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article imageChanning Tatum wrestles with the painful truth for 'Foxcatcher' Special

By Earl Dittman     Nov 24, 2014 in Entertainment
To portray wrestler Mark Schultz in the spellbinding and absorbing new film 'Foxcatcher,' Tatum spent time with the Olympic athlete and endured months of excruciating training in order to deliver one astonishingly gripping and authentic performance.
To physically prepare for the role of Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz in director Bennett Miller's brilliant and compelling new motion picture, Foxcatcher, Channing Tatum not only studied the athlete's signature stances, moves and overall wrestling style manner by watching endless hours of video footage but he went through endless months of rigorous training sessions with a group of veteran coaches. For Tatum (who admits he is far from a skilled wrestler), it was an agonizingly demanding process to undertake, but it gave him a chance to learn from and work with some of the most gifted athletes on the planet.
"This has been the most painful movie I have ever done, because the hard hits, I don't think they'll ever leave my body, for sure," jokes the 34-year-old actor (The Vow), producer (Magic Mike) and soon-to-be-director (Leonard Peacock), when asked about his exhaustive physical preparation for Foxcatcher. "I challenge anyone who thinks their sport is harder to come and try it. You can’t fake wrestling, so we learned very, very quickly. You can fake a punch — camera-wise you can fake it — but with wrestling, you have to just go ahead and do it. You really need to see the hand hit the side of the face, and you have to do the head-butting. If was by far, and I don’t say this lightly, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, physically. I’ve done a lot of sports and a lot of martial arts. It was a suffocating and very painful thing. But, I've got to say that at the end of the day, I’m just so in awe of those athletes. I’m very, very proud to have been given such amazing time and focus with probably the most amazing athletes I’ve ever moved with. It was a blessing...but, honestly, I never want to wrestle again."
Based on actual events, the intense and brooding Foxcatcher is a deeply poignant tale about brotherly love, misguided loyalty and the emotional bankruptcy that can accompany great wealth and power. An insightfully profound character study, the film examines the precarious relationship between an eccentric multi-millionaire and two champion wrestler brothers. In Foxcatcher, large and often allegorical themes in society emerge through Academy Award-nominee Bennet Miller's meticulously imagined portraits of real people (much like in the director's previous films Capote and Moneyball).
In Foxcatcher, Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) is struggling with obscurity and poverty in Wisconsin when he is invited by wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) to move on to his lavish Foxcatcher estate to form a team and to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark seizes the opportunity, eager to step out of the shadow of his revered older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) Shultz, a prominent wrestling coach and Gold Medal winner himself. With his vast financial resources and state-of-the-art training facility at Foxcatcher Farm, du Pont appoints himself head coach of the team, eager to win the respect of his peers and the approval of his condemning mother (Vanessa Redgrave).
The dynamic between Schultz and du Pont deepens as Mark embraces his benefactor as a father figure. But du Pont's mercurial personality and psychological game play begins to weigh heavily on Mark's shaky self-esteem, undermining his abilities on the mat. When du Pont's favoritism shifts to brother Dave — who possesses the authority and confidence both he and Mark lack — the trio is propelled towards a tragedy no one could have foreseen.
Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum)  John du Pont (Steve Carell) and Dave Shultz (Mark Ruffalo) in a scene ...
Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum), John du Pont (Steve Carell) and Dave Shultz (Mark Ruffalo) in a scene from 'Foxcatcher'
Sony Classics
It terms of subject matter, Foxcatcher is a complete cinematic change of pace for Tatum. Having become a bonafide box office superstar with leading roles in such diverse films as Dear John and White House Down, as well as the G.I. Joe, Step Up and 21 Jump Street franchises, when Channing was approached by Miller with a role in such the profoundly tragic drama, Tatum — like his co-stars Carell and Ruffalo — immediately jumped at the chance to become a part of the filmmaker's unique vision. As an actor, Tatum admits he was anxious and a little more than willing to venture into uncharted artistic territory.
"We all just came in with the intention of literally just going on this ride with Bennett," Channing confesses. "He'd say to jump, and we just said, 'How high?' or 'How low? And, we just stayed in it. Doing this film was all about using a different muscle, as an actor. I hate labeling all these things comedy, love story, mysteries, dark drama, or whatever. I mean, comedy doesn’t come easy for me. I’ve only done two movies that are really comedy-styled films, and I had to work at them. They’re just as scary, in a way. They’re all just different muscles.
