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Telluride: 'Bleed For This' brings an unknown boxer's story to the screen

by James Kim | The Frame

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Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart star in the new boxing drama "Bleed For This." Open Road Films

Vincent Edward Pazienza was a rising star in the boxing world in the 1980s — until he broke his neck in a car accident.

He was told he would never box again, but after a year of grueling and painful rehabilitation with his coach, Kevin Rooney, he stepped back in the ring and made his comeback.

 

Pazienza's story is at the center of the film "Bleed For This," which made its debut at the 43rd Telluride Film Festival. It was directed by Ben Younger and stars Miles Teller as Vinny Pazienza and Aaron Eckhart as coach Kevin Rooney. 

Younger approached Martin Scorsese with this real-life story and Scorsese called it the "greatest story never told." The director eventually signed on as an executive producer.

"I can't really explain to you why real boxing aficionados know his story," says Ben Younger. "But for whatever reason, it slipped past the mainstream audiences."

The Frame's John Horn spoke with Younger, Teller and Eckhart about the challenges of portraying real people on screen, working with Martin Scorsese and the relationship between a director and actor. 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On working with Martin Scorses on "Bleed For This":

BEN YOUNGER: [Scorsese] had to go off and shoot "Silence." So basically I saw him a few months before we started shooting [but] he got us rolling. I mean it wouldn't have been made without him. We put him in the room with our financier and our financier wrote us a check. Marty sat with him for ten minutes and then we had a green-lit movie. And then I saw him when we were done and I showed him a cut. So there [were] seven months between visits. 

On preparing for the role of Vinny Pazienza:

MILES TELLER: I just listened to hours and hours of interviews. I didn't want to watch him. I didn't want to associate his voice with how he looked. I didn't want to feel like I was just imitating this person. So I just listened to a ton of interviews, you start picking up certain things a little bit. I just fell in love with the guy. 

But this was the first movie I had months to think about. That usually doesn't happen for me. I'll just get a script and I'll end up having to go right into it and time is the greatest tool for an actor. But yeah, I just love the guy so much. 

25 Jun 1995:  Boxer Vinny Pazienza is cleaned up in his corner by his trainers during their bout in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
25 Jun 1995: Boxer Vinny Pazienza is cleaned up in his corner by his trainers during their bout in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mike Powell/Getty Images

On acting in front of the real life boxer: 

MILES TELLER: I didn't think I wanted him on set at first. When Ben was talking he said, "Do you want Vinny on set?" And I'm like, "Ah, I don't think so. Especially not for the boxing stuff." Because it's weird, something like that you're doing him in front of him. 

So I didn't think I was going to want it, and then once it got around to the cameras rolling, I just felt so, I don't know I just felt really proud. It's like I wanted to show him in a weird way. I wanted to see him seeing himself, but 30 years ago. I wanted him to see himself when he felt the best about his career, his life, whatever it was.

But it all comes out of respect and when you respect the person you're playing to the highest level, you're going to put the work in. Because you don't want to embarrass him. You don't want to embarrass yourself. You don't want to embarrass these other actors you are going incredible lengths to tell the story. So fear is a big motivator, fear of failure. 

Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart star in the boxing drama "Bleed For This."
Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart star in the boxing drama "Bleed For This." Open Road Films

On portraying coach Kevin Rooney:

AARON ECKHART: I did not get to meet [Kevin Rooney] because he's in the hospital and he was sick during the filming of the movie, and continues to be in the hospital unfortunately. So I never got to meet him and I used the same tools that Miles did with video. Luckily there was a lot of media on Kevin Rooney. 

I met his son and I had the fortunate pleasure of hanging out at the Manny Pacquiao fight with Timothy Bradley. I did all of Pacquiao's training camp with him and then I went to his fight. I was sitting next to [Jim] Lampley at the fight, backstage and before and after in his hotel room. I got to know or meet a lot of the old guys that knew Kevin, that told me stories about Kevin. 

In fact, I was really skinny when I first got this role and I remember I was in Vegas and a lot of Kevin's old runarounds were there. And I said I was playing Kevin Rooney and this. I'm hanging out with Freddie Roach and they were shaking their heads going, "This is going to be a disaster." 

BEN YOUNGER: Kevin Jr. has seen the film and it freaked him out how much Aaron looks like his dad. It was almost hard for him to watch. 

On the relationship between a director and an actor:

AARON ECKHART: I think filmmaking is like a pregnancy. It hurts, it's ugly, there's a lot of blood and there's a lot of yelling. But at the end you'll hopefully have a beautiful baby.

You know, Ben's job is to get his vision in our heads and when you're under pressure and under the gun, it becomes harder and harder. Especially when you have two stubborn actors. So I'm always looking at my director, seeing how he's doing it, and I'm always learning from Ben and learning from my other actors.

"Bleed For This" opens in limited release on November 4.  

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