The Fighter, released in 2010, is an inspiring film that tells the true story of Micky Ward, a Massachusetts boxer who overcame major life obstacles to reach his goals. The film succeeds by injecting a popular Hollywood genre with real-world emotion and stakes.
It’s no surprise the movie ended up making such an impact on viewers. However, bringing the story to the screen took a very long time. The passion of those involved in the project is the reason the film got made, despite some false starts. This passion is at the heart of the film.
That’s why it’s worth understanding more about the project’s backstory. When viewers understand what a team went through to ensure a project gets completed, they can better grasp why the finished product is so effective.
Finding a Director and Costars
The Fighter reunited star Mark Wahlberg with director David O. Russell. Previously, the two had worked together on Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees.
However, Russell’s involvement in the project wasn’t always a given. As with many Hollywood movies, a number of different creatives were involved in the production and pre-production phases at various points.
For example, upon initially becoming involved in the film’s development, Wahlberg believed Martin Scorsese should direct the movie. Wahlberg had also worked with Scorsese on The Departed, and cited Raging Bull as one of the main inspirations for the film.
Scorsese read the draft of the script available at the time, but he chose not to take on the project. He explained that he had little interest in filming another boxing movie and felt that making another film set in the Boston area so soon after The Departed wouldn’t be an interesting enough experience.
At the time, it seemed like this minor setback would not have a major impact on the movie’s fate. Darren Aronofsky signed up to direct the picture, with Matt Damon joining Wahlberg as Ward’s older half-brother, Dicky Eklund. Damon eventually dropped out, and although Brad Pitt was in line to replace him, he too would drop out of the film to work on Inglorious Basterds. Unfortunately, Aronofsky also eventually left the project to film The Wrestler.
The Hidden Costs of the Development Phase
It’s worth noting that, during the years-long development phase, Wahlberg had to maintain a rigorous workout schedule to ensure he was in proper shape to play Ward when production finally did begin. In an interview with Deadline, Wahlberg commented on his dedication to staying fit enough for the role, as well as his dedication to making sure the movie was made by the right people, saying:
“[F]rom a practical standpoint, if you work out for two years and then you don’t do it again for six months, you’re back to square one. It’s not like riding a bike, where you get right back on it. That training process was as expensive as it was time consuming. It wasn’t like somebody else was footing the bill. I was dragging these guys around with me, everywhere we went, putting them up in apartments when I was in different cities, on different locations, making films and promoting films. There were times we were so desperate to make the movie that we almost made the wrong version of the movie. For whatever reason, we were protected. I was able to get David O Russell. After spending a lot of time with David, I just thought he could make a version of this movie we hadn’t been looking to make before. It would still be very real, but it would have more heart, humor and emotion.”
Things Come Together
Getting David O. Russell to sign on to the project wasn’t just a lucky break. It ensured the team behind the camera was as talented as the people in front of it. By the time Russell got involved, Christian Bale had already replaced both Pitt and Damon in the role of Eklund.
However, there were many times in which, from an outside perspective, it appeared the film would never get made. Wahlberg did not allow those thoughts to affect his attitude. The movie had personal meaning for him. Partially, this is due to the fact that it takes place near his hometown, featuring characters whose lives are very familiar to him. Perhaps more importantly, Wahlberg is a personal fan of Micky Ward. He met the fighter as a teenager, and when he began developing the film, he promised Ward he would get the picture made.
The dedication demonstrated by the people making the movie mirrors the dedication of its characters. The Fighter is about people putting in a grand effort to defeat the odds. The story of how it got made offers the same lesson: hard work pays off.