Ben Younger made his directorial debut with “Boiler Room” in 2000, but “Bleed for This” marks his first directorial effort since “Prime,” and that film was released over a decade ago. After failing to get his Isle of Man racing movie off the ground, he withdrew for a time to Costa Rica where he became a pilot, cooked in a restaurant, and even raced professionally on motorcycles for a year. When it came to making “Bleed for This,” he originally approached it as a writing assignment and had no intention of directing it.
“Bleed for This” tells the true-life story of champion boxer Vinny Paz (played by Miles Teller) who, after winning a fight, is involved in a nasty car crash which leaves him with a broken neck. Many tell him his boxing career is over as a result, but Vinny is determined to repair the damage and get back in the ring. That he succeeded in doing so makes his comeback one of the greatest ever in sports history.
While at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California, Younger explained what finally made him want to tell this story.
Ben Younger: Simply because of the comeback. Vinny won 50 fights, I don’t know if you guys knew that. I’m sure to real boxing aficionados that would be an exciting thing. I’m not one of them. For me, it was all about the crash and the comeback. I started this as a writing assignment. I wasn’t supposed to direct this. I didn’t think I wanted to direct it. But once I realized there was a parallel between his story and mine… You guys know I took a long time off. I didn’t make a movie for 12 years which is kind of like having a broken neck.
So yes, “Bleed for This,” like every other movie released these days, is “based on a true story.” This term has long since lost its meaning as filmmakers tend to embellish the real-life events they are portraying to where they resemble something which feels canned and artificial. Younger, however, sought to pull back from this, and his explanation led to my question regarding certain things I figured filmmakers do their best to avoid.
BY: In every other way, we had to reverse embellishment. For example, that scene with Vinny lifting the bar? That happened five days after the Halo went on in real life. I couldn’t present that because no one would believe it. Same for Ciarán Hinds’ performance of Angelo (Vinny’s father). Angelo was such a colorful character that he bordered on a caricature of an Italian-American in New England. If I showed him as he was, you would say I was racist or we would’ve made a comedy.
Ben Kenber: It’s interesting because when it comes to East Coast people, I think a lot of us have a sort of a specific view which might seem clichéd in the way they are portrayed on-screen. How did you manage to keep it to where it felt like the actors and the accents felt natural and not clichéd?
BY: That was a fear. Boxing wise, there are so many clichés. Those I was like, we are going to avoid those, those are easier to avoid. But this is tougher because the actual accents can in themselves sound caricature like. So, we had a great dialect coach, Tom Jones (not the singer), a really talented guy, and we prayed and we were just careful and we really listened. I wasn’t looking at the monitors. I just stood next to the camera and just stared. You know when someone’s full of shit and when they’re someone they’re not, and you just can tell when they are getting it. Even if you don’t know the world, there’s just something if you really pay attention.
One thing which astonished me about “Bleed for This” was how several of the actors were unrecognizable in their roles. This is especially the case with Aaron Eckhart who plays Vinny’s coach Kevin Rooney, Ted Levine who plays boxing promoter Lou Duva, and Katey Sagal who portrays Vinny’s mother, Louise. One person even told me he didn’t realize it was Sagal in the role until her name came up during the end credits. I brought this up to Younger, and he responded with the following.
BY: That’s the nicest compliment you can pay an actor. They really want to disappear (into their roles). That’s more them than me, but thank you.
Another highlight of this interview was when Younger was asked which movie inspired him to become a filmmaker. His answer was not at all what anyone could have expected.
BY: No one’s ever asked me this question strangely, and I’ve been avoiding it for 16 years because I have to tell the truth. It is Steven Seagal’s “Above the Law.” It was his first movie, I was 16 years old, I cut school. I was going to a Yeshiva, like a Jewish seminary school, and I cut and I went and saw it. It was the first time I realized that someone made movies and that there were people behind it and some thought had gone into it. It was mostly that opening. There’s archival footage in the first 30 seconds. It’s footage of Seagal as a 19 or 20-year-old studying martial arts in the Far East cut together with the narrative they were doing which was about him being a CIA operative. The movie holds up. I see it probably once a year and it’s completely watchable.
Truth be told, Younger is correct. “Above the Law” featured Seagal in his prime, and it does still hold up. Some might see the movie as a guilty pleasure, but it really is not. It was also directed by Andrew Davis who would later direct Seagal in his biggest hit, “Under Siege,” and gave us the excellent cinematic adaptation of “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. Everything Seagal did following “Under Siege” has proven to be pretty much abysmal.
It’s great to see Younger directing again, and he ended his time by saying he finally got the financing for his Isle of Man movie which is now heading into pre-production. Odds are we will not have to wait 15 years for it to reach the silver screen.
“Bleed for This” is now playing in theaters. Whether you are a boxing fan or not, it is definitely worth checking out.