THE BLACK SHEEP INTERVIEW: CARRELL, RUFFALO & TATUM (FOXCATCHER) THE FOXCATCHER ROUNDS
An interview with Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum.
A round table interview at the Toronto International Film Festival can go one of two ways. Either everyone at the table is polite and allows every one to go in turn to ensure that everyone gets at least one question in. Or there is no structure whatsoever and everyone has to fight to be heard at the table. The latter is especially true when the journalists at the table are mostly made up of international press. Naturally, the Canadian press is much more courteous but the international press will cut off the actors themselves if it means getting their question on the table. When I saw down with the cast of FOXCATCHER, it was a mostly international table.
All the same, I managed to make myself heard and really, when the talent at the table is as close as these guys are, it all plays out more like a conversation anyway. Steve Carrell looked and acted more demure than I would have expected; Mark Ruffalo, whom I had interviewed before, was just as calm and collected as I remembered; and then there was Channing. Channing Tatum was just dreamy. I apologize to him upfront because he is obviously so much more than that but as he sat directly across from me and stared intensely into my eyes when he spoke to me, dreamy is the only adjective that I can think of.
FOXCATCHER is the latest film from Bennett Miller, whose previous films include the Oscar nominated titles, MONEYBALL and CAPOTE. It tells the true tale of two American brothers who wrestle professionally, whose lives are forever changed by a philanthropist who wants to help them get gold medals at the Olympics. The film is a dark, psychological character piece that will fascinate some and will bewilder others. I think it is fair to say that FOXCATCHER will have no greater impact though than on the three men who wrestled with their minds, their bodies and each other while making it. In their own words …
ON WHAT DREW THEM TO THE FILM AND HOW THEY APPROACHED IT
Mark Ruffalo: You never know what’s going to turn you on about a part. Sometimes it’s something that personally resonates with you. Sometimes it’s something that just seems like it would be fun to do. Sometimes it’s the people you’re working with. This one was kinda all three of those things. It was challenging; it was something I had never done emotionally. I wanted to explore that aspect of it. And getting the chance to work with Steve and Channing and Bennett was also really exciting. It changes.
Steve Carrell: I think we all researched the roles. We found out as much as we could about the people. There is an added responsibility because they are real people and you don’t want to be glib about a portrayal. You want to take it seriously and do your best to honour them. It’s only your best representation of who that person might have been. I don’t think any of us can say this is that person, through and through because you’re estimating who they are, what’s going on in their minds, how they walked, how they talked. It’s an estimation but within that I think we all tried to find whatever truth we could. I think that was the struggle and the effort and the goal, character wise.
ON THE FILM’S LONG JOURNEY TO GETTING MADE & WHAT CHANGED ALONG THE WAY
Channing Tatum: I think the first time I read the script, I just didn’t understand why you would want make this film. There is no resolve to any of this, no lesson learned. It’s way more complicated than that. It’s actually more close to life. It’s a portrait of something that happened, in a way. I just don’t think I was anywhere near understanding story or character or what I was trying to do with storytelling or acting or whatever and I think did a lot of growing in the seven years in between meeting Bennett first. And plus Bennett was really weird back then. He was a weird guy and I mean that very, very seriously.
Carrell: I guarantee you, that won’t be in any of these articles. Like that won’t be bolded.
(In your face, Carrell!)
Tatum: He’s still weird but he was just such a different person when I met him. Seven years later, I guess a lot can happen and he just seems so clear now and he helped me more clearly understand what the goal was with the film. That was it. I just kind of fell in love with the idea of actually attempting this. It was going to me a mountain of, uh, I guess, a goal.
Ruffalo: I just don’t think it fits. It’s kind of like they have a story about two lesbians and their sperm donor dad. (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT) I have a story about two brother wrestlers and one of them gets killed. I don’t think anyone knew what it would be. Is it funny? Is it salacious? Is it a weird sexual love triangle? No one knew. I remember even hearing about the next movie that Bennett was doing, which was going to be this, which was eight years ago. He was going to do this after CAPOTE. I heard the story and thought, “Who’s going to want to see that?” And I think that was the original response to a lot of the people he took it to and why it took so long to get made.
Carrell: By the same token, I think that the fact that Bennett chose to do it and he’s so selective and so comprehensive in how he designs his films that you have to take that into regard. I did. I thought, well there’s obviously a lot going on here because he’s chosen to do it.
ON TAKING THEIR CHARACTERS HOME WITH THEM
Ruffalo: We didn’t go home.
Tatum: I’m still not home.
Ruffalo: We never left work when we were doing it. We were going from the set to the gym and then that was every single day. Then the weekends, we were at the gym and washing clothes. Did you get to go home very much?
