There’s a spoiler at the heart of Foxcatcher that you either know or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re going to walk into the movie not knowing what the fuck you’re watching, frankly. The real-life event casts a shadow over everything that precedes it (though maybe that’s just my perspective as someone who went in knowing how the story ends). That event gets brought up here, so if you want to walk into the film completely fresh, save this for later.
That said, this was a press conference-style press day with stars Steve Carrell & Channing Tatum, director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote) and writers E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman(!). Lots of journalists, a grab bag of questions. Here we go…
Channing, it looks like you took some hard hits in this movie, can you talk about what that was like? Did any of them stay with you? And also working with Mr. Carrell and Mark Ruffalo, what did you admire about them and what was it like working with them?
Channing Tatum: Yeah, the hard hits. I don’t think they’ll ever leave my body, for sure. You can’t fake wrestling, we learned very, very quickly. You can fake a punch, camera-wise, but with wrestling you just have to go ahead and do it. You really need to see the hand go upside the face and the head butting and everything else. So it was by far, and I don’t say this lightly, the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically. I’ve done a lot of sports, a lot of martial arts—it was a suffocating and very painful thing, but at the end of the day, I just have to say that I’m so in awe of those athletes and very proud to have been given such amazing time and focus from some of the most amazing athletes I’ve ever worked with. It was a blessing. Mark and Steve…
Steve Carrell: Yeah, I’m curious…
Channing Tatum: His physical ability…
Steve Carrell: He picked me up like I was a sack of sugar (laughter) and laid me gently down on the mat.
Channing Tatum: I think Bennett is probably the better person to answer this, but Steve is actually a great athlete and we had to be like, “less good, Steve.” But I was in awe of just getting to work with him. They’re (Carrell and Ruffalo) so in control of what they do, acting-wise. Steve’s ability to stay in a scene where I was just confused — and being like, “wow” –because the way that Bennett shoots, he just does reels. He turns on the camera and we just go. So Steve’s ability to stay in it was unbelievably deep. Mark, I mean, he’s actually my big brother now. I’ve said it to him, like, “whether you want it or not, I’m your little brother now.”
In the film there’s that great scene where you and Mr. Ruffalo are practicing (wrestling) blocks and it takes on this form of communication. You do tremendous things in this film with silence. Can you talk about the silent aspects of working on this film?
Tatum: Yeah, wrestling is… there’s a lot being said to one another without talking. You know, you’re in a quiet gym and you just hear grunts and slams and slaps and breathing hard. The way that you hand fight, it’s a bit of a chess match. You’re constantly baiting and trying to set up something that you want. And I think that throughout Mark and I’s journey through finding these two men in us, we had to go through a lot of very humbling and—you don’t feel like you’re doing very well, at all, especially in the beginning when you’re learning—and one person is getting something better than you are. I think Mark and I were both just there for each other throughout that learning process. Knowing what each other were struggling with, we learned on a very small level what it is to just be there for someone on that level. That scene specifically—there were about 20 other pages before that scene where Rufalo and I were talking and he’s being a big brother—and we could just throw it out, because you can see it all in that one scene. I think it has a lot to do with all that time and that friendship that we created through wrestling.
What struck me for both of you was your movement. Channing, when you walk, there’s a very specific walk that you have and for Steve, your movement really blew me away because I’ve only known one “old money” person in my life and you moved just like him.
Carrell: So all “old money” people move like that?
It was very much like the person I knew! So did either of you work with a movement coach or was it through watching video?
Carrell: (To Tatum) I mean, you had Mark (Schultz) to emulate…
Tatum: I got to hang out with Mark a lot. The way he moves is so—I mean, I just copied him—I wish I had some sort of “actor reason” why I want to move like that, but it was just him. How he held his fork, he was just like a really dangerous animal and he moved through life in that way. He wanted people to be afraid of him.
Carrell: And there was tape on (John) DuPont and I just watched as much as I could.
Mr. Carrell, my question is for you—great performance, by the way—could you talk about preparing to play this character and how you got into his mindset and understand his motivations for your performance?
