The Fighter is the story of how boxer Irish Mickey Ward overcame his family problems to be a champion. The drama could have started all over again for the filmmakers when they go the Ward family involved with the story. Director David O. Russell was dredging up Ward’s mom Alice’s emotional manipulation and his older brother Dickie Eklund’s crack addiction for the sake of drama.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I first saw the family,” Russell said. “I thought they might be some very harsh people that I wouldn’t want to spend ten minutes with. Because I remember hearing about Mickey Ward. 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. The fact is, the people are so unbelievably lovable. I still hang out with them. That’s what goes into the movie. That’s the only thing that goes in the movie.”
The film doesn’t dwell on Dickie’s addiction any more than necessary to show that he ultimately got clean, but Eklund still had some opinions for Christian Bale, who portrayed him.
“There were a couple of times I had to physically restrain Dickie from going and landing one right on David,” Bale said. “We had some initial interesting times when we were rehearsing in Mark [Wahlberg]’s house, where Mark very nicely put up Mickey and Dickie, and actually they lived at his house for some time. There were some script changes going on, and Dickie wasn’t initially totally understanding that sometimes in 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, there was a couple of times he would say, ‘I’m gonna go and I’m gonna get him.’ So there’s a couple of times I’d be going, ‘No, no, no.’ Then we’d talk and David would talk with him and I’m not sure if you ever had to stop him from coming and laying one on me.”
As Mickey Ward, Wahlberg was on the line more than just for acting. He produced the movie too. During four years of development hell, the Wards and Eklund’s came down on Wahlberg.
“It was just out of sheer desperation for getting the movie made,” Wahlberg said. “I had already promised Mickey, Dickie, Alice, Charlene, everybody else involved, that we were going to get this movie made. 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. It just wasn’t meant to be, so we just had to grab a hold of it and force it to happen with sheer will and determination. Very much like Mickey’s journey to winning the title, you know, he just had to go and make it happen.”
Melissa Leo plays Alice Ward, and she faced the real deal in her preparations. “Upon meeting her, saw immediately my mother’s mother, my maternal grandmother in Alice,” Leo said. “[I] knew then that I have her in here somewhere. Then with Mark Bridges’ help, and Johnny [Villanueva] who did the hair, with David saying, ‘Shorter, shorter, shorter’ with every haircut, and Trish Heine, who did my makeup, finally found Alice and walked in her shoes. It was a thrill to walk out of the trailer and have half a world go, ‘Oh, Alice! Oh, you look my mother!” So that was great.”
The Fighter opens Dec. 10.