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Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, et al: press conference for "The Fighter"

 

Combine David O. Russell, the talented maverick director known for getting in a fistfight with George Clooney on the set of Three Kings (1999) and humiliating Lily Tomlin while making I Heart Huckabees (2004) with Christian Bale, the brilliant, tightly wound actor who attained internet mash-up notoriety with his obscene tirade at a hapless member of the film crew during the production of Terminator: Salvation (2009), and you would think you'd have some fireworks. Throw in former Lowell boxing champ Micky Ward, his unpredictable former crack addict brother Dicky, their fearsome mother Alice and their seven wicked stepsisters, and it would be a miracle if anyone gets out alive.

In fact, though, the result was ‘The Fighter,' which stars Mark Wahlberg as Micky, Bale as Dicky, Melissa Leo as Alice, and Amy Adams as Micky's tough cookie girlfriend Charlene and is  a crowd-pleasing, Rocky-like true story of pugilistic triumph. Maybe Wahlberg, also the film's producer, kept everyone in line. Whatever it was it worked: not only is ‘The Fighter'  expected to get Oscar nods but Bale, Leo, Adams, Russell, and Wahlberg still seem to be enjoying one another's company and having fun in this press conference they held promoting the movie. The Fighter Interviews:

Q: For David O. Russell: Dicky Eklund seems like someone who would take a very active interest in the filming of this movie. Was it at any point necessary to do Eklund-management?

Christian Bale: I'll answer this a little bit. There were a couple of times we had to physically restrain Dicky from laying a fist on David. We had some interesting times when we were rehearsing in Mark's house, where Mark very nicely put up Micky and Dicky and they actually lived in his house for some time. And there were some script changes going on, and Dicky wasn't initially totally understanding that sometimes when you're putting a whole life into two hours that a little bit of license has to be taken, and you mix some things up. He wanted everything initially to be absolutely how it was portrayed. And if it wasn't... a couple times he was like, ‘I'm gonna go! I'm gonna leave!' (laughter) You know, that's a serious thing coming from a pro boxer. And a couple times we were like, ‘no, no'...and we would talk and David would talk with him. I'm not sure if you had to stop him from laying one on me (laughs) but it was interesting; it was an interesting time. But he actually came around, and seemed to really understand it, and after we showed him the movie, he didn't punch any of us, and I talk to him almost daily. I think that's a great achievement; to make the story of someone's life. (laughs) Sorry David, that was more your question.

David O. Russell: What he said.

Q: This question is for Christian.

CB: David will answer that one.

Q: So many times we see your rapid, extreme weight loss. What is your regimen for it and when you do it, does it help put you in that edgy, jittery place that you needed to play Dicky?

CB: No, I felt so good and calm playing Dicky. I was just running like crazy; I could just run for hours on end and I felt really healthy. I don't know...usually I say, ‘oh, I do a lot of coke' whenever I lose weight (laughs)...but I'm not sure if it's so funny for this movie. But there's not a whole lot of secrets to it. The one really good thing is to have this particular water, Aquahydrate [the water company that Wahlberg is involved with ]... (laughter)....Um, I run a lot.

Q: Christian, what is your take on Dicky and do you think he is ultimately a good influence on his brother?


CB: I think that he was an absolute source of inspiration initially, and then I think he probably became an absolute confusion for his younger brother, because it's an immensely loyal family, and they're immensely loyal brothers but as you see in the movie, it took Charlene to convince Micky that it wasn't him abandoning his family to be able to remove himself for a little while in order to change the dynamics. And then once that had been recognized, and once Dicky, who also, I think, had had immense pressure from the family and the expectations they had of him at such a young age...that through his success the whole family would have success, I think very much that's part of what was drawn into self-destruction. Once Dicky was able to initiate and say it's no longer his time; it's Micky's time now...and then convince the rest of the family of that, which took some doing...and after that Dicky was a huge help for Micky...I don't think that one could have happened without the other. You know, this movie wouldn't exist without that beautiful relationship between the two brothers.

Q: For Christian: How did you train for the Boston accent? For Mark: what's it like to get it back after having it hammered out of you over the years?

