Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg climb into the ring for the gritty film 'The Fighter,' in theaters December 10, and the two acting heavyweights talk about training for their roles and meeting the men they portray onscreen.
A labor-of-love project produced and shepherded by Mark for years, 'The Fighter' tells the true story of Boston-area boxer "Irish" Micky Ward's tempestuous relationship with his half-brother Dicky Eklund. Dicky, a former celebrated fighter himself, falls on hard times and tests the limits of family as he tries to help Mickey to go pro in the 1980s.
"It's his incredible natural talent that led to his downfall, because he could … win these fights without really trying, so he could be out all night … boozing it and drugging it up, and then step in the ring and win," explains Christian, who worked with the real Dicky to hone his character. "But eventually that caught up with him, and it's tragic."
Dicky's life spiraled out of control due to an addiction to crack, which was chronicled in the documentary 'High on Crack Street,' and Christian says, "It just made him forget everything he loved. Before that he lived for his boxing and for his family, and Dicky is the most loyal man you'll meet."
Dicky went to jail, got clean, started training people behind bars, and then started training his brother Micky, played by Mark, taking him to the top ranks of the sport.
"He was such an inspiration and such a legend, and he hadn't even had his big fights yet by the time I met him, the first time when I was 18," says Mark about Micky Ward. "What really shocked me was how humble he was, because most fighters like to talk, and they've got a chip on their shoulder."
Mark got in fighting shape for the role, then purposely gained weight for the sequences shot after Micky broke his hand and stopped boxing. But more scenes in the ring were required, and Mark says he had to drop 30 pounds in five weeks.
"After that was over, I didn't touch a piece of exercise equipment, I didn't walk into my gym, I didn't do anything other than stuff my face and drink a lot of wine," says Mark with a smile. "And then a couple weeks ago my wife was just like, 'You really need to get it together.' So I started [working out again] last week, I started going back to the gym -- still got the ring at my house -- and I love it."
As for Christian's transformation into the emaciated look of a crack addict, Mark comments, "Christian is a very special actor and he's proven time and time again what he's willing to do to transform himself physically with 'The Machinist' and 'Rescue Dawn.'"
So how did Christian drop the pounds this time?
"You train with the guy that trains world champs. That's all I did for this. You get in the ring with [Dicky], he's gonna kick your butt," says Christian. "I don't go out of my way to pick parts [that require] losing weight. I like the characters, and then I realize, 'Damn it, I've done it again, I gotta do that.' This part you have to be a welterweight, you also have to be a crack head. But just doing the sparring, getting in the ring with Dicky and Micky and Mark, the pounds just drop off. There's just fat lying around in the ring afterwards."
Directed by David O. Russell, 'The Fighter' also stars Amy Adams and Melissa Leo.