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The Fighter – Christian Bale’s one hell of a character

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The Fighter - Christian Bale
Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) © 2010 Fighter

Since making his debut as a child actor in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, Christian Bale has played a plethora of distinct characters in such films as Henry V, American Psycho, The Machinist, Batman Begins, The Prestige, Harsh Times, Rescue Dawn, 3:10 to Yuma, Public Enemies and Terminator Salvation.

In The Fighter he portrays one of his most colorful characters, Dicky Eklund. Inspired by a true story, Dicky was a boxing hero from Lowell, Massachusetts who once went toe-to-toe with Sugar Ray Leonard. But he’s fallen on hard times and has developed a serious drug habit, all the while attempting to train his younger brother Micky (Mark Wahlberg), who has now become his family’s fighter.

When Micky’s girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) suggests the unthinkable to him, splitting with his family to pursue his own interests and train without his troubled brother, the whole family begins to come apart at the seams.

What was it about Dicky that made you want to play him in the movie?

The Fighter - Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Mickey O’Keefe
Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) © 2010 Fighter

Dicky’s one hell of a character. I was very happy to get to know him. He had such an extraordinary talent, which I don’t think he fully appreciated himself, but he was also drawn to extremes. He had extreme ups and downs. Dicky was so naturally gifted that he was able to go drinking all night and then jump in the ring in the morning, but that catches up to you after awhile, and it was hard for him to fulfill on his potential. He could have been a champ. Yet, he always had a big heart.

Once again you lost quite a bit of weight for this role, what is your weight loss regimen?

I felt so good playing Dicky and I was running like crazy. I could just run for hours on end. Usually I say I do a lot a coke whenever I loss weight, but that doesn’t seem right for this movie! But there are not secrets to it. The one really good thing is to have this particular water to hydrate (holds up a bottle of water). I always manage to lose weight with it.

Can you talk a little about how the brothers differ from each other?

The two brothers were absolute opposites. Micky was all about hard work and discipline. They were such total opposites that Micky was a prison guard at the same Billerica Jail that Dicky served time in. Yet they were also as closely bonded as only brothers can be. They really needed each other. They were on such different paths in their lives, but ultimately, they couldn’t do what they each needed to do without the other.

What was it like working with David O Russell, who directed the movie?

The Fighter - Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg
Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) © 2010 Fighter

David’s got a very big heart. There would be times when he was crying with laughter and then flat out just crying. We would be at Mark’s place and we would be listening to stories, or telling stories, or listening to Dicky or Micky, and they had his side splitting with laughter and then it would segue into tragedy and David would be bawling his eyes out. You could really see how much he enjoyed the company of these guys and going through a whole roller coaster of emotions.

A lot of people over emphasized (Dicky’s) addiction, as though that was something fascinating to see. We thought we had seen that in so many movies. When you meet Dicky and Micky it’s not what you think about. Of course, it’s part of it but we didn’t want to obsess on it. David’s got this great earnestness and complete silliness going on at the same time, which was great.

What was Micky’s reaction to your performance of him?

We had some interesting times when we were rehearsing at Mark’s house. Dicky wasn’t initially totally understanding that sometimes when you are putting a whole life into two hours some dramatic license is taken and you have to mix things up. He wanted everything to be absolutely how it was portrayed. Then David would talk with him. I’m not sure if he ever had to stop him from coming to hurt me!

He actually came around and he really seemed to understand it. I was initially worried it might be hard to have him on the set, but that isn’t the way it was at all. I could never stand by quietly and watch an actor play me, but Dicky did, he really came to trust the portrayal I was giving of him. And after we showed him the movie he didn’t punch any one of us. And now I talk to him almost daily so I think that’s a great achievement.

Was Dicky a good influence on his brother?

The Fighter - Mickey O’Keefe, Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale
Mickey O’Keefe (himself), Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) © 2010 Fighter

I think that he was an absolute source of inspiration initially, and then he became an absolute confusion for his younger brother. It was an initially loyal family, loyal brothers. 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.

Was it hard for you to learn the Boston accent?

Mark was a great deal of help. He would not say anything. He would just get a certain look on his face when I would say something and I would know that wasn’t it. I approached Dicky’s accent – Dicky’s got his own thing going on. He calls it Dickynese.

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’s with it. But, if I had done it exactly like Dicky, we would have needed subtitles.