New York Film Fest: 'Foxcatcher' Stars Reveal How Much Their Characters Were Based in Reality
"When you're playing somebody like this who has a family that survived him, you really want to do your best to be as true to the memory that they hold of him as possible"
Bennett Miller's wrestling drama Foxcatcher is based on real-life events but goes beyond John du Pont's shocking murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz to explore the mentalities of the two and that of Schultz's brother and fellow Olympian Mark (played by Channing Tatum) and to reveal what may have gone on at du Pont's Foxcatcher training facility, where both Mark and Dave worked.
Miller has made no secret of how this movie, like his other fact-based films, including Capote and Moneyball, incorporates fictional elements.
"The films are drawn from true events, and they are definitely out to discover some angle, some truth, about what happened, but by using narrative filmmaking techniques. So they are not biographies per se, so much as they are portraits," Miller told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Foxcatcher's Cannes debut. "There’s no pretense to these things being reenactments. This is an interpretation of events and explorations of character and decisions."
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In light of that approach, THR asked the actors starring in Foxcatcher how much they based their characters on the real people they were playing and how much was based on the filmmakers' interpretation of these people and what happened.
Mark Ruffalo, who plays Dave, said he mostly based his portrayal of the late wrestler on the actual person, aware that he had a responsibility to honor the memory that Dave's family and friends have of him.
"It was mostly Dave and what I could gather about him and his life from his family and his friends and hundreds of hours of video of him wrestling or talking or interacting with his kids," Ruffalo told THR before Foxcatcher screened at the New York Film Festival on Friday night. "Bennett really asked of each of us to really go out and do investigative journalism on the people we were playing.… When you're playing somebody like this who has a family that survived him, you know, you really want to do your best to be as true to the memory that they hold of him as possible."
Ruffalo added that to get a sense of Dave, he spent a great deal of time with Dave's wife, Nancy, played by Sienna Miller in the movie, and Dave's close friend John Guira, whom Ruffalo said ended up becoming his technical adviser and coached him on his wrestling for the film.
Steve Carell plays du Pont in an impressive performance in which the funnyman transforms himself into the eccentric millionaire, with the assistance of makeup that makes him almost unrecognizable. Carell said that trying to mimic the way du Pont spoke and carried himself helped him get a sense of who he really was. He added that he too tried to do as much research as possible on the real du Pont.
"I watched a lot of footage of du Pont and did a lot of research on him specifically," Carell told THR. "We tried to emulate the way he … spoke and walked and carried himself because all of those things ultimately served to present a very specific guy to other people and had an impact on his relationships, in part how he acted but also what he looked like, so we did try to model it after the real du Pont. And it's anyone's best guess as to what was going on inside of him but doing the research and talking to people who knew him and worked with him [helped] gain a sense of what type of man he was."
Anthony Michael Hall, who plays du Pont's assistant, had an easier task since his character was fictionalized, so he just combined his own work as an actor with what Miller wanted.
Foxcatcher was originally supposed to be released last year but was delayed until 2014 at the last minute. Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard says that the delay, including screening the film at the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and New York film festivals, where the title has been consistently well received, has helped build up buzz for the title, which hits theaters on Nov. 14.
"The fact that the movie wasn't ready last year has been an incredible benefit because we got to go to the Cannes film festival, we got to go to the Toronto film festival, we got to go to Telluride, we're currently here in New York. And there's an awareness about the film that I think couldn't have happened if we hadn't been such a high-profile picture last fall and then it didn't come out," Bernard told THR, adding that the specialty division was excited about how the movie's been received and the actors' work in the film, saying that he thinks the film will have a long run and awards season will be kind to them.
That remains to be seen, but the tragic tale is already an Oscar frontrunner in a few categories.