“The Fighter” chronicles the early days of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his trainer brother Dick Eklund (Christian Bale) on the rough streets of Lowell, Massachusetts. Directed by David O. Russell, the film takes us from Eklund’s battle with drugs to Ward’s eventual world championship in London and features knock-out performances by Bale and Wahlberg as well as supporting cast members Amy Adams and Melissa Leo.
MoviesOnline sat down with Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and David O. Russell to talk about their new film. They told us what attracted them to the project, how they prepared for their roles, and what it was like portraying the complicated relationship between two blue collar brothers caught up in the fiery histrionics of a dysfunctional family where the arguments at home are as explosive and chaotic as the action in the ring.
Q: Mr. Russell, Dick Eklund seems like someone who’d take a very active interest in the filming of this movie. Was it at any point necessary to do Eklund management to have him as a resource but perhaps not have him …?
Christian: Can I answer that a little bit? There were a couple instances where we had to physically restrain Dickie from going in and landing one right on David. We had some initial interesting times when we were rehearsing in Mark’s house where Mark very nicely put up Mickey and Dickie and they actually lived at his house for some time. And there were some script changes going on and Dickie wasn’t initially totally understanding that sometimes when you’re putting a whole life into two hours a little bit of license has to be taken and mixing things up. He wanted everything initially to be absolutely how it was portrayed, and if it wasn’t, he’d say “I’m going to go hit him” and that’s a serious thing coming from a pro boxer. So there were at least a couple times where we’d go, “No, no, no…” and we’d talk and David would talk with him and (to David) I’m not sure if you ever had to stop him from coming and laying one on me. I think that might have happened as well. But it was interesting. It was an interesting time. He actually came around and he seemed to really understand it. After we showed him the movie, he didn’t punch any of us. And I talk to him almost daily. So I think that’s a great achievement to make a story about someone like that. Anyway, David, that was more your question.
David: What he said. (Laughs)
Q: This question is for Christian.
Christian: David will answer that one.
Q: Will you tell me how you lose weight? It seems like you’ve done this many times, this 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 need to be to play Dickie?
Christian: No, I felt so good and calm with playing Dickie and 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 always say how I do a lot of coke whenever I lose weight. I’m not sure if that’s so funny for this movie but there’s not a whole lot of secrets to it. But one really good thing is to have this particular water, Aqua Hydrate. [holds up bottled water]
David: Finally, some honesty!
Christian: That helped me to lose weight and I run a lot. Hopefully, you can catch up with me later, Mark.
Mark: No problem.
Q: Christian, what is your take on Dickie and ultimately do you think he’s a good influence on his brother?
Christian: 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 Mickey 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 Dickie who also I think had had immense pressure from the family in the expectations they had of him at such a young age and that through his success the whole family would have success and really I think very much that’s a part as well of what was drawing him to self-destruction. Once Dickie was able to initiate and say it’s no longer his time, it’s Mickey’s time now, and then convince the rest of the family of that which took some doing, then after that Dickie was no end of help for Mickey. I don’t think that it could have happened without the one or the other. This movie wouldn’t exist without that beautiful relationship between the two brothers.
Q: Everybody nailed the regional accent. Christian, it seems you went the furthest to get it with your regular accent, how difficult was that? What kind of coaching was there and did Mark help? And Mark, I imagine you’ve had that accent drummed out of you over the years. What’s it like trying to get it back?
Mark: It’s a lot harder to get rid of it than it was to get it back. Every time I’d leave Boston, people would appear to be like nails on a chalk board 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 and it was almost to the point where it made it seem like we were doing bad accents, people who were actually from that area. But no, everybody did a fantastic job and didn’t push it too far even though you think these characters are so extreme and so broad but they’re actually a toned down version of these larger than life characters.