Mark Wahlberg: It's a lot harder to get rid of it than it was to get it back. Every time I leave Boston people would hear it; it'd be like nails on a chalkboard for people hearing that accent. And I've been in other movies that took place in and around that area and the accents were God-awful. It was almost to the point that it made it seem like we were doing bad accents to people who were actually from that area. No, everybody did a fantastic job and didn't push it too far. You think these characters are so extreme and so broad, but they're actually a toned down version of these larger-than-life characters.

CB: Mark was a great deal of help...he'd never say anything but he'd just get a certain look on his face when you'd say something, and you just knew that it wasn't it. I approached Dicky's accent...you know, Dicky's got his own thing going on. He calls it Dicky-nese...so. And I think everyone will agree I really had to tone down his natural rhythm and voice. I understand him completely now because I was with him...but if I had done it exactly like Dicky, we would have needed subtitles.

Q: For Mark: The boxing scenes are very realistic...Tell us about the fight scenes; they were very convincing how did you pull those off? And the sister fight scenes.

MW: Well, the movie was a go and then it fell apart and I continued to train so after 3 and a half years I felt confident enough to go in and be believable as a boxer who could possibly win a welterweight championship. Had somebody said, ‘hey, you've gotta spend 4 and a half years to train for this movie,' I would have said absolutely not. But the fact that I was just continuing to do it, and never wanted to stop because I figured if I stopped I would be giving up on the movie and I never wanted to do that. So for me it was well worth putting in the work; there were times obviously when it was harder, more difficult to get out of bed. Especially when I was doing another film...training for a film that may or may not happen, but it was certainly worth it in the end.

Amy Adams: Well when I got the role David informed me that I looked like a girl who couldn't punch, which made me wanna punch him. So I actually took just a couple boxing lessons, and that was fun, with Mark's trainer which was fantastic. And then we just did some fight choreography; I think it was about not being afraid of hurting anybody. That was my biggest concern; I didn't want to hurt the girl I was fighting with. I wasn't afraid of getting hurt myself...when I was younger my sister thought it was funny to pretend to punch me in the face...because my mom was concerned about my teeth falling out, because they were loose for a long time...and she knocked out my teeth, so...I've always been a little afraid of fake punches, but it was fun; I had a good time.

Q: For David: Can you talk about casting your female leads and if both of you can talk about your preparation for the roles.

DR: I had been speaking to Amy...we would have lunch every couple of years and talk about wanting to work together and I knew that she was eager to ‘break type' for herself in the sense that she had played mostly very sunny women, and she was very eager to play someone against type and I knew she was gonna kill it...just from talking to her, I knew that she was really ready to step up. And as a director there's nothing better than someone who is very eager, as all these people were...And actually Mark recommended Melissa to me off of ‘Frozen River'  and I hadn't seen it and I watched it and thought she was phenomenal.

Q: Melissa can you comment on your preparation for the role?

Melissa Leo: I have to say that I love acting; I really do; I think that is maybe the one thing that is known about me. Although it sounded like an extremely exciting and interesting project, and it was about real people, I had a lot of doubts going and meeting with David, but it sounded interesting enough, took the meeting, and sat down and we kind of dived right into...really an interview (laughs), but there we were working on Alice together over breakfast. And that was the first stepping off place; David's belief that I could be his Alice. I thought, ‘Golly, I'm only a couple years older than these chaps (laughs), not such a pushy gal by my reckoning...you really think so, David?' I don't know how to describe it except for a palpable belief that I could be his Alice. He then gave me the opportunity to meet Alice Ward and I traveled, I'll never forget...'cause it was the only time I really met Christian before we worked. We flew to Lowell  and I watched him meet Dick and begin to take that on; it was an extraordinary thing to watch, and I got to meet Alice Ward, and upon meeting her I saw immediately my mother's mother-my maternal grandmother-in Alice, and knew then that, ‘Oh, I have her in here somewhere.' And then with Mark Bridge's help and Johnny who did the hair with David saying ‘Shorter, shorter, shorter' with every haircut, and Trish who did my makeup, I finally found Alice and walked in her shoes. It was a thrill to walk out of the trailer and have half of Lowell go ‘Oh, Alice! You look like my motha!' (laughs)


AA: I'll just echo what Melissa said; David's belief that I could be Charlene...that was half of the preparation. Just knowing that he knew I could do it, made me feel like I could do it, and then the other half of it was research and David telling me to lower my voice. He kept telling me ‘she's down here, she's low' (laughs).

