The making of The Fighter is nearly as unlikely as the story of its hero, Micky Ward, the late-blooming scrapper who won a light-welterwight title after years of frustrated dreams. While directors and A-list co-stars bobbed and weaved, Mark Wahlberg kept the project on its feet for years, ultimately recruiting the right talent to land seven Academy Award nominations — including Christian Bale’s and Melissa Leo’s Oscar-winning performances — and earning $93 million (and counting) in domestic box office. With today’s release of The Fighter on DVD and Blu-ray, Wahlberg took time from the New Orleans set of his current film, Contraband, to look back at his most personal film. The savvy actor-producer has finally moved on to other projects: Seth MacFarlane’s Ted starts in May and another pairing with Fighter director David O. Russell that he hopes will be Uncharted is slated for late summer. But if you think the Micky Ward story is completely in Wahlberg’s rearview mirror, well, maybe you’re a little punch-drunk.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is story that’s been part of your life for close to a decade. Does this DVD finally feel like closure for you?
MARK WAHLBERG: It was a miracle that we got the movie made, and it was a miracle that it didn’t go straight to DVD. I thought about that on the ride home [from the Oscars]. It was a good feeling, you know? Before we made the movie, I thought we could make a great movie. But I still didn’t imagine it would go on to do all those things: to be that successful at the box office, winning those awards, getting all those nominations. So it definitely exceeded expectations.
If you could go back to when this whole adventure started, knowing what you know now — knowing all the people who would sign on and then drop out — is there anything you’d do differently? Or is this the way that it had to happen?
It is, because it mirrors Micky’s struggle to get his family to be in his corner where they would be productive and to go out and do the impossible and win the title. I’ve enjoyed everything that’s happened, and it was well worth the struggle to get it made.
The awards season can be grueling, but it’s got to be nice to get dressed up to have people celebrate your work. Was there a highlight for you?
All of it certainly, but being at the Oscars and having some of the people that I admire come up to me and talk about how they loved the movie, how proud they thought that I should be.
What was the nicest thing someone you really respected said about the film?
There were many things. Robert De Niro, going on and on and on about my performance — how difficult it is to play a part like [Micky Ward], such a quiet and internal performance. Warren Beatty saying that it reminded him of him when he was younger.
I’m glad De Niro said that, because Hollywood has a tendency to underrate portrayals that might be deemed too normal, which is unfair because playing normal is often the most difficult job in a film. Is that something you gave much thought to?
I remember Micky calling me and apologizing. He was upset that I didn’t get nominated [for best actor]. I was like, “It’s all good, dude.” He was like, “No, if I had been crazier in real life, you woulda gotten it.” [Laughs] I was like, “Dude, don’t worry about it.”
Lots of people said no to this project, so no one would blame you for taking the opportunity during awards season to toss around a few I-told-you-sos?
Well, I wasn’t throwing them at the people who didn’t do the project. I just threw them at the people who did, because I told them it was going to be something special. It was nice to be right.
You’ve earned the right to enjoy the film’s success.
Well, I certainly took some time off and enjoyed the fruits of my labor and stuffed my face, drank a lot of wine, and then had a lot of people say, “Dude, you don’t look the same.” [When I first] showed up on the set of this movie, they were like, “Dude, you can’t show up to work looking like that. They’re expecting you to be in shape like you were for The Fighter.”
This is for Contraband?
Yeah, it’s a remake of an Icelandic film, and I play a guy who was a world-class smuggler and who’s left that world behind for his wife and children. My younger brother-in-law gets in trouble in the merchant marine world and has some very shady people after him, so I go back for one last run to fix this problem for him. We’ve been having a lot of fun, shooting it down-and-dirty very much like The Fighter. But it’s very different from my performance in The Fighter. There’s a lot of energy, excitement, and humor.
And you’re back in fighting shape now?
I weigh about 185. But it’s still solid. Ready to throw down. I got bit by the bug, and now I’m trying to plant the idea in everyone’s head that we should do — not five or six Fighters like Rocky — but one more because the big thing that Micky Ward was famous for was his three epic battles with Arturo Gatti. So we’re talking about possibly taking one more run at it.
I assume a sequel would include much of the same cast?
Yeah. Everybody had such an amazing experience making the movie that I can’t imagine they wouldn’t want to go back. But it’s still kind in the early stages.
I’m not the guy who has to take a punch, but just the thought of resuming all that punishing fitness work makes me ache.
Well, I’ve got my sparring partner sitting right in front of me. We did about ten rounds yesterday. And in between shooting this movie that I’m doing, we had a couple of hours off while they shot another couple of scenes, so we flew back to the hotel, got in our boxing gear, boxed, took a shower, and went back to the set.
So I take it that boxing ring you built at your home isn’t going anywhere?
No. I can’t get rid of it. We’ll replace it with an octagon for mixed martial arts.
Are Micky and Dickie excited about the idea of a sequel?
They’re both thrilled by the possibility. I just keep getting the phone calls.
From Micky, yeah. Saying, “Make sure you get it done.”