The stars of “Foxcatcher” knew they were in good hands with director Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”), despite the demanding nature of Sony Pictures Classics’ new drama, which is playing this week at the Toronto Film Festival.
Miller and his cast, including Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, stopped by the Variety Studio to talk about the potential awards contender, which follows the true story of du Pont’s murder of wrestler Dave Schultz.
To say the movie is a shift for Carrell is an understatement, as the actor is almost unrecognizable playing the mentally ill multimillionaire. For him, working with Miller was the first big reason to take on the challenge.
“To work with Bennett was an enormous draw,” he said. “The script was excellent and intriguing and sad and absurdly funny in places and very dark.”
Many may be surprised by Carell’s portrayal of wealthy murderer John du Pont, as the actor is generally known for his benign disposition — which is exactly what “Foxcatcher” director Bennett Miller chose him for.
“The notion of casting somebody who is perceived habitually in a benign way, meaning you don’t expect these characters to be capable of doing the things that this character does, is something that was said about the real John du Pont,” explained Miller. “The little bit I got to know Steve before we decided to go down this road together, I got a very quick impression that he has another side, as I think many comedic actors do, that rarely gets aired out, and he had a willingness to approach this in a serious way.”
Tatum plays wrestler Mark Schultz, and he described the process of taking the part, at first, as “intimidating.”
“It was eight years ago when I read [the script], and it was so much,” he said. “It was so complicated, and I don’t even know if I understood it then. To get to come in and actually try to give it a run was pretty intimidating.”
The movie was a challenge physically as well. Ruffalo said that they were training twice a day — two hours in the morning and four hours in the evening — in the months leading up to the shoot, and, despite his background in wrestling, he had to learn some new tricks.
“I wrestled leading with my right foot, and David Schultz led with his left foot, so I had to really unlearn everything I know as far as moves went, which was pretty frustrating for me,” he said.
When it comes to the real life event of the murder, the men agreed that it wasn’t a huge news story at the time, aside from in wrestling circles. What attracted Miller to it, the director explained, was exploring the relationships between the characters, and what actually happened to lead to such a surprising and tragic outcome.
“What the hell does this extremely wealthy Philadelphia, Delaware heir have in common with these working class wrestlers and why are they on his estate? And what really happened?” he asked. “What led to murder? And trying to understand, essentially, what really happened, what matters. It was, for me, why I was drawn to the story in the first place.”
“Foxcatcher” hits theaters Nov. 14.