Carrell: I thought a lot about how sad a person he was. His parents divorced when he was two-years old. He grew up in this enormous house, essentially with just he and his mother, who by all accounts was a pretty chilly person. So I thought a lot about that. Who he was growing up. Surrounded and insulated by wealth. I think he was lonely and in need of things that he didn’t have the tools to acquire. So starting with that, I think that helped me along the way. That was at least what I thought about. he was somebody who was in need of assistance. He didn’t have a circle of friends, he had a circle of employees, so no one was going to intervene. He didn’t have anyone who was there to see the red flags. And that’s incredibly tragic and sad to me. So I never approached him as a villain, I approached him in that way.
To some extent, my question was superseded by the last one, but perhaps I can expand on it. Specifically, to Bennett (Miller), Max (Frye) and Dan (Futterman), what do you think were the real reasons that John killed Dave that morning? If you could recreate what you put into the mind of that character on that morning…
Bennett Miller: The film really resists the temptation of concluding anything. Pat of the style of the film is to not slap a label on anything and to allow that satisfaction and allow us to stop thinking about what we’re seeing of this complex case created by these relationships. There’s a lot within the film to mull over about his condition, his character. I think those are the relevant things. But the film purposefully denies you that satisfaction of saying, “oh, that’s what it was.” It denies the invitation, at least, to stop thinking about it. But you guys (Max and Dan) might want to add to that.
E. Max Frye: To go along with what Bennett just said, it was to our benefit that there was never any explanation given to what happened. John never gave an interview where he said, “I did it, because…” So that allowed us to pursue what Bennett just said. Because there was no conclusion in real life…so that’s left, basically to the audience.
This question is for Mr. Carrell and Mr. Tatum: you two both go to some dark places, how did you come out of that? Did you have to do that on a daily basis or was that just at the end of the shoot?
Tatum: I’m still there…
Carrell: I hear Channing chuckling (laughs). Was it on a daily basis? I don’t know about you (to Tatum), but all of it was pretty dark and a lot of it, I think, was because Bennett sets a tone and it’s not a light, lively, effervescent place to be (laughs).
Miller: Thank you.
Carrell: (laughs) Um, but I think that was important. Everyone took it very seriously and I think what added to that were the people that were there. I mean, Mark (Schultz) was there and Dave’s widow was there for a time and they were being very generous and I think we all felt a kind of responsibility to them to be as honest as we could. So yeah, it wasn’t fun.
Tatum: I can’t say anything better than that. We all just came in with the intention of just going on this ride with Bennett. He says to jump and we say how high or how low and just stayed in it.
(This next question tries to be clever by referencing “Nothing Was The Same” by Drake, but it totally confused the people on stage, so I’ll just paraphrase the question completely)
Did you know that this film would be something special, something magical and that things wouldn’t be the same after this film?
Carrell: Well, based on this press conference, people are referring to me as “Mr. Carrell.” (Big laughs) That in and of itself is a change. I’ve never experienced that before. I don’t know, you get to work with someone like Bennett and actors like Channing and Mark and it’s a different experience. The change for me is that I want to do more of THIS. It was challenging and exciting and I felt like it meant something. And in terms of the response the film is getting, it’s very rewarding that it is resonating with people. So that change for me is that this is something that I want to do—you know, I don’t know if I’ll do anything on this level again—but I will aspire to.
Tatum: I just think they’re all different muscles. You know, comedy doesn’t come easy to me. I’ve only done two movies that are really comedies and I have to work at them and they’re just as scary in a way. I hate labeling these things as comedies, love stories, mysteries, dark dramas, but whatever. I’ve only ever played one other person who was real before, and the stakes are very, very high. I have to live with Mark Schultz in the world and hope that I did some kind of justice by him. So things are very tangible and you’re not just in some high stakes, make-believe game. I enjoyed going deeper than I’d ever gone. I can’t say I’d want to do something like this forever, but I want to find the kind of people that I want to do them with and then go do them.
(A remarkably stupid question about how Foxcatcher was supposed to come out last year and if the director feels like he has a better chance at winning an Academy Award now that the film was pushed back. It’s so dumb, I won’t even rephrase it.)
Miller: First of all, you’re right that the film was originally slated to be released last year and it got pushed. But the reason it got pushed was because we were still working on it and we needed a few more months and there’s no other factor to it. I should pause and acknowledge the producers who stood at that juncture and determined that we could work hard and fast and make the date or at some expense to Megan Ellison, she could determine that what she cared about most was that the film became what it wanted to be. It was decided that at some expense and some inconvenience to the distributor (Sony Classics) that we wanted to work on it a little bit more. And that’s the only consideration that went into that.
