The Fighter is the third movie Mark Wahlberg has made with director David O Russell – their previous films being Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees.
Their new movie is inspired by an incredible true story of two fighters, “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and his half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) from Lowell, Massachusetts. The story begins as Dicky, who once went toe-to-toe with Sugar Ray Leonard, has fallen on hard times, which has led to major drug use. Meanwhile Micky has become the family’s fighter, getting punished in the ring at every event.
When his new girlfriend, Charlene (Amy Adams), suggests he splits from his family to pursue his own career without the guidance of his overbearing mother, Alice (Melissa Leo) and troubled brother, all hell breaks lose.
A Boston accent ruins so many films, but everyone in this film nailed it. I would imagine that you’ve had that accent drummed out of you over the years. What’s it like bringing it back?
It was a lot harder to get rid of it than it was to get it back. Every time that I would leave Boston it would appear to be like nails on chalkboard for people hearing that accent. I’ve been in other movies that took place in and around that area and the accents were god awful. But everyone 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.
The boxing in the film is so realistic and believable. Boxers need immense confidence to get in the ring. At what point did you have the confidence to believe you could pull off these fight scenes?
The movie was a go and then it fell apart and I just continued to train. After three and a half years I felt confident enough to go in there and be believable as a boxer who could possibly win the welter weight title.
If someone said, ‘Hey, you have to train four and a half years to make this movie,’ I would’ve said, ‘Absolutely not.’ But the fact that I just continued 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 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.
Why did you think Christian Bale would be so good for the role of Dicky?
He was a guy who would not be scared to play this part. Everybody loved the idea of it, but nobody really wanted to commit and go there. I had seen The Machinist. I’d seen Rescue Dawn and I was like, ‘If 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 really what got the momentum going and everything else started to fall into place after that.
There was great chemistry between you and Amy. How much work went into that before you start shooting?
It was instant for me. I was like, ‘Whoa.’ She’s a sweetheart. David always says that she doesn’t seem like the girl who would throw a punch, but she reminds me of so many of the girls in my neighborhood. She looks like an Irish Catholic, tough, no nonsense kind of girl. I saw that immediately. The girls in my neighborhood are not quite as pretty as Amy, but I was just such a huge fan of hers.
We’d actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie. It was a bad movie that I did and she dodged the bullet. I don’t want to tell you what movie was. All right, The Happening with M Night Shyamalan. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. 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 and I was very happy about that because I thought that she would bring something very special to the table, showing a side of her that I certainly knew she was capable of doing but she hadn’t got to show yet.
You’ve worked with David O Russell a couple of times now and obviously you get along well. What do you value most about David professionally?
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 that you trust and that you care for, speaking for myself of course – I don’t really know how David feels – but I just loved it.
When it dawned on me that there was a way to get this movie made with David as the director, and we’d already started a relationship with Christian and got him to commit, I thought we had a chance to make something really special. David would bring something else to the table that I don’t think anyone else was really trying to tap into. He brought a level of humor and emotion that I don’t think anybody else was capable of bringing to it.