Exclusive: Aaron Eckhart Talks ‘Bleed For This’

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Exclusive: Aaron Eckhart Talks ‘Bleed For This’
Posted by Wilson Morales

November 16, 2016

Bleed For This Poster

Coming out this week from Open Road Films is the boxing drama Bleed for This, starring Miles Teller in the true story of boxer Vinny Pazienza.

BLEED FOR THIS is the incredible true story of one of the most inspiring and unlikely comebacks in sports history. Miles Teller (Whiplash, Divergent) stars as Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, a local Providence boxer who shot to stardom after winning 2 world title fights. After a near-fatal car accident leaves Vinny with a severed spine, doctors tell him he may never walk again. With the help of renowned trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), Vinny becomes a legend when he not only walks again, but miraculously returns to the ring to reclaim his title belt only a year after the accident.

Directed and written by Ben Younger, the cast also includes Katey Sagal, Ted Levine, Ciarán Hinds, Jordan Gelber, and Amanda Clayton.

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For Eckhart, who plays trainer Kevin Rooney, the role gave him the opportunity to slip back in the boxing world. In some of his previous films, Eckhart has had a few scenes where he’s been boxing as a recreational sport but this time he’s actually playing the life of a trainer.

In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Eckhart goes over his experience working on the film and with Miles Teller.

What goes into playing Kevin Rooney, someone whose career most of the audience already knows about?

Aaron Eckhart: Well, interesting. What attracted me was the fact that, first of all, the story, the Vinny Pazienza story, a story about dream, a comeback, breaking his neck and going against all doctor and family orders and saying, “No, I’m going to follow my dream, and I’m going to be middle weight champion of the world.” I like that. I like the fact that Kevin was a part of that, that Kevin himself was a fighter, trained by Cus D’Amato. Kevin was Mike Tyson’s trainer in his heyday. I like the idea of these two having to reinvent themselves and to go from the bottom to the top. I think everybody loves a story like that.

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I know that you’ve done it in Black Dahlia and Olympus Has Fallen, so how familiar were you with the boxing world and this particular story?

Aaron Eckhart: I did a movie called Erin Brockovich in 1998, I think it was. Or ’99, somewhere around there. I had to get in shape for the movie, and I said, “Hey, if I’m going to have to get in shape for this Hollywood thing, I’m going to learn a skill.” So I started boxing. For the last 20 years basically, my head has been somewhere in the boxing game, at a fitness level and working with trainers. I understand the technique and skill of boxing, and I’ve got pretty decent knowledge of the fight game in terms of the fighters and all that, but I didn’t know this story.

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Vinny, although he’s a five-time champ, fought in Vegas, fought Duran, I didn’t know of him. Vinny, he’s a prodigal son of Rhode Island. He is very well known in the East but since I was out on the West and I actually lived abroad during the 80s, I didn’t know of Vinny or Kevin. I got a good education. Vinny was with us there on the set. The reason I didn’t get to meet Kevin was because Kevin is in the hospital with dementia. I wasn’t able to train directly with him. Freddie Roach of Wildcard let me come and be a fly on the wall on the Manny Pacquiao/Bradley fight. I spent two months with them, and then I went to the fight and was with Manny in the locker room before and after the fight, wrapping the hands and doing all the pre-fight. Freddy basically taught me how to be a trainer.

Then I worked with Kevin Rooney, Jr., Kevin’s son who was a fighter trained by his father. I went to the Chris Algieri camp when Algieri fought Pacquiao. I was in the Algieri camp with Kevin Rooney, Jr. He helped me get into the mindset of his dad, and then I had all the old footage of Kevin and Tyson and Kevin as a fighter and Kevin with Vinny. I had a lot to draw on, a lot of research.

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What about the makeup? How long did it take? Was it just a matter of getting a simple haircut to make it look like you were Kevin?