This question is for Mr. Frye and Bennett…
Miller: Why am I not “Mr. Miller?”
What was the scene that changed most between the page and the day?
Miller: The first thing that comes to mind was that helicopter scene. The way that we worked on developing the film and the way that the screenplay was written was for me more novelistic or an attempt to really understand who these people were and what happened and how to coordinate these facts into something that could work on a larger journalistic level but also with an element of allegory to it. And let that inform everything we do and have that be a guide. So more was understood and more was written about than could ever fit into a little film with the understanding that all of it is going to inform the shoot with the knowledge that things happen. In the case of the helicopter scene, which Steve can speak to, it was just a spontaneous moment where he started repeating, “Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist, ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist…” How that kind of thing happens is, it begins with the material, the research and the atmosphere that allows actors to explore and be spontaneous. It’s the final realization on the day of shooting it.
Frye: When Bennett and I worked on that particular scene, Mr. Carrell was just a gleam in somebody else’s eye. We had no idea who would play that role and I think that’s a testament to that actors that, when you’re on the set—I don’t care what’s on the page—that’s what you hope actors will bring to it. But that was never written down, so thank you, Mr. Carrell.
It’s nothing new to see people we love from comedic performances moving into dramatic work, but was this something you knew you had in you?
Carrell: Oh yeah, I’m very dark. I’m very dark inside. It’s not a part I would have campaigned for. I wouldn’t have thought, “I need to get in touch with Bennett and throw my hat into the ring.” At the same time, when Bennett called me in and we discussed it, I trusted him. The fact that he thought I was capable of doing it allowed me to believe it.
Channing, with all of the different kinds of movies you’ve done, what kind of personal satisfaction do you get out of playing real characters like the one you do here and it A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints?
Tatum: It’s really the journey that you get to go on with the people that you do them with. I like playing someone else, but ultimately they’re just version of that person because I can’t put everything that Mark Schultz is in a 90 minute movie. I can’t do that. But you try to be as honest as you can possibly be on the walk and just keep digging every day. And I don’t say this as a bad thing, but I don’t think we left a day feeling like, “oh my god, we just crushed that scene.” You just don’t. In a movie like this, it’s a constant, “I think we did alright.” I think the satisfaction is knowing that we left it all out there. I gave it all the colors I could possibly give so that someone else could go paint a picture.
Dan (Futterman), I was actually there on your last day of Judging Amy, so I witnessed your transition from being someone in front of the camera to someone behind the scenes and eventually winning the Oscar. Iw as wondering if you see any of that in these two men and if either of them have similar aspirations to get behind the camera instead of in front of it and if any of you would encourage them to do so?
Futterman: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana won the Oscar (for Brokeback Mountain), I didn’t. But…I was very frustrated at a certain point in my career, mostly because of my limitations as an actor, where I was getting certain kinds of roles and I wanted other kinds of roles. And at that time I got very hooked on the story of Truman Capote and the writing of In Cold Blood and it was something that I wanted to explore. Whenever I’ve written, I can think of other actors who would be better at playing those parts than myself, so I have no interest in writing for myself. But I can’t tell you the joy of sitting and seeing this movie. It’s like a Lazarus-like experience. Bennett and I spent years together, but before that, Bennett and Max spent years together thinking about these characters, going through every scene. Bennett is extremely meticulous in examining every moment. And then you hand it off and it’s Bennett’s to take and make something out of it. And these guys breathed incredible life into these roles and it’s a thrill to see that happen and it’s rare. Whether they should get behind camera? I made a transition because I felt like I needed to. If they’re moved to do that, then of course they should. I think their talents are incredible.
Miller: I’m gonna just discourage it, I think they shouldn’t (laughter).
Carrell: And based on that, I will never direct (laughter). Because whatever Bennett says, I will do.
Tatum: I’ll go do it and fail and be like, “you were right.” (laughter)
Miller: I don’t know about Steve, but Channing is going to do it, and he’s doing it before too long, and I have high confidence in him. I think it’s going to be special, I really do.
Tatum: Thanks, buddy.