"Bleed For This" movie with Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart

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'Bleed for This' Cast on Bringing Boxer Vinny Paz's Life to the Big Screen

Pete Hammond, Ben Younger, Katey Sagal, Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller talk "Bleed for This" at the KCET Cinema Series.
Pete Hammond, Ben Younger, Katey Sagal, Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller talk "Bleed for This" at the KCET Cinema Series. | Photo: Emily Merkley

The KCET Cinema Series continued its winter season at ArcLight Cinemas, Sherman Oaks on November 1 with Open Road Films' "Bleed For This." Based on the true story of boxer Vinny Paz and his miraculous recovery from a devastating car accident, the film stars Miles Teller as the young and unstoppable athlete. Teller was on hand at Tuesday night's screening, along with Katey Sagal, who plays his mother Louise, Aaron Eckhart, who portrays Paz's dynamic trainer Kevin Rooney, and writer/director Ben Younger. The Q&A session was led by KCET Cinema Series host Pete Hammond and a portion of the conversation appears below. 

The KCET Cinema Series is generously sponsored by the E. Hofert Dailey Trust. It offers audiences the unique opportunity to see advanced screenings of the season's most talked about films along with insightful post-screening Q&As with top studio talent. The winter KCET Cinema Series is sold out and the next series will begin in spring 2017.

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Ben Younger on what drew him to "Bleed for This." 

I did not know Vinny's story. His childhood friend, Chad Verdi, who is a producer on the movie, he brought the story to me. Vinny wanted his story told. He knew that it was exceptional and we sort of found the right combination to put it through.

I wasn't a huge boxing fan. You asked me how I connected to it, it was more the idea that I, and no one I know, had anything in their life that they care so much about that they would risk paralysis for. I couldn't believe that he made this choice. We didn't embellish it. The guy broke his neck and he was like, "I'm going to come back and fight again." 

It's more than true. We had to pull back from the truth in certain ways because you guys wouldn't believe it if I told you or showed you. For example, you know that amazing scene where Miles is lifting the bar? Painful to watch. Felt like, what, 30 days after the halo surgery? In real life, Vinny did that five days after the halo went on. 

Miles Teller on taking on the role of Vinny Paz.

I never really had to really assemble a team of people truly to help me achieve a character and build for the part. The first thing I did, Ben offered me the part, I stepped on a scale and I was 188 pounds and 19 percent body fat, which is not a good number. It was good for the roles I was playing. I was playing the funny friend. That's a good body shape for that. Plus, I just never wanted to be that actor with a six pack. That's not acting. It's stupid. The first thing I did was I got a nutritionist and a trainer and in those eight months, I was filming two movies in-between but I just worked out, dieted and, towards the end, I got in with a boxing trainer, Darrell Foster. He trained Sugar Ray Leonard for 18 years. By the time I got to set, I lost 20 pounds and I was down to six percent body fat. To me, that's just bare minimum to get in the door. That opening scene, you got to weigh in and you got to look like a boxer. I knew the diet was the preliminary aspect.

It's eight months. You're not eating bread. I think I drank once. I think I drank on Halloween. I was like, I'm going to give myself this. No candy, but I'll drink a little beer. It's super strict.

I just surrounded myself with people who did more than me and everything that they told me I was going to do; I didn't cheat on the plan. I didn't deviate from it because I knew that genetically, I was not, I was not that dude. I have buddies that workout once a week and eat McDonald's and are jacked. I just didn't have that in my blood. I wish. That was tough. I had to gain 15 pounds once we started filming because Vinny moved up in weight and he won belts in at least three classes. That's also part of his legacy. That's hard to do in 24 days. When he says, "I'm moving you up," you've got to show that. I didn't have much time, but I had to gain 15 pounds in a short amount of time. 

Miles Teller in "Bleed for This"
Miles Teller in "Bleed for This."

Miles Teller on wearing the halo for his role. 

I had more fitting for my boots than we did for this halo. I got to Providence. The girl got it from a hospital. I tried it on once. They're like, "this will work, in theory." I showed up on set and I had to put it on. It was everyone's first time with this thing and it's not like the girl had this huge history with it. I had no idea, so we did a couple takes with it. Ben is like, "it doesn't matter what you did in the take. It's emotional. It's honest..." And Ben just comes over and says — and Ben hated this — Ben says, "I'm so sorry but the thing moved up and down while you were doing it. You can't use that take. We just put, I was like, whatever, just get it in there so that it doesn't move. We put little rubber pieces on the end and we put it so far into my head that I could feel, I had little grooves, or little indentations, to where it was and I could feel when it was in the right spot. 

Compared to what Vinny went through, it's really not much for an actor to go through. Yeah, it's a lot. It's 12 hours a day, uncomfortable, but it puts you in the right place. 

Miles Teller on meeting Vinny Paz. 

The weeks leading up to it, Ben was asking if I wanted Vinny there, so I said, honestly, my first response was no... I was so intimidated by this man that I was going to play, this guy's reputation, his legacy. He wasn't just a boxer. He was a warrior. Everybody knew who Vinny was, you couldn't beat him. You couldn't take him down. He was an animal. 