Aaron Eckhart: I gained 40 pounds, and we shaved my head. Then we would shave it with a razor every single day. I guess it was easy. I just did what I had to do to embody the look of Kevin. That’s what he looked like at that time, and it helped me get into his mindset. He had just been let go by Tyson when Don King came in, and Kevin at that time was pretty upset. He was pretty depressed. He was drinking a lot, and he was gambling a lot. He felt like his career was in jeopardy. That’s when he meets Vinny. Vinny had just been told by Lou that he shouldn’t fit again. Both of these guys were down and out. They found each other, and made it back to the top.

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Can you talk about working with Miles? The both of you are going through a lot in terms of not just the training but getting into the mindset of the individuals you guys are playing.

Aaron Eckhart: My job as his trainer and as an actor playing his trainer is to embody that, so right from the beginning we had a few days rehearsal before. Miles was working with a fight trainer and doing choreography and that. I went into the gym, and I just started taking over. I started toweling him off. I would give him sips of water. I would try to wrap his hands. I would be there giving him instructions, telling him commendations, while his own trainer was actually training him. I just wanted to establish as quickly as I possibly could that I was the trainer. I wanted Miles to get used to having me near him, touching him, massaging his shoulders, wrapping his hands, giving him water, giving him instruction. I didn’t let anybody else do it, so when it came to actually filming then it was just second nature. Miles expected me to be there with a bottle. It really paid off working in the film.

Miles Teller, Ben Younger, Aaron Eckhart

Miles Teller, Ben Younger, Aaron Eckhart

We had the Roberto Duran story earlier this year, we have this movie coming out, what goes into seeing a boxing story on screen and attracting an audience when it’s a true story, as opposed to a fictional film Creed?

Aaron Eckhart: Yeah, I mean this true story is extraordinary. The guy breaks his neck, has a halo on his head, becomes three times champ after that. You know, all these sports stories, boxing stories, football stories, they’re all about relationships. That’s what we’re really interested in. We’re interested in personalities, point of view, and relationships. Vinny’s point of view of life is unlike any other person on Planet Earth. The guy is extraordinary. He calls himself the Tasmanian Devil, and that’s exactly what he is. He is a ball of energy. He’s a fighter. He’s a brawler, in life and in the ring, and lives life large. He has no fear of anything. That’s very attractive to watch on film.

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It’s a film about dreams. A guy against everybody else’s advice, his doctors, his family, his trainer, said, “Yeah, I’m going to fight again. I don’t care if I’m going to be dead or paralyzed.” It’s about the comeback. I think it translates. It’s obviously in the boxing milieu, but it’s something that is definitely a relationship piece. It’s a family piece, it’s a comeback story, and a dream story. Everybody loves watching a comeback no matter what, if it’s a sports movie or not.

Saying that, you’ve played obviously Kevin Rooney, Jeff Skiles, Darrell Royal in the last 2 years. Is it easier playing a real life person than a fictional one?

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Aaron Eckhart: It’s interesting because I’ve never played real life guys before. Then, like you just mentioned, I got three in a row. I like it, and I’ll tell you why. When you’re playing a fictional character, it’s fun to go use your imagination, your creativity, and come up with things. When you’re playing a real life guy, you have it all right there in front of you. As long as you do your research and there’s things to look at and people to talk to, you’ve got it all right there. In this case, for Miles, he had Vinny. I unfortunately didn’t have Kevin because he was in the hospital, but it’s great to be able to have that resource. To say, “Hey, what did you do here? What were you thinking there? How’d you feel about that person?” Watching their behavior when they’re not watching you. Picking little things up and then putting little behavioral subtleties in the movie that really sell it. Obviously you’re trying to go for authenticity, and that’s the thing. Whether it’s Darrell Royal or whoever. I kind of like it, actually. I would definitely do it again.

What’s next for you?

Aaron Eckhart: I’m going to try to direct something so I can completely screw it all up. I’ve worked with such good people over the years, actors and directors, and I feel like why don’t I go see if I can tell a story. Maybe I could open up that part of myself. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

Bleed for This opens in theaters on November 23.

Clip – How To Give Up

Clip – A Risk & A Gamble


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