The 2014 New York Film Festival hosted a press conference at Lincoln Center on Oct. 10th with director Bennett Miller (“Moneyball,” “Capote”) and cast after a screening of the new film, “Foxcatcher.” Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, and Anthony Michael Hall answered questions about the movie.
This is my favorite film in the festival so far – a drama based on true events that never reached my consciousness when they occurred in the 1990’s. It focuses on brothers Mark and David Schultz (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively), who were Olympic wrestlers in the 1980’s and 1990’s. John du Pont (played by Steve Carell) was a wealthy mogul in Pennsylvania who became fascinated by wrestling and began to throw money at the sport.
He brought Mark and David Schultz to his estate and set them up to train for their upcoming events. I will leave you to either read about what transpired or, if you aren’t aware of it, wait to find out when you watch the film. Suffice it to say that the outcome of the association was a tragic one.
John du Pont, now deceased, was mentally ill, and Carell’s portrayal is often pathetically comical, as the character is so strange and egomaniacal that you can’t help but laugh … at least until the story takes its devastating turn. But Carell isn’t mugging or going for laughs as he does in his comedies. This is an Oscar-worthy performance that is based entirely on character. His face is even transformed by makeup so that he’s barely recognizable.
The film also gives Channing Tatum a chance to show his dramatic abilities in a way we haven’t seen before. He transforms himself in subtler ways through the manner in which he moves and holds himself.
Mark Ruffalo as David Schultz is as excellent as always, and Sienna Miller plays David Schultz’s wife, Nancy. Vanessa Redgrave plays du Pont’s mother in a small role that is nonetheless an imposing presence. Anthony Michael Hall plays a relatively peripheral character.
The screenplay was written by E. Max Frye and actor Dan Futterman, who also wrote the screenplay for “Capote.”
Below are some of the highlights from the press conference:
Steve Carell on his research about his character, John du Pont:
There was a lot to be looked at in terms of research material – the books that he had written, and he had a documentary commissioned on himself. And one of the most interesting aspects of that was the raw footage, the parts of himself that he did not want to be seen publicly. That gave me probably more insight than anything as to the type of person he was – the way he was instructing the crew, the way he was going through his lines in his head, trying to establish an identity for the camera.
Bennett Miller on the assistance they received from the real people involved in the story:
Many people stepped forward to help us. The person who conducted those interviews and assembled those documentaries is … actually in the film. He’s the one that’s conducting the interviews with du Pont and with David (Mark Ruffalo). That’s the actual guy, and he was the person who gave us all of that footage.
But I hardly encountered a person who was not generous in sharing whatever it was that they had…. There was nothing insidious. There was no real attempt to block or stop us. I did encounter a few du Ponts who were generous, but at no point did anybody overstep. We were very clearly within the boundaries of what we were entitled to do.
Steve Carell on meeting a member of the du Pont family:
I ran into someone who introduced himself to me as a du Pont in the Target store in North Hollywood, California. I was buying, I don’t know, a fake plant or something. He introduced himself and was very pleasant and was curious but not confrontational in any way.
Mark Ruffalo on the film’s accuracy in depicting the relationship between the brothers, David and Mark Schultz:
It’s as pretty closely factual as we could possibly get while condensing a little bit bigger story into a 2-hour movie, but the nature of their relationship, I think, is pretty spot on. They were sort of left to their own devices very early on. Not taking anything away from their parents – I’m sure they did the best that they could considering who they were and the time period that they lived in – but they really had only each other.
People have said that by five years old, Dave was already taking care of Mark. And they were shuffled around a lot. At one point, there’s a famous story of them living outside in the garden shed of their mother’s home because it just became intractable to live inside the home with the boyfriend, who neither of them got along with.
Steve Carell on how the role came to him:
It wasn’t part of my master plan. I don’t have a master plan. But it sort of fell in my lap. I wasn’t lobbying for it. I had heard of the incident when it happened, but then it went away. And it was presented to me. I was sent the script. I met with Bennett, and we discussed it. It was very intriguing, obviously, and I thought a real challenge. Getting a chance to work with him was a huge draw for me.
Channing Tatum on meeting his character, Mark Schultz:
One of the first nights that we got to spend with Mark Schultz, we all went out to dinner – Bennett and Mark Ruffalo and myself and Mark Schultz. After the dinner, we were all walking down the street in New York, and me and Mark Ruffalo started hanging back. He said, “Look at the way he walks.” It’s just a beautiful indication of how he goes through the world.
I just started studying everything about his movement. I found that that was probably the way in for me on Mark. He’s such a physical and emotional, tangible sort of person.
Sienna Miller on meeting her character, Nancy Schultz:
I met Nancy, who I played, pretty close to the start of shooting. She was actually there on my first day, which was actually intimidating. But she was very generous and very open and very keen to share things about all the characters…. She’s incredibly resilient and strong and fascinating.
Steve Carell on his facial makeup as du Pont:
Billy Corso was the designer of the makeup, and we spent several months doing camera tests, trying to figure out what the right version of the look would be. du Pont had a very, very specific look to him. And I can’t help but think his look had an effect on the people around him, and people responded to him in part because he looked a certain way. So, that’s why we proceeded to try to emulate his real look.
And watching tape of him and how he carried himself, I think it all – it was just part of who he was. And my finding, it was sort of inadvertent, that when I would arrive on set in that look, people treated me differently, and it just tended to separate me from the rest of the cast.
It’s only during these press tours that I’ve gotten to know these guys, and they’re really fun. But in Pittsburgh when we were shooting this, it was just a completely different world. So, I think that helped inform the character just by virtue of how people were responding to me in character.
The film opens November 14, 2014, and an autobiography by Mark Schultz is also set to come out, as well as a documentary about David Schultz.