DR: The beautiful thing that they each brought to the part is that Melissa consistently fought for the compassion for Alice; Mark and I knew that Micky was someone you love because he's taking all the heat through the whole movie; and there's a question of how you could plug into Mark's emotions and understanding why he would put up with it, and why he needed it. That's the heart of the story: why Micky wanted these powers that forced him into the championship. Charlene, his family, his brother; he got the discipline from the confidence corner, and he got the inspiration from the older brother...you can't get better inspiration than that. But Melissa always said, ‘you've gotta love Alice.' And I love that...because Alice made a lot of mistakes, but Alice always loved all her children, and I thought that was beautiful. Likewise for Amy...Charlene is a tough bitch, and Amy's very fierce; Amy has that fierceness in her, but Amy also brings a great deal of emotion in her eyes.

Q: For Mark, can you talk about your role about producer and what that entailed?

MW: It was out of sheer desperation for getting the movie made. I had already promised Micky, Dicky, Alice, Charlene, and everybody else involved that we were gonna get this movie made. And it seemed at first glance like it was a no-brainer: amazing parts, wonderful story, new and interesting world that you're not that familiar with...and it just wasn't meant to be so we just had to grab a hold of it and force it to happen. Sheer will and determination, but very much like Micky's journey to winning the title. You just have to go and make it happen.

Q: For David and Mark, what professionally do you each value most about the other?

MW: He's my brother, man. I love this guy. We've been through a lot together and we're so comfortable with one another; we're like family. And to be able to work with someone that you admire so much and you trust and that you care for...speaking for myself of course; I don't really know how David feels (laughter)...but I loved it. When it dawned on me that there is a way to get this movie made as David as the director; you know, we had already started a relationship with Christian and gotten him to commit, I thought, ‘we have a chance to do something really special.' And David was trying to bring something to the table that no one else was willing to tap into. They thought: Well, the story between the brothers is really fascinating, and it's more a boxing movie, but he brought a sense of humor and emotion that I don't think anybody else was capable of bringing to it.

CB: I think also a lot of the other people, they were over-emphasizing the kind of druggy nature, the addiction, as if that was something fascinating to see, and we felt like we've seen that in so many movies and when you meet the real Micky and Dicky that's not what you think about...I mean, of course it's part of his past, but you don't want to obsess on that. David's got this great sort of earnestness and this great silliness at the same time, which is great.

MW: And if we had gone down that dark path, there would have been a very limited audience that would go and see this movie, and we thought it had so much more to offer, and we thought young, old, men, women would enjoy the story and find something very compelling, as well as entertaining and inspiring from it.

DR: It's a real blessing I just feel really lucky to be here with this much talent and this much raw material; and these characters. As soon as I saw the raw material that Mark was talking to me about, I just said, ‘Oh my god, these characters are amazing, this is amazing.' The dynamic, you know, is amazing. There's nothing greater than having a collaborator that you have a great comfort with who's moving the project along...it makes it that much easier. I didn't know what to expect when I first saw the family; I thought it might be some very harsh people that I wouldn't want to spend 10 minutes with...I thought, god...I remember hearing about Micky Ward and then when I saw him and I heard him talk I thought, ‘Oh my god...he sounds much rougher than I expected.' I expected some sweet-talking Oscar De La Hoya type, and the fact is, the people are so unbelievably lovely. As Christian said, I still hang out with them...and that's what goes into the movie.

