Ben Younger Returns to the Director’s Chair with ‘Bleed for This’

Director Ben Younger on the set of BLEED FOR THIS.

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.

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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.

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Miles Teller talks about Boxer Training and Wearing the Halo in ‘Bleed for This’

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Jake Gyllenhaal played one in “Southpaw,” Michael B. Jordan portrayed another in “Creed,” and now Miles Teller gets to put on his own set of gloves to play a boxer in “Bleed for This.” The biographical drama, directed by Ben Younger, focuses on Vinny Paz, a champion boxer from Rhode Island who became Super Middleweight champion of the world after defeating Gilbert Dele in the ring. Paz’s victory, however, is short-lived when he gets seriously injured in a nasty car accident. With his neck broken, his boxing career is assumed to be over by everyone, but he became determined to regain his title through a brutal rehabilitation regimen, and this led to one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

Teller recently sat down for an interview and talked at length about how he trained and prepared to play Paz in “Bleed for This.” He also discussed what it was like to wear the halo Paz opted to wear in an effort to repair his neck. The boxer’s doctors initially encouraged him to undergo spinal fusion which would have ensured his ability to walk again but also would have erased any chance of him getting back into the ring. Paz chose the halo instead, and it involved having a number of screws drilled into his head in order to ensure this apparatus would keep it in one place for months.

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Question: Did growing up in South Jersey help you with your accent?

Miles Teller: The Jersey accent is different. It’s just impossible to sound intelligent honestly, especially in South Jersey. The Northwest is just a specific kind of energy and people, and even though Rhode Island is totally different from New Jersey… I’ve just been around those guys, so I think it probably added something to the kind of relation that I found to Vinny.

Q: What was the most difficult thing that Vinny had as a person for you to get for the movie?

MT: The physicality was very tough. To get that look for me to just be able to have the conditioning to be able to shoot a boxing fight for a 16-hour day. The last two fights were back-to-back days. Each fight took one day which is unheard of. We shot the movie in 24 days. To even just look like a boxer… I had to shoot two movies in between, but that was eight months of just a very strict diet and working out. I lost 20 pounds and got down to 6% body fat for the first fight, but Vinny also moved up in weight and won the title of Lightweight and Super Middleweight, and we showed that. That’s also something very unique and special to Vinny’s legacy. He and Roberto Durán were the only two guys to win titles in those two weight classes specifically. So, I started at 160 and then I had to gain 15 pounds to get to 183 in like 2 ½ weeks. But once I had to gain weight, that was fun. It was just like Dunkin Donuts in Federal Hill. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Providence, but Federal Hill has amazing Italian food.

Q: But while you were eating a lot, you still had to be boxing.

MT: I got cast two and a half years ago. We filmed it two years ago. This was pre- “Whiplash.” I had never done anything like this where I just got to play like a man or a world champion boxer. Even when I was on set, if I had any time in between I was always doing something like push-ups or sit-ups because I knew I didn’t walk into this movie with this God-given talent of being in shape. They tell you just get a workout and diet, but I think I went anti that early in my career because I was just like, I don’t want to be that guy with the six pack and a tan who’s worried about his makeup and stuff.

Q: Did doing this movie help you to appreciate the nuances of boxing, or is that something you already had as a sports fan?

MT: I was a big MMA fan and I still am, but I started watching it when it was the WCE when I was in high school; I was 16 years old. And then with boxing, I always played the video games and I always watch certain guys like Tyson and Holyfield and Lennox Lewis; the heavyweights back then were the big draws. But once you start training in it, you realize it is very highly nuanced. I don’t see it as two guys in a blood sport. I see it as technique.

Q: The mind is very important to being a champion boxer? Strategy?

MT: Yeah, for sure, but that’s what they say: you have a game plan until you get hit in the face, and then it all goes away. We didn’t have a ton of time. I only had about five weeks in Los Angeles with my boxing trainer, and he was Sugar Ray Leonard’s trainer for 18 years. He was just a very high-level guy. The first fight in the movie against Roger Mayweather, I had five days to work with that boxer. The second boxer, we had a day and a half. And the third boxer, this dude Edmund Rodriguez, got in a fight, professionally, that he wasn’t supposed to. He told Ben (Younger, the director) he wasn’t going to fight, got in a fight, luckily knocked the dude out, didn’t get messed up, flew down, and I honestly only had maybe like a day with him.

Q: You also had to wear the halo in this movie. What was it like reading about that in the script and then wearing it for however long?

MT: For the beginning physical transformation, it was eight months of all that stuff that you hear. You can’t eat any bread or drink for that time. You’re just eating like a rabbit and hoping it all pays off. This guy dedicated like everything in his life to this, so it would’ve been very immature of me to slack off and mess with that. As far as the halo goes, that was highly uncomfortable. Again, you don’t like to complain because, for Vinny, it was screwed in his head. But for me, it wasn’t actually screwed in my head so we really had to make it as tight as possible because if the thing moves at all, then it doesn’t matter what you just did in that take. You only get so many takes, but it’s not usable because when it moves, people understand it’s not real. If this was like a big-budget studio film, I would have had a ton of fittings with it. I just did a firefighter movie and I had more fittings with my boots than I did for this thing. The girl just went to a hospital in Providence and got one from them, and then we put little rubber pieces on the end and just put it so far up my head that I could tell when it was in the right spot because I just had indentations on my head.

