Bale), ex-boxer/current coke head, and how their relationship shapes both Mickey’s personal life and athletic career. It’s fair to credit much of the picture’s success to its most fervent adherent, Mr. Wahlberg, who relentlessly battled the slings and arrows of studio debacles and budget restrictions to get the project on its feet. Wahlberg attributes his decision to sign on as a producer as a last resort
Mark Wahlberg: “It was just out of sheer desperation for getting the movie made. I had already promised Mickey, Dickey, Alice, Charlene…everybody that was involved, that we were going to get this movie made.”
If names like Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale can’t spark immediate studio backing, it’s difficult to imagine what can.
MW: “It seemed at first glance that it was a no brainer. Amazing parts, a wonderful story, a new and interesting world that you’re not familiar with…but it just wasn’t meant to be. So we had to grab a hold of it and force it to happen. Very much like Mickey’s journey to winning the title. He just had to go and make it happen.”
Wahlberg’s crusade tackled far more than industry logistics – he spent three and a half years training for the role, well aware that the story might never leave the page.
MW: “The movie was a go and then it fell a part, and I just continued to train. I just continued to do it and never wanted to stop. I figured if I stopped I’d be giving up on the movie. There were times, obviously, when it was hard and more difficult to get out of bed. You’re training for a film that may or may not happen. But it was certainly worth it in the end.”
Clearly, the part of Micky exceeds the usual standard for a “physically demanding role” (we’re talking stage 5 bulk) but, let’s not forget Christian Bale who also faced severe physical transformation. While Wahlberg nearly drowned himself in Muscle Milk, Bale, needing to drop 30+ pounds, embarked on the L.A-ubiquitous journey of emaciation.
Christian Bale: “I was just running like crazy, I could just run for hours and hours on end. Usually, I always say,’Oh, I just do a lot of coke’ whenever I lose weight…I’m not sure if that’s so funny for this movie.”
Wahlberg’s knowledge of Bale’s unwavering willingness to commit wholeheartedly to roles is what ultimately prompted his decision to approach him for Dicky. Their first exchange took place at a venue frequented by both actors, their daughters’ preschool.
MW: “I thought, there is the guy who is not scared to play this part. Everybody loves the idea of it, but nobody really wants to commit and go there. And I’d seen The Machinist, I’d seen Rescue Dawn, and I thought if he responds to the material this is a chance for us to make the best possible version of the movie. He’s a fearless actor and responded to it immediately.”
In addition to their respective bulking/starving endeavors, Wahlberg and Bale took preparation to the next level, bonding intimately with real-life Micky and Dicky throughout the development process. Bale, in fact, still speaks with Dicky almost daily.
The picture’s creative team prioritized authenticity first and foremost, but in the world of cinema, slightly bending the “true” events is arguably necessary when dealing with story structure. Initially, this didn’t sit well with Mickey… and let’s be real, who wants to piss off an internationally ranked boxer?
CB: “There were a couple of times when I had to physically restrain Micky from going and landing one right on David. We had some initial interesting times when we were rehearsing at Mark’s house, when Mark very nicely put up Micky and Dicky – they lived at his house for some time. There were some script changes going on and Micky wasn’t initially totally understanding in putting a whole life into two hours. A little bit of license has to be taken and, a couple times he a got a little…, ya know. And that’s a serious thing coming from a boxer! But he absolutely came around. After we showed him the movie he didn’t punch any of us!”
Bale, Wahlberg, Russell, and Melissa Leo – who plays Mrs. Ward – are all generating heavy Oscar buzz, and the film itself is a likely contender for Best Picture. Despite the newly instituted 10 nominations giving the star-heavy blockbusters a better shot at nods, it’s still safe to anticipate a highly competitive awards season this year with projects like The Town, Inception, and Shutter Island potentially in the running.
The film has a nationwide release Friday, December 10th!
Be sure to check back for a review of the film.
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