Christian: Mark was a great deal of help in that he would never say anything but he would just get a certain look on his face when you said something and you just knew that wasn’t it. I approached Dickie’s accent as though Dickie’s got his own thing going on. He calls it Dickinese himself. And I think everyone will agree, I really had to tone down his natural rhythm and voice because I understand him completely now because my ear is with it, but if I’d done it exactly like Dickie, we would have needed subtitles.
Q: Mark, the boxing scenes in this film are very realistic and convincing. Boxers need confidence to compete and win. At one point did you gain that confidence to pull off these fight scenes in the film? And Amy, you were very convincing fighting with his sisters too. Can you talk about that?
Mark: Well the movie was a go and then it fell apart and I just continued to train so after 3-1/2 years I felt confident enough to go in there and be believable as a boxer who could possibly win the welter weight title. Had somebody said “Hey, you’ve got to train 4-1/2 years to make 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, then 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 and more difficult to get out of bed, especially while making another film and training for a film that may or may not happen. But it was certainly worth it in the end.
Amy: When I got the role, David informed me that I looked like a girl who couldn’t punch which made me want to punch him. So I actually took just a couple boxing lessons and that was fun with Mark’s trainer who 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 that 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. 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: Amy, you aren’t the kind of girl who looks like she can punch. David, can you talk about why you chose to cast her? And also, Melissa, both of you went through such incredible transformations…
Christian: (interrupting, to Amy) Do you want to punch her right now?
Q: You both did amazing jobs and it was a transformative performance on both your parts, so David, can you talk about casting both of your female leads? And also, Amy and Melissa, can you comment on your preparation for the roles?
David: I’d 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 going to kill it. And just from talking to her, I knew that she was really ready to step up and there’s nothing better a director can have than somebody who’s very eager like all these people were. And Melissa, actually Mark recommended Melissa to me off of “Frozen River” and I hadn’t seen it and I watched it and I thought she was phenomenal and I was very excited to transform her into the lead swan.
Q: Melissa, can you comment on your preparation for the film?
Melissa: I have to say that I love acting. I really do. I think that’s maybe the one thing that is known about me. And although it sounded like an extremely exciting and interesting project and the notion that it was about real people who were still living and they would be involved in it, I still had a lot of doubts going and meeting with David but it sounded interesting enough. I took the meeting, met him at the Maritime Hotel and sat down and we kind of dived right into starting to work on it. It wasn’t really an interview, but there we were working on Alice together over breakfast and that then went on with another couple of meetings by my recollect 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 and I’m not such a pushy gal by my reckoning. You really think so, David? I don’t know how to describe it except as this 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 because it was the only time I really met Christian before we worked. We flew to Lowell from L.A. together. 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 I have her in here somewhere. So then, with Mark Bridges’ help and Johnny (Villanueva) who did the hair with David saying “Shorter, shorter, shorter!” with every haircut and Tricia Heine who did my make-up, I finally found Alice and walked in her shoes. It was a thrill to walk out of the trailer and have half the world (?) go “Oh Alice! Oh you look like my mother!”
Amy: I’ll just echo what David said and what Melissa said. David’s belief that I could be Charlene, that was like 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 also David telling me to lower my voice. He kept going, “She’s down here. She’s low. She’s low.”
David: Both these women talk like dudes and my mother did too. They come from a very deep power place and the beautiful thing, I’ll just say, that they each brought to the parts that really make them succeed so beautifully is that Melissa consistently fought for the compassion for Alice as Christian and I initially agreed that Dickie should be someone you love. Mark and I knew that Mickey was someone you loved because he’s taking all the heat for the whole movie that’s swirling around him and it was a question of how you could plug into Mark’s emotions feeling that and understanding why he would put up with it and why he needed it. That’s the heart of the story – why Mickey wanted these powers that forced him into the championship. That’s the crucible that put him there – Charlene and the family and his brother. He got the discipline from the cop in his corner and he got the inspiration from an older brother who could give him the mantle. You can’t get better inspiration than that from an older brother who didn’t want to give it to him for a long time. But Melissa always said “We gotta love Alice.” And I loved it because Alice made mistakes but Alice loves all of her children and I thought that was beautiful. Likewise for Amy. You know Charlene is a tough bitch and Amy is very fierce. Amy has that fierceness in her but Amy also brings a great deal of emotion in her eyes so you have that great cocktail that I find so interesting of the two.