“Bleed for This” opens in theaters on Friday, November 18th.

Ben Of The Marathon

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After a week away from Los Angeles Marathon training due to my covering the press day for “Bleed for This,” which had me occupying the same room with Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal and director Ben Younger, I arrived back at Griffith Park in Burbank to join up with my fellow Team to End AIDS runners for an 8-mile run. There was a big running event going on in the Hollywood area this morning, but I managed to avoid the road closures placed in everyone’s path and got to Griffith Park right on schedule.

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Having been away for a week, it kind of feels like I have been away for a month. On one hand, I got to meet up with my friend Marta who has returned to train with T2EA. On the other, I found myself meeting a new bunch of runners whose names I hope to memorize by next week. Being in the 15-minute pace group, we were expected to run at a 3:1 pace. Some of the other runners, however, were a bit iffy about as they weren’t sure they would do well at this pace. In retrospect, I wonder if I might need to adjust my pace as I was struggling the last few miles.

This run took us outside of Griffith Park and into familiar areas of Burbank. We went as far as Magnolia Street where we reached the turnaround point, and then we headed back to our starting point and prayed we would reach it in one piece. The zipper on one of my pouches broke before I boarded the LA Metro train for the AIDS Walk a couple of weeks ago, so I was left with just with this little camera bag to hold all my energy goodies. I prided myself on how I didn’t need to consume any energy blocks or gels on this run, but I would have benefited from taking at least one of them.

I was determined to watch my speed this time around, and I did take it easy at the start even though my fellow pace group members were not in sync when it came to starting our watches and phone apps at the same time. Having said that, I used it as an excuse to reach my walking break sooner than my watch would allow me.

When I am running, it is ever so easy for me to get lost in my own thoughts. This form of exercise has always been great for me in terms of relieving myself of endless anxiety and depression, but it also keeps me from staying in the moment when I need to. I’m always trying to remain conscious of my form as I always feel I am slouching forward too much. This shit always catches me by surprise, and I keep kicking myself as a result.

On my way to Griffith Park, I tried to get into the mood by playing music off of my soundtrack/movie score iPod which had on shuffle. I guess I was trying to find a piece of music which really got my mojo going, and I kept pressing the next track button in an effort to get to it. The best I could come up with on my route was “Insensatez” by Antônio Carlos Jobim which is featured on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.” The word insensatez means “how insensitive” in English, but in Portuguese it means “absurdity” or “folly.” Being that this is my seventh year in a row where I have trained for the Los Angeles Marathon, I can’t help but wonder if my decision to do it yet again is an absurdity or a folly of sorts. Well, one thing’s for sure, I’m being very insensitive to my knees which have long since given up trying to argue with me.

For some odd reason, the theme song to “George of the Jungle” kept playing in my head as I ran through the streets of Burbank. Maybe the rhythm of the song is what kept me energized as my energy began to run low. Either that or it was someone’s way of reminding me of how easy it can be to get into an accident when you don’t pay attention to immovable objects around you. George was certainly a muscular dude who knew the jungle and the animals which inhabited it very well, but his confidence typically got the best of him when it came to swinging on those vines. There’s nothing wrong with having an ego, but never let your ego get overinflated. You’ll end up running into something hard which will remind you of something you should damn well know already: you’re not indestructible.

Once back at Griffith Park, we were all witness to a terrifying sight: JC eating dill pickle soup. Now anybody who knows JC knows the man despises pickles with a passion, but he offered to consume it for the sake of raising money for APLA. Like him, we will do anything to complete our fundraising goals, and this was his ultimate sacrifice to appease all the donors out there. With all due respect to the Bolivers, who made the soup, it really did look like puke. I had to turn away from JC after he took his first taste and his face got all scrunched up. I’ve already vomited enough this year, and 2016 has been the year to vomit all over.

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Looking back, I did a good job on this 8-mile run, but now I need to step up my game in terms of training. In addition to my two maintenance runs, I need to get in some cardio workouts whether it’s at the gym or by using Wii Fit. Laugh all you want; those Nintendo games really give me a heart-racing workout.

This marks the last run before Daylight Savings Time ends, a time of year I never look forward to, and that’s regardless of the fact it gives us an extra hour of sleep. When it gets darker early in the evening, it makes me feel like the day has already ended and that I am up way past my bedtime. I hate that. It’s also the last run before this clusterfuck of a Presidential election FINALLY concludes. We could be looking at a very different America depending on who gets elected to the Oval Office. Let’s hope justice wins out in the end.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: To date, I have raised $237.50 for AIDS Project Los Angeles, and I invite you kindly to help me reach my goal before the end of 2016. Just click here to make a donation. No donation is too small or too big, and it will go directly towards helping those who need it. Thank you for reading.