MW: And I did promise David that after we make this movie, our next collaboration would go back to me saying ‘Yes sir, no sir' (laughter)...strictly being there to service his vision...because it was definitely a different dynamic, me saying ‘No, wait...I don't know about this, what about...no, no...' because I was so close to them and to that world, and I think that was the only thing that took a little getting used to... and I promised my leader here that I would not do that again. Next time we work together...

DR: I can't help it; when I first met him he was this 26-year-old kid mumbling everything in our hotel meeting, and by the time we made this movie he was like ‘Boardwalk Empire' [which Wahlberg produces] builder and Godfather..

MW: Shit happens, dude; I'm a hustler. (laughter, cheers). I'm from the fuckin' street, man, I've gotta make it happen. Nothing comes easy for me.

DR: And these guys [Bale and Wahlberg] met at the pre-school of your daughters, right?

CB: Yeah, he banged on my door.

DR: He looked across the street and it was like, ‘ziiiing.' (laughter)

MW: What I said was like ‘there's the guy who's not scared to play this part.' Everybody loved the idea of it but nobody wanted to commit and go there, and I had seen ‘The Machinist' (2004); I had seen ‘Rescue Dawn' (2007)...and I just thought, it he responds to the material, this is a chance for us to make the best possible version of the movie. I could see why people were so attracted to the part, but at the same time it can be intimidating, but he's a fearless actor and he responded to it immediately. And that's what sort of got the momentum going and everything else started to fall into place after that.

CB: Another thing is David's got a very big heart; it's very funny; there would be times when he was often crying with laughter and also just flat out crying. [to David O. Russell] Remember? You'd often do that...at Mark's place, you'd be listening to stories or telling stories or listening to Dicky or whatever, listening to Micky...it was either they had him side-splitting with laughter and he was balling his eyes out with that...and then he would seep into tragedy...and he'd be balling his eyes out, like you could really see how much he felt it and really was enjoying the company of these guys and going through the whole roller coaster of emotions. Which is usually what actors are doing, but David was right there feeling it as much as any of us.

Q: For Mark...Are you maintaining your regiment? Also, you're going to be on ‘60 Minutes' this Sunday; any big revelations that we should probably know today?

MW: Unfortunately I think aside from the movie itself and the story and the making of the movie and how similar Micky's life is to mine, the story has been told; I mean, I was in a lot of trouble and then I turned my life around, but it makes such a good comparison to Micky's journey. Nine kids in both families, and growing up 30 minutes from each other...I'm hoping that it's not the same old story...I did have a nice time working with them and they really...the reason why we did it was because of their reaction to the film. David's talked me into doing stuff like that in the past, whether it's ‘20/20' or ‘Dateline' or this and that...but I love this movie and I would have done anything to get this movie made to support and promote the movie; it's that important to me. And I do still have the ring...as far as the regimen...my new regimen consists of a bottle of red wine and a lot of food...and I'm enjoying myself and my wife is like, ‘You know...you're starting to look really bad...you know...I'm like a former Victoria's Secret model, a super model...you wanna hold onto me, you've gotta do something.' (laughs) So I'm back in the gym.

Q: For Mark/ David...The film has a rousing, crowd pleasing conclusion, but I was wondering if maybe you were tempted to go a little further and include the legendary Arturo Gatti fights that followed.

DR: The story was always one, I thought, that lead him to the doorway of his future; this film delivers him to the ability to dig himself into a real income; and that to me is the real...you know, it's a hard choice but I think the story is legendary in itself, how he got there...'cause without this story he doesn't get those Gatti fights. In fact, the last guy he fights, [Shea] Neary, was saying, ‘I'm ready to fight Arturo Gatti'...he thought he was going to move right past Micky...this guy was supposed to be the next championship, well guess what...it turned out to be the underdog.

MW: And we're doing those fights in the sequel. (laughs) We'll do four more ‘Fighters.' We'll do the first Gatti fight in  the sequel...then the second one...and the third installment, and then the fourth and final one will be...