The one day that I said, "absolutely, let's make sure he's on set" was the halo bench press because neither Ben nor myself nor anyone I could ask would know how to do that, except for Vinny. So, Vinny came on set and showed me how to do it. That's all honest. Once everybody showed up with Katey and Aaron and Ciarán and the set pieces, we're filming in Providence, it all felt so authentic. I felt that Ben could roll the camera at any time. All the actors were so locked in, in a weird way, I wanted Vinny to see himself and see his family 25 years ago. His mom and dad have passed away. I felt really proud of the kind of movie we were making. At that point I said, "if he wants to come on set," but movie-making was very boring to Vinny because you got to light and then do all these things and you got to roll for, whatever, 30 seconds, a minute and then you've got to relight and stuff. So he's like, "Alright, I'm out. See you at Foxwoods."

Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller in "Bleed for This"
Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller in "Bleed for This."

Aaron Eckhart on preparing to play boxing trainer Kevin Rooney. 

I've been boxing training for about 20 years, ever since I did "Erin Brockovich." So, I knew it a little bit, saw a picture of Kevin, looked him up and said, OK, got to get to that guy.

I went through a great boxing trainer here, Freddie Roach, took me through his training camp with Pacquiao and Bradley, so I stuck it out and went to Vegas with them, was in the locker room before and after. Freddie taught me everything I know about training, about doing the mitts, about the psychology of a fighter, the psychology of an opponent. The whole chess game. Then Kevin Rooney Jr., Kevin's son, was fighting in the Algieri camp when Pacquiao fought him later that year, so I went to that camp and I hung out with Kevin Rooney Jr. and he told me about his father and his training style, his technique. Then I went to the internet and got everything I could on his fights because Kevin was a fighter himself and had many interviews. Anything I could. 

When I was in Vegas, I met all the old promoters who knew Kevin. They told me stories. As Miles said, in Rhode Island everybody had a story. So, by the time we were filming, we were well educated. 

We have a responsibility because these are real people and they're living and you have to respect, reverence for them. I want to look like him. Everyone on the set was really committed to this film, these characters. It was very important for us to portray this family as they lived, as they are. It's important to Rhode Island as well. Ben took that seriously. I put on the pounds. The moment I cut my hair is the moment I knew I was doing the movie. It was great. It put you in character. 

Katey Sagal on playing Vinny Paz's mother, Louise. 

There were lots of pictures of her and she was kind of behind the scenes. Ben had a lot of information about her, about the family, so I too wanted to physically take on her blonde hair, her shoulder pads, her glitzy sweaters. 

She had these boisterous men around her. They were kind of the divas of the house. So, I think that's how I sort of looked at it. They were the bigger-than-life. From what I found out about her, she was the homebody, kept everything real and kept it all going. 

Who was it? Vinny told us that story about how she walked to the market. She didn't drive. She would walk to the market. She would bring the groceries home. She would make dinner. 

It was a lot of duality. She smoked cigarettes. She knew what was going on, but she relied more on her faith to watch over her son.

She couldn't watch the fight, but she's listening. She can hear it. 

What I thought was, and I didn't have the benefit of really talking to her, but I think that she thought the ultimate way to control and protect her son was to be the conduit to God and that if she prayed hard enough, he would be OK. That was her part in it. 

Katey Sagal in "Bleed for This"
Katey Sagal in "Bleed for This."

Ben Younger on Vinny Paz's reaction to the film.

When we showed Vinny the film for the first time, a year ago in New York, he cried through most of the movie, but not at the parts you would imagine. It wasn't the big wins or the accident, it was when he saw his mom making lasagna or when he saw his mom at that altar that she had made in the living room. All the other stuff he can access on YouTube. That's all stuff you can Google. When he reacted to your performance, I knew that we had gotten the family dynamic right. He was really moved by it. He didn't think we would have been able to recreate it to that extent.

Miles Teller on the wardrobe for the film. 

Melissa Vargas was our costume designer and she just killed it. We didn't have much of a budget. She had to tone down Vinny's wardrobe. I've seen him in a rhinestone cowboy outfit [at] a weigh in. The guy knew how to sell a fight and he liked the flash of it. The cheetah print thong in the weigh in, Vinny did that. He was just a showman. Muhammad Ali was his favorite fighter of all time. Vinny had the gift of gab and he backed it up. If you could find a more confident guy than Vinny Paz during this championship runs, then, I don't know, you got to put it in front of my face because the dude was just flowin' and he just loved being himself. 

Ben Younger on filming in Rhode Island.

Vinny lived in Cranston at the time. He still lives in Cranston. It's very hard, it's like a black hole, in a good sense. The neighborhood keeps its inhabitants, we shot the scene where Angelo sees the news piece about Vinny breaking his neck and having the car accident, we shot that in the same room where the real Angelo Pazienza saw his son. There were two extras that day who were there the night that Angelo found out, which is great if you can offer that to your actors because it gets them halfway there. 

Miles Teller talks "Bleed for This" at the KCET Cinema Series.
Miles Teller talks "Bleed for This" at the KCET Cinema Series. | Photo: Emily Merkley

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