For “The Fighter” director (and Oscar nominee) David O. Russell, the film isn’t just a docudrama about the rise of boxer Micky “Irish” Ward (nominee Mark Wahlberg), who won the Light Welterweight Championship in 2000 with the help of his ex-champ half-brother, Dicky (supporting actor nominee Christian Bale). It’s about fighting within the ring and without, in life and with loved ones, and the closely-knit but explosive relationships within the Ward clan. The film has received seven Academy Award nominations, including one for best picture.
“I recognized the flavor of my own family members in the Bronx and in Brooklyn,” Russell, whose family is Jewish and Italian, told NPR. “The women, in particular, made the story very special to me, in combination with these brothers and their brothers’ dynamic. The seven sisters, the mother [supporting actress nominee Melissa Leo] – the women helped make the men what they were and were so pivotal to the family.”
One of the most explosive relationships exists between the tough-talking sisters and Ward’s equally tough girlfriend and wife-to-be, Charlene (supporting actress nominee Amy Adams), who doesn’t mince words about how the clan is affecting Ward’s career.
Here are some excerpts from a recent question-and-answer session, which included Russell and Adams, about dynamics between the actors and meeting the real people upon whom the film is based.
Adams: “Charlene is Charlene – she’s ‘What you see is what you get.’ It’s like in the film, the family is a bunch of big personalities and she comes in and says, ‘You guys are f———crazy.’ And they did not like that. She has a different experience with this story. I feel protective of her, because I know her story. I know why she is the way she is, but the film is Micky’s story, and the story about Micky’s family… [so]I don’t get to defend her in the making of this film or in the press.”
“But she was nice enough to let David sit down and videotape her; sometimes when you’re watching something, it’s what people don’t say—what they don’t give you—which tells you just as much as what they could tell you. So her brief answers, her way, was really the best information that she could have given us…But I can’t tell you why she is the way she is, that story is not mine to tell.”
“That being said, Charlene did not like my fishnet [stockings]. She said, ‘I would never wear fishnets to a fight!’”
Russell (to Adams): “Jack Nicholson once said you should always have a secret about your character that you don’t tell anybody. There’s a secret that you know about Charlene. But the key to her is that you and Mark [Wahlberg] played the quiet center of emotion in the film while the circus is going on around you. It’s like yin and yang. You need both things to make the dance work.”
Russell on his cast: “We were blessed with two levels of an ensemble film. The five extraordinary leads, who play as an ensemble and then you have this organism called the sisters, which really creates the environment.”