Q: Mark, can you talk about your role as producer and what that entailed?
Mark: It was just out of sheer desperation for getting the movie made. I had already promised Mickey, Dickie, Alice, Charlene and everybody else involved that we were going to get this movie made and it seemed at first glance like it was a no brainer – I mean, amazing parts, what a wonderful story, a really 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 through sheer will and determination but very much like Mickey’s journey to winning the title. You just had to go and make it happen.
Q: For David and Mark, you guys have worked together a couple of times now and obviously get along personally quite well. I’m curious professionally what you each value most about the other?
Mark: He’s my brother, man. I love this guy.
David: Thanks, man.
Mark: 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 somebody that you admire so much and that you trust and that you care for – I’m speaking for myself, of course. I don’t really know how David feels – but no, I just loved it. When it dawned on me that there is a way to get this movie made with David as the director, we had already started a relationship with Christian and got him to commit. I thought we have a chance to make something really special and David will bring something to the table that I don’t think anybody else was really trying to tap into. They thought “Well, the story between the brothers is really fascinating and it’s more of a boxing movie.” And he brought a level of humor and emotion that I don’t think anybody else was capable of bringing to it.
Christian: I think it was a lot of the other people, they were overemphasizing the druggy nature, the addiction, as though that was something fascinating to see and we felt that we had seen that in so many movies and you don’t meet Dickie and Mickey and that’s not what you think about. Of course, it’s part of his past but they want to obsess on that. And David has got this great sort of tandem earnestness and complete silliness going on at the same time too which is great.
Mark: And if we went down that dark path, it would be a very limited audience that would go and see this movie and we thought it has so much more to offer. And we thought young, old, men, women would all enjoy the story and everybody would find something very compelling as well as entertaining and inspiring about it. So that was what David brought to the table.
David: It’s a real blessing. I’m very happy to be here. I just feel really lucky to be here with this much talent and this much amazing raw material and these characters. I mean, as soon as I saw the raw material that Mark was talking to me about, I just said oh my God, this is amazing. These characters are amazing. Their world, their dynamic is amazing. There’s nothing better than having a collaborator that you have a great shorthand with and a great comfort with who’s shepherding the project along. I mean, that’s the best thing that can happen in cinema where there’s many cooks in the kitchen. So it makes life much easier. I didn’t know what to expect when I first saw the family. I thought they might be some very harsh people that I wouldn’t want to spend 10 minutes with. I thought “God…this could…” I remember hearing about Mickey Ward and then when I saw him and I heard him talk I was like “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 lovable. As Christian said, I still hang out with them and that’s what goes into the movie. That’s the whole thing that goes into the movie.
Mark: And I did promise David that after making this movie our next collaboration would be right back to me just saying “Yes, sir. No, sir.” and strictly being there to service his vision because it was definitely a different dynamic. Me saying, “Hey, wait, no, no, what about… David? I don’t know. This is not…” because I was so close to them and to that world. I think that was the only thing that took a little getting used to and I promised my leader here that I will not do that again the next time if we get to work together again.
David: You can’t help it if when I first met him he was a 26-year-old kid mumbling off of “Boogie Nights.” You’re mumbling everything in a hotel meeting and then the time we made this movie he was like “Boardwalk Empire Builder,” Godfather, Godfather.
Mark: Shit happens, dude! I’m a hustler. I’m from the fuckin’ street, baby. I’ve gotta make it happen. Nothing comes easy for me.
David: (to Christian) And these guys met at Mark’s pre-school, the pre-school of your daughters. Is that right?