Tatum: I didn’t go home once. My wife was pregnant during this and she came to Pittsburgh. She was supposed to stay a week and she left after the second day. She was like, “Nope. This is not healthy for me to be here. You’re in a weird place and that’s ok. I’m just going to go. I’m just going to go now.”
Ruffalo: Love you!
Tatum: Call me at least once a night before you go to bed. Let me know you’re ok. And we’ll be fine.
Carrell: When I talked to my family, when I talked to my wife on the phone, she’d ask how it went that day. I’d say, “It went well.” And then I wouldn’t talk about it. I didn’t recount the day or talk about anything that we did because it was, there was just no energy to do so. I don’t know if she wanted to hear about it but there weren’t stories for the set where we did this great practical joke on Channing. It wasn’t like that. It was very still and very sombre. Bennett set that tone.
Ruffallo: I like to play around a lot. And I would be on set and I would do something and someone would laugh and then I would see … (Makes a scolding face, presumably coming from Bennett.)
Tatum: Bennett would kind of Dupont me every once in a while. If I started to laugh at something Mark did or even I just joked at all, I’d hear, “Channing, get your head back in it!”
Ruffalo: How many times did I hear that? “Channing, get your head back in it!”
Tatum: There’s a part of you that just wants to go and strangle him. You can’t. That’s like his job.
Ruffalo: And you’d go to jail.
Tatum: I didn’t know anything about freestyle wrestling before we started. I think its crazy that they’re trying to take it out of the Olympics now. It’s one of the first games; it’s one of the original ones. I think that should be illegal but whatever. It’s just a hard sport to understand when you’re watching it, even for people that are versed in it. The understanding of what’s going on, how they score, is difficult. It’s very, very complicated. I think that’s why it’s so hard to watch for people who don’t know anything about it.
Ruffalo: That’s the funny thing about wrestling. It’s different than a fight scene because unless it’s at 100%, it looks fake. We would spend a lot of time choreographing these scenes but at the end of the day, you had to go 100% with all the hands and fighting and all that so you could hit your move. And even when you hit your move, you had to hit it at 100% or for some reason it just looks staged. We did a lot of choreographing but at the end of the day, Bennett would be like, “It just doesn’t look real. I think you have to go for it.”
Tatum: Boxing or punching, you can move the camera so it looks like a hit. There’s trickery. Wrestling, it’s a flow sport. It’s messy so there’s no like stages to it. Even with drilling, it’s just a melee but you get used to being inside that melee and you look for things and the moments get clearer as you do it. It’s just a flow thing and we got used to flowing with each other.
Ruffalo: And that warmup that we did at the beginning, we’d start every practice with that so by the time we shot that, we’d probably done that like 50 or 60 or 70 times. It does have a feeling of that kind of dance. It’s funny because there was 25 pages in the script before that.
Tatum: That was very unsettling when I saw that scene pop up. I was like, what?
Ruffalo: In the beginning of the movie, we’re five minutes into the movie and Bennett has cut 25 pages out of the film of our really good scenes together.
Tatum: Really good. But looking at the end of that scene, that’s everything you need to know about those guys.
Ruffalo, Carrell and Tatum at Cannes.
ON SURPRISING THEMSELVES WITH JUST HOW FAR FOXCATCHER TOOK THEM
Tatum: I don’t remember that scene. Have you ever been in a fist fight? You know how you don’t remember the fight afterwards? I think I remember hitting. I think I remember getting hit. I think I won. Wait, did I lose? I’m not sure. We only did it once. And that was it. I don’t remember very much. I just remember telling him, “Look. Whatever is in that room probably won’t come out not broken.” That’s all from Mark Schulze. He would punish himself so badly after he lost that losing, he would make losing so much worse than whatever physical pain he was going through in the match. So he would never want to do it again.
Carrell: I think having the real people on the set from time to time was something that I had not anticipated and that added an extra weight to it all as well. There was a responsibility to them to the best that we could. There was no one from the Dupont family. Mark Shulze was there from time to time; Nancy Shulze was there for a couple of days. And people who knew them. There were many participants, actual participants, and that added a heft to it. And that’s something I had not anticipated. I think it was very generous of them to be there and to avail themselves to the project.
Tatum: The relentlessness of it. Just staying inside of that. From the uncomfortableness of the character to the monotony of the wrestling. it just never stopped. I think I can comfortably say that we were all just very happy when the movie was over. Or not happy but relieved. For whatever it turns out, we survived the film in a way. For me anyway. Mark and I wept after our last wrestling scene.
The one thing about all roundtables, no matter who is in them, is that they always end abruptly and this one ended here. FOXCATCHER is playing in limited release now. It comes to Canada November 28.