Bennett Miller sure has a way with actors. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker helped earn Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar for “Capote.” “Moneyball” netted both Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt nominations for their work. Judging by the early response this morning to “Foxcatcher” at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Steve Carell will, in all likelihood, join that roster for his career redefining performance as troubled millionaire philanthropist and convicted murderer, John du Point.
The material is darker that anything the funnyman has attempted before. There are no laughs to be had in this true life tale of a rich man who takes an intense liking to brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo) Schultz, both Olympic gold champion wrestlers.
Carell said at the press conference immediately following the screening that he didn’t change his approach despite the nature of the material, saying, “I don’t think characters in films know that they’re in a comedy or drama.”
“Truthfully, I’ve never seen Steve do anything that would give me material evidence that he could do this,” Miller on his part admitted. All it took was one meeting to convince Miller to cast Carell. The key was asking Carell what life would be like with no sense of humor. “I saw him go to a dark place,” Miller said. “I think all comedians are dark.”
To prepare for the role, Carell did his research, brushing up on the du Pont’s family legacy, and watching the documentaries on the man’s life that the millionaire himself commissioned. “That was a treasure trove, to be able to watch those,” Carell said.
Although the comedian has the showier role, the film arguably belongs to Tatum’s character, who takes center stage for much of the tale. The actor also delivers a revelatory and intense turn, sure to make his fans see him in a whole new light.
The “Magic Mike” star revealed that he and Ruffalo had a whopping six months to get into wrestling shape. “We have cauliflowers ears as take home presents,” Tatum said. “Our life became wrestling, eating and sleeping,” Ruffalo added.
Unlike du Pont (who died in prison four years ago) and Dave Schultz (whose fate is revealed late in the film), Mark Schultz is still alive and was therefore deeply involved with the project from the get-go, first helping to coach Tatum, and then helping to inform the actor’s performance on set.
While grateful for his input, Tatum did say that having him there once shooting got underway was a “polarizing thing.” Tatum admitted to being at times “terrified” to have the person he was playing there on set during the some of the film’s more challenging scenes.
Not helping matters were Tatum’s own insecurities; he said that during the early stages of the shoot he felt he “wasn’t getting anything right.” Miller said during the moments he noticed Tatum struggling, he made sure that Tatum got the space he needed.
Ruffalo said that having Schultz there also took a toll on the subject, noting that Schultz had to essentially relive the most difficult period of his life. “I think it was as hard on him as it was on all of us,” Ruffalo said.
Everyone on stage during the press conference was struck silent when Roger Ebert’s widow, Chaz, asked Miller about Carell’s transformation, commenting on how it reminded her of the intense work done by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Miller’s “Capote.” Miller deflected the question, only to later revisit it explaining that he initially avoided it because it made him “emotional.”
“To work with actors who are willing to put faith you… you have to be grateful for the rest of your life,” he said.