Liev Schreiber on fame and playing 'Chuck,' the inspiration behind 'Rocky'

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On March 24, 1975, a boxer named Chuck Wepner took on legendary fighter Muhammad Ali. It was widely believed Wepner didn't stand a chance, but he pushed through. A brutal 15 rounds later, the fight ended with Wepner's bloody defeat. 

If that plot sounds familiar, that's because that fight and Wepner's life inspired Sylvester Stallone to write the film "Rocky." 

"Rocky" went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976, which created even more attention for Wepner, who wasn't shy to cash in on that fame.  

Several decades later, he's finally getting a film of his own — this time, with his own name in the spotlight. Liev Schreiber stars as the embattled boxer in "Chuck," which opens in theaters this weekend. He'll be taking questions from the audience at screenings of the film at the ArcLight Hollywood this Friday and Saturday

Schreiber recently told Alex Cohen on Morning Edition that, as an actor, he understands how fame can mess with your head all too well.  

Interview highlights: 

On the effects of being in the limelight: 

I think I remember early on getting really really good reviews and I remember briefly believing them. And then I would get a really terrible review and I would go “well geez, if the good review is true then the terrible review also has to be true" and that business of separating our own identities from our jobs in show business is really very difficult. I think I was lucky enough to have had a small career as a theater actor before getting into the film world, which prepared me to some degree for that lesson, whereas Chuck, as a professional athlete, was completely unprepared for that. And he found himself suddenly competing with this alter ego that was probably one of the most famous characters in the world at that time. It’s just hard to prepare somebody for something like that, particularly when you feel like you’re getting what feels like great rewards from being that character. It’s very easy to quickly lose touch with who you really are and what the rewards in life are for our accomplishments.

Psychologically, it can get very messy. What advice might you give to someone who’s life is going to be the source of a big Hollywood movie? 

I think the advice that Chuck gives us from his own experiences is to keep the people who are the closest to you, as close to you as you possibly can. Because it’s their love and their wisdom and their familiarity that’s going to help you stay in touch with what’s important in life. I think Chuck is a testament to winning that particular battle with fame, in my mind. His relationship to his wife, Linda, and his daughter is as good as it gets. That, to me, is the real happy ending of our story. 

Who would you want to play you in the "Liev Schreiber" movie? 

Oh, gee. Well, that actor hasn’t been born yet, right? 

Well, anyone! Time machine, it could be any actor, any era but it can’t be you. 

I would go for Basil Rathbone. Very talented fencer, often misunderstood. Could’ve beat Errol Flynn in any of those sword fights and always had to lose. His portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is so elegant and frankly, what a nose. 

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