When looking at today’s best working directors, one shouldn’t forget about Bennett Miller, whose last two pictures, “Capote” and “Moneyball,” received a slew of awards and acclaim. As different as they were from one another, both explored the psychologies of very real and influential people. Therefore, if his prior work is anything to go by, Miller’s latest feature, a devastating sports drama (also based on a true story), should follow suit.
Although initially slated for a December 2013 release, Miller’s “Foxcatcher” first premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival earlier this year — a strategic move that now puts it at the forefront of this year’s awards season. The film stars Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, an Olympic-winning wrestler who comes under the mentorship of John du Pont (Steve Carell), an unstable multimillionaire who takes an interest in Schultz and his wrestler older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). As the Schultzes are drawn into the opportunities du Pont’s provides them with, his emotional instability becomes increasingly (and dangerously) clear.
Before Sony Pictures Classics opens it November 14, “Foxcatcher” made its way to the New York Film Festival (NYFF) on Friday. Following the screening, director Miller, Tatum, Carell, Ruffalo and co-stars Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller and Anthony Michael Hall spoke about the process making the intense picture. Here are some highlights.
Bennett Miller was drawn to “Foxcatcher” because he thought it was funny.
Without spoiling the real life events that made “Foxcatcher” such a gripping story to adapt, Miller revealed how he first heard about the Schultzes and du Pont through a friend, who had shown him an article about them. “The absurdity, the kind of dark comic absurdity of one the wealthiest men in America bringing a team of wrestlers onto his estate to train where he would become their coach without knowing anything about wrestling — it was funny,” Miller revealed. “Except the outcome was horrible.”
Steve Carell did some thorough research to play du Pont.
Although a prosthetic nose, some weight and crappy teeth certainly helped, Carell explained how he managed to capture du Pont, who died in 2010. In “Foxcatcher” we learned that du Pont self-commissioned a documentary about coaching the wrestlers who lived with him. When preparing for the role, Carell looked through unseen footage from this documentary, which shows du Pont “instruct[ing] his crew, going through his lines in his head, trying to establish an identity for the camera.”
Channing Tatum did some live research though.
Tatum’s character Mark is the emotional core of the very cold and dark film. The actor revealed the moment when he first got some major insight into Mark’s character. During shooting, Tatum had the opportunity to meet the real Mark Schultz, and one night, following a dinner, Ruffalo pointed out the wrestler’s walk. “Me and Mark Ruffalo were hanging back and he said, ‘Look at the way he is moving. Look at the way he walks.’ It’s such a beautiful indication of how he goes through the world.”
Sienna Miller felt intimated playing Dave Schultz’s wife Nancy.
Bennett Miller spoke a bit about the involvement of the du Pont family members when making his film. Although they weren’t exactly on board, Sienna Miller, who makes a couple of appearances as Dave’s wife Nancy, spoke about being intimidated on set. “She was actually there on my first day, which was exceptionally intimidating. But she was very generous and very open and very willing to share things about all the characters.”
Vanessa Redgrave thinks “Foxcatcher” is a masterpiece.
A sassy, but modest Redgrave first asserted that she did not “create the presence” of her character, but rather she channeled it. Redgrave plays du Pont’s icy aristocratic mother, a woman he desperately tries to impress throughout “Foxcatcher.” Having starred in what seems like thousands of roles, Redgrave spoke about the essential things that draw one to a project — the script, role, producers and director. At one point, though, she called “Foxcatcher” “a masterpiece.” High praise from a film legend.
Steve Carell’s transition from comedy to drama was not “part of his master plan.”
Carell quickly stated “I don’t have a master plan” before explaining how he went from starring in films like “Little Miss Sunshine and “40 Year Old Virgin” to “Foxcatcher.” He mentioned how he vaguely heard of the story, but thought little of it at the time. After getting the script, however, he became highly interested in the project. “Getting the chance to work with [Miller] was a huge draw for me.”
About his transition in roles he said, “It was in the same way in terms of preparing and understanding as much as you can about what you’re about to do and the tone of what you are going to do. And once you get there, letting it all go and not thinking about the preparation. Just try to make it genuine.”