Christian: Yeah, it was at my daughter’s.
David: He looked across the parking lot and saw Christian Bale and he was like “Bing!” Right?
Mark: What I said was like “There is the guy who’s 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 was like if he responds to the material, this is again a chance for us to make the best possible version of the movie. I could see why people are so attracted to the part but at the same time it can be intimidating. He’s a fearless actor and he just responded to it immediately. That was really what got the momentum going and everything else started to fall into place after that.
Christian: And also again, like David’s got a very big heart. It’d be very funny. There’d be times when he was often crying with laughter and also just flat out crying. Remember? They’d often be there at Mark’s place and you’d be listening to stories or telling a story or listening to Dickie or whatever or listening to Mickey and it was. It was either they had their sides splitting with laughter and he was bawling his eyes out with that and then it would sink into tragedy and he would be bawling his eyes out. You could really see how much he felt it and really enjoyed the company of these guys and was going through a whole rollercoaster of emotions which is usually what actors are going to be doing and David was right in there feeling every little bit of it as much as any of us.
David: There are scenes in the movie I can’t talk about without getting choked up. After you’ve been with the movie a long time, that’s unusual I think.
Q: Mark, I was reading that you still have the boxing ring at your house. Are you maintaining your program and your regimen? Also, you’re going to be on “60 Minutes” this Sunday. Are there any big revelations that you’re going to tell Lara Logan that we should probably know today?
Christian: (joking) Nice try! He’s not going to notice that one.
Mark: Unfortunately, I think aside from the movie itself and the story and the making of the movie and how similar Mickey’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 Mickey’s journey into the story – 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 the reason why we did it is because of their reaction to the film. That was the only reason for doing it. David has talked me into doing stuff like that in the past, whether it’s “20/20” or “Dateline” or this or that. I love this movie and I would have done anything to get the movie made and I would do anything to support and promote the movie. It’s just that important to me. We’ll see what happens. 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 but my wife is like “You’re starting to look really bad. I’m like a former Victoria’s Secret supermodel. If you want to hold onto me, you’ve gotta do something.” So I’m back in the gym.
Q: For Mark and David, I was wondering why you didn’t include the legendary fights with Arturo Gatti in the film?
David: The story was always one that I thought led him to the doorway of his future. This film delivers him to the ability to dig himself into a real income. That, to me, is a hard choice but I think the story is legendary in itself in how he got there because without this story he doesn’t get those Gatti fights. In fact, the last guy he fights, (Shea) Neary, is saying “I’m ready to fight Arturo Gatti.” He thought he was going to move right through Mickey and he knew that this guy was supposed to be the next champion, Shea Neary. He was like “Me and Gatti would make a great match up.” Guess what? It turned out to be the underdog who made the great match up with Gatti.
Mark: And we’re doing those fights in the sequel. We’ll do four more fighters. We’ll do the first Gatti fight and the sequel. Then we’ll do the second one and the third installment and then the fourth and final one will be Mickey…
David: …in Russia.
David: One of the things that made this film so beautiful was when he was saying he’d do anything for the picture, every single person up here brought that to the film and that’s a rocket ship. Amy came and said she was ready to fight. We were choreographing the fight scenes in Whole Foods at 11 o’clock at night because I would run into her and go “How are we going to do that scene tomorrow?” And Amy said as long 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 fight and do anything it takes in the ring and anything it takes emotionally with him and Amy or him and his mother or him and his brother. Melissa transformed herself completely and would go there with the fierceness of throwing those pots and pans and then break your heart on the porch when she’s looking at her son when he’s closing the door. There was just an unstoppable “I’ll go there.” Christian already had the weight off and was shaving the bald spot before we set foot into pre-production. So that’s like crazy willingness. There’s no debating.
Q: Amy, in the movie your character gets labeled as an MTV girl. What’s your opinion on that label and do you think it’s fair? Also, did it guide your research in any way?
