People over-use the word ‘intense’. They talk about intense IT courses or intense hair conditioners. But those things aren’t intense, not really; Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale are intense. In a good — but intense — way.
Casting aside stories of on and off-set behaviour, there are few actors who put as much of themselves into their roles or, in the case of Bale’s 63lb weight-loss for The Machinist, take as much out. In post-match parlance, they always give 110 per cent.
Despite the risks of bringing such fervour together (explosion, annihilation, skin irritation), the two have been safely fused in The Fighter, the real-life story of Micky Ward (Wahlberg), a journeyman boxer who reinvented himself to win the WBU welterweight title, occasionally aided by his half-brother Dicky Eklund (Bale): crack addict, jailbird and a local hero who once took Sugar Ray Leonard the distance.
It’s a role that has already bagged Bale a Golden Globe and an Oscar, so we decided to take Bale and Wahlberg, try our best to goad them, and see what might happen if the gloves ever came off.
First question: who’d win in a fight out of the two of you?
MW: He won’t even get in the ring with me. Me. What kind of a question is that?
CB: [Laughs] There’s no way on earth Mark is going to say anyone else but him. Not a chance in hell. Me. Actually, we’d be identical. I see him absolutely refusing to go down and I would be exactly the same.
Did you spar together?
MW: No, only in the sparring scene that’s in the movie.
CB: We were in the ring together all the time, but it was me training him with the mitts on.
Did a rivalry build?
CB: Maybe there would’ve been if I’d have had to do some boxing sequences, but no, it wasn’t like we were doing the same sort of training for it. He was training to be a boxer, I was training to be a crackhead. Quite different parts.
You spent quite a bit of time with your real-life counterparts — what was that like?
MW: The first time I met Micky I was 18. We’ve been friends for a long time. Micky and Dicky were both very involved in the making of the movie. They lived at my house for a while when we trained. Every once in a while Dicky would go a little crazy, but that’s normal.
CB: Dicky’s great. He’s good company and once you speak his language he’s very bloody funny. He’s the mayor of the streets of Lowell and he can get anything done. He could’ve shut down production if he wanted. Thankfully he didn’t. There’s nothing like being able to hang out with the guy you’re playing, especially if it’s as someone as colourful as Dicky. If I’d played Dicky exactly as Dicky is, everybody would’ve said I was clowning, that I was way over the top. And there would’ve had to have been subtitles.
Did you begin to think you could’ve been a contender?
MW: Oh yeah. Even after we shot the movie Micky and Dicky were trying to talk me into going and taking four-rounders against professionals.
Were you tempted?
MW: No, because I have four children and a wife. If it had been six or seven years ago, then sure.
Mickey Rourke had a go at it…
MW: And that didn’t turn out too good, did it?
CB: My whole job is about being delusional, but I’m not that delusional. The thought of getting into the ring with a professional boxer stops any thoughts of being a contender. It brings you back to reality very quickly.
Did you receive injuries during filming?
MW: I picked up a lot of nicks and bumps and bruises. I almost got my nose broken a couple of times. But nothing that would have stopped production. We basically lied to the insurance company and told them we weren't going to be hitting each other and then went in there and that’s all we did.
CB: I think Mark enjoyed landing one on me in that sparring scene. And good for him because it wasn’t written that I would hit him back, so he knew I wouldn’t [laughs].
Dicky jumps from a window to escape his mum. Did you do that yourself?
CB: Can I not answer that? Clearly you know what the answer is now and it’s just horrible, because I’ve done plenty of stuff like that. Unfortunately, sometimes there are sounder minds on movie sets who will notify you that, yes, you could jump out of the window very easily and yes, they know I enjoy that kind of thing, but if anything does go wrong the production’s going to be finished and so could I please consider everybody else and not jump out of the window. A kind of guilt trip. So I jump out of windows in my spare time instead.
I was going to ask you both that. Ever had to escape out of a window?
CB: Absolutely, getting out of a fire one time, from the third storey. It was in the UK about 10 years back. It wasn’t a soft landing, but I was fine. I was covered in soot. I looked like I was auditioning to play a chimney sweep or something. It was ridiculous. I got a slightly cut-up hand, but it was fine.
MW: Many times. Many times. Either from a girlfriend, or I used to sneak out of the window of my house all the time at night while my parents were asleep, go roam the streets.
Talking of tumbles, there’s a nice touch during the final fight when a card girl trips getting into the ring. Did that happen for real?
MW: It may have happened somewhere along the line, but we thought, rather than just a hot girl walking into the ring, it’d make for a nice little bit of humour.
CB: I didn’t know she was supposed to do it. She did it the first time and I felt really bad for her. Then we did another take and she did it again. You think I might know better, having made a number of movies, but I went, ‘Oh, poor girl, she did it twice in a row’. Then somebody pointed out, ‘No Chris, she’s probably doing it on purpose. It’s a movie.’ She did it very well, because both times I felt very bad for her.
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had in front of a crowd?
MW: Oh, pulling down my pants. When I was a rapper.
CB: For me any moment in front of a crowd is embarrassing, because I can’t stand being in front of people like that. I’m probably one of the worst public speakers around. I try to avoid it, but there are times when it’s just too rude not to do it. But there really isn’t a moment that’s not embarrassing for me if I’m going to stand up in front of a crowd.
Mark, you go from ripped to beer gut and back again in the film. Christian, you play an emaciated crackhead. What was the hardest thing about achieving your new figures?
MW: It wasn’t so much about getting in shape because, you know, I was blessed genetically, but it’s one thing to look like you’re in shape and another thing to look like a boxer who could win the welterweight title. That’s what all the hard work was about. Boxing is such a technical sport and boxing is the sport to which all other sports aspire. There’s no bigger test, mentally or physically.
What about putting the weight on?
MW: The whole time we were shooting The Other Guys I was just stuffing my face, drinking a lot of wine, eating a lot of pasta. And then I got the call saying you need to lose weight again and do a couple of pick-up shots. I had five weeks to lose the 30lb I put on in eight months.
CB: Being hungry. You never stop being hungry. I think make-up actually did a really good job with me, because people think I lost a lot more than I did. I had to play crackhead Dicky and then post-jail Dicky when he’s clean, so I couldn't go too far with it.
When was your last real-life fight, and did you win?
CB: Well, I could rewrite history right now, couldn’t I? I could tell you whatever I want. The thing is, it stopped being fun after primary school. You enjoy having fights, then you get older and it’s not so much fun. That’s when you start to know who’s a psycho in the bunch, still acting like they’re in primary school. So I don’t care to reminisce about any of those with any affection.
MW: Mine was a few years ago in a club and I did knuckle-up somebody’s face pretty good. They were deserving of it. Usually when I start something I don’t end up on the winning end, but when I’m doing the right thing, I usually come out pretty good. A guy sucker-punched a friend of mine, so I had to return the favour. Then his friend came in and he got a little, too.
Mark, did you help Christian with that Massachusetts accent?
MW: Everybody kind of used me as a reference. Because I’ve done other movies taking place in Boston where the accents weren’t so good. But everybody used me as a gauge and asked me if something sounded right or real.
CB: Well, you know, Mark, Micky, Dicky — they’re all from there. But for me, I was doing ‘Dickinese’, which is where he kind of takes it and makes it his own. So I was really just copying and studying Dicky.
And did Christian ever get you to do a Welsh accent?
MW: No, but I’m a good mimic, so I’m just looking for a good opportunity, the right part.
CB: I’d like to see that. I could see Mark doing a biopic of Aled Jones.
The Fighter is at cinemas nationwide now