DR: In Russia, Russia...One of the things that made this film so beautiful...we were just saying ‘do you want anything from the picture?' Every single person brought that to the film, and that's a rocket ship. Amy came and said she's ready to fight...we were choreographing fight scenes in Whole Foods at, like, 11 o'clock at night...I'd run into her I'd go ‘how're we doing that scene tomorrow?' Amy said, ‘As long as it happens between ‘action' and ‘cut,' I can do anything.' And that's pretty great; with the father of her child standing on the set...it meant for great chemistry between these guys. He's willing to do anything it takes in the ring; Melissa transformed herself completely, to the point of throwing pots and pans; and then breaking your heart completely when she's sitting on the porch looking at her sons; there's an unstoppable ‘I'll go there'...Christian already had the weight off and was shaving the bald spot before we stepped foot into pre-production.

Q: For Amy...Your character gets labeled in the movie as an ‘MTV Girl...' what's your opinion of that label and do you think it's fair. Also did it guide your research in any way?

AA: Well, that was their opinion of her; she was no MTV Girl.


ML: Oh, yes she was... (laughter)

AA: Here we go...

MW: I think she's more of a VH1 girl... (laughter)

MW: With a little sprinkle of BET... (laughter)

AA: And a dash of Lifetime...I think MTV was very different then; they actually showed music videos. I think it meant that she was wild; Spring Break...

MW: Titties out...

AA: A party girl...That's what the sisters said...that she was trash. I think she still gets accused of it, I don't know. Every here and there. Do I think it's fair? From Charlene's perspective? No. No...she was just a girl trying to make good, trying to do with what she had.

DR: She was a sweetheart.

AA: She was a sweetheart...what struck me about Charlene was that there were all these big personalities around her and she never once said, ‘let me tell you my side.' She was content to sit in the background; in fact I think you guys had to really convince her to go on tape so I could watch her...like they really had to talk...she was not about drawing attention to herself. She was really happy that Micky's story was being told and she was really supportive of that, so I don't think it was fair.

Q: For Mark and Amy...how much work went into the chemistry between your characters?

MW: It was instant for me...(laughs)...she's a sweetheart. David always says she doesn't seem like the girl who can throw a punch but she reminds me of so many girls in my neighborhood; she looks like an Irish-Catholic, tough, no-nonsense kind of girl, and I saw that immediately. I was such a huge fan of hers. We actually had lunch before, to talk about another movie...it was a bad movie that I did...she dodged the bullet...I don't wanna tell you which movie...alright, ‘The Happening' (2008) (laughter) ...fuckin' trees, man...plants. You can't blame me for wanting to try to play a science teacher...

 

but she didn't do the movie, and we got the chance to work again, and I was very happy about that because I thought she would bring something very special to the table, and again...showing the side of her that I certainly knew she was capable of doing but that she hadn't gotten to show yet.

AA: It was pretty instant. [to Mark] It was so easy to work with you. The women in here see him I mean how hard is it to pretend that you're attracted to that?  Like, ‘oh, gosh...I'm such a good actress.' (laughter)...so, with that being said, with all respect to your wife and my significant other...Mark has a great quality as an actor and that is he is able to show that with Micky...this vulnerability...a man who is powerful and strong, yet a man who is able to show tenderness and vulnerability...that's really sexy.

CB: And he's got a full set of teeth in his head as well.

AA: I love teeth (laughs). David didn't really give us much options...I remember it was the first day and there wasn't a kiss planned, and then he was like, ‘Okay, and now you kiss!' And we were like, ‘We do?'

DR: The funny thing is I think Christian is more like Micky and Mark is more like Dicky; not in a bad way, but in the operator way; Christian's more of a quiet guy, and it was very interesting to watch him hang out with Dicky and inhale Dicky...people would come on the set and be like, ‘Oh, I thought that was Dicky.' Because he talked...and it kind of lead him to talk to everyone all the time, because Dicky never shuts up...so Christian was walking around talking to everybody and it's like, good luck trying to make that happen when he's not Dicky...and then Micky, Micky as they said never says two words...

MW: I'm quiet...

DR: Sometimes...and yes, you have a lot in common with Micky, but it doesn't fit my comparison (laughter).

MW: I'm just fuckin' with you... I hardly ever shut up; my wife tells me to shut up all the time.

 

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