Amy: Well that was their opinion of her. She was no MTV girl.
Melissa (using Alice’s voice): Oh yes she was.
Amy: There we go. No, I think that MTV then was very different.
Mark: She’s more of a VH1 girl.
Amy: That’s right. That’s right!
Mark: With a little sprinkle of BET. She liked hip hop.
Amy: And a dash of Lifetime. Just a dash.
Mark: Some Fuse.
Amy: I think MTV was very different then. They actually showed music videos which I liked. But I think it meant that she was wild. She was like…
Mark: Spring Break.
Amy: Spring Break.
Mark: Titties out.
Amy: Just like a party girl.
Mark: That’s what Mickey liked.
Amy: That’s what the sisters said. Right? They were like “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. She was just a girl trying to make good. Trying to deal with what she had.
Mark: She’s a sweetheart.
Amy: She is a sweetheart. What struck me about Charlene is that you had all these huge personalities and she never once was like “Let me tell you my side of the story.” She never did. She was always content to sit in the background. As a matter of fact, I think you guys had to really convince her to put herself on tape so I could watch her. Like they really had to talk [to her]. She was not about drawing attention to herself. She was really happy that Mickey’s story was being told and she was really supportive of that. So, I don’t think it was fair.
Q: Mark and Amy, the chemistry of your characters is so there. How much work goes into that before you guys start shooting?
Mark: (teasing) It was instant for me. It was like “Whoa!” No, she’s a sweetheart. David always says that she doesn’t seem like the girl who could 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. I saw that immediately. They’re not quite as pretty as Amy, the girls in my neighborhood.
Amy: Oh stop!
Mark: But I was such a huge fan of hers. We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” Fuck it! It is what it is. Fucking trees, man! The plants! Fuck it! You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook. But she didn’t do the movie and we got the chance to work together again. I was very happy about that because I thought she would bring something very special to the table, and again showing a side of her that I certainly knew she was capable of doing but she hadn’t gotten to show yet.
Amy: With Mark, it was pretty instant. It was so easy to work with you and, for the women in here, you guys saw him. I mean, how hard is it to pretend that you’re attracted to that. He’s such a good actor. So, with that being said, with all due respect to your wife and my significant other, Mark has a great quality as an actor and he was able to show that with Mickey and his vulnerability. A man who’s powerful and strong yet is able to show tenderness and vulnerability, that’s really sexy.
Christian: And he’s got a full set of teeth in his head as well.
Amy: I love his teeth. David didn’t really give us much option because I remember it was the first day and there wasn’t a kissed planned and he was like “Okay, and now you kiss.” And we’re like, “We do?” “Yeah, you do!” And that was it. “Hi. Sorry.”
David: Romance, romance, romance. And you’d be surprised how many women Dickie has at his beck and call without the teeth. You know, the funny thing in life is, I think in a funny way Christian is more like Mickey and Mark is more like Dickie and not in a bad way, but in the operator way and in the talkie-talk way. Christian is more of a quiet guy and it was very interesting to watch him hang out with Dickie and inhale Dickie and have them hang out together and people who’d come up on the set would be like oh, they thought that was Dickie. And then it kind of led him to talk to everybody all the time because Dickie just never shuts up. So Christian would go around talking to everybody. Good luck, try making that happen when he’s not Dickie. And then Mickey, as they say, Mickey never says two words. Mickey will just take it. He’ll take five punches to give one and he’ll let everybody say everything and he won’t say nothing and he’ll let Dickie do all the talking. So that was a very interesting role for each of these guys.
Mark: I’m quiet.
David: Sometimes, yeah. But you also have a lot in common with Mickey. It’s a little bit of a paradox but it doesn’t fit my comparison then, does it?
Mark: I was just fucking around. I can hardly ever shut up. My wife tells me to shut up all the time.
“The Fighter” opens in theaters on December 10th.