"I’ve only played one other person that was real before, so the stakes are very, very high," he adds. "I have to live with Mark Schultz in the world and hope that I did some amount of justice for him. Things are a little bit more tangible, and not just in some high-stakes, make-believe game that movies are. I really enjoyed going deeper than I’ve ever gone into a character, for sure. I can’t say that I want to do this forever. I think that I’ll just find the people that I want to work with, and then go do it with them."
Director Bennett Miller  Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum on the set of  Foxcatcher
Director Bennett Miller, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum on the set of 'Foxcatcher'
Sony Classics
Acting alongside Mark Ruffalo and the usually comedic Steve Carell — who portrays the dark, moody and eccentric du Pont — helped Tatum to deliver one of the most layered and mesmerizing performances of his career. Channing professes their collective contribution to his extraordinarily authentic portrayal of Shultz was immeasurable.
"Steve was amazing, and he is actually a great athlete, too, but we had to sort of be like, 'Less good, Steve,'" he says with a laugh. "I was in awe of just getting to work with them. They’re so in control of what they do, acting wise. And, Steve’s ability to stay in a scene, I was confused and I was like, 'Wow!' The way Bennett Miller shoots, he does reels. He just turns on the camera and just goes, and Steve’s ability to stay in it is pretty unbelievably deep. And, Mark, I mean, he's actually my big brother now. I said to him, 'Whether he wants it or not, I’m his little brother now.'"
The tight bond between the actors who portray the Schultz siblings is never more vividly illustrated than in one of the film's most crucial and memorable scenes — the only time Tatum and Ruffalo wrestle together in Foxcatcher. It's a silent, dance-like practice sequence that epitomizes both the competitiveness of wrestling and the brother's complicated relationship.
Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in  Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in 'Foxcatcher'
Sony Classics
"While wrestling, there’s a lot being said to each other without talking," Channing explains of the well-choreographed scene. "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, it's really interesting that throughout Mark and my sort of journey of finding these two men in us, we had to go through a lot of very humbling experiences. 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 that Mark and I were both just there for each other, throughout the learning process," he continues. "And, knowing what each other was struggling with, we learned, on a very small, small level, what it really is to be there for someone on that level. For that scene, specifically, there were about 20 other pages before that scene, where Ruffalo and I had scenes together where we were talking and he was being a big brother, and we could just throw it out because you see it all in that one scene. I think it really has to do with all the time and friendship that we created through wrestling."
Mark Shultz and Channing Tatum
Mark Shultz and Channing Tatum
Fox Sports
Out of the three lead actors, Tatum was the only one who was able to perform in front of the real-life person he was playing — Mark Schultz, who is now a wrestling coach in Oregon. Channing asserts that Schultz's presence on the set, during filming, was not only appreciated but essential — particularly in assisting him to accurately personify the wrestling legend onscreen.
"I got to hang out with Mark a lot," he recalls. "The way he moves is just incredible, so I just copied it. I can’t say that I had some actor reason for why I wanted him to move like that. That was just him. That was the way he held his fork. He was like a really dangerous animal, and he just moved through life, in that way. He wanted people to be afraid of him."
Channing Tatum in  Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum in 'Foxcatcher'
Sony Classic
With serious talk of a possible Academy Award Best Picture nod for Foxcatcher and Oscar nominations for Tatum, Carell and Ruffalo in the Tinsel Town air, these days, Channing should be one happy fella. For Tatum, however, his contribution to Foxcatcher has nothing to do with all the kudos or awards it'll inevitably bring him. Which begs the obvious question: after years of struggling to be taken seriously as an actor in Hollywood, what personal satisfaction does a stellar performance in film like Foxcatcher bring Channing?
"I don’t know?" Tatum answers, honestly. Pausing for a few moments to ponder the query, he adds, "I mean, I guess it’s really about the journey that you get to go on with the people you’re doing it with. I think that's part of it. You are playing someone else, but ultimately, it’s just their version of the person because you have to do it. I can’t put everything that Mark Schultz is, in a 90-minute movie. It doesn’t work like that. I am really just telling Bennett’s story. Really, I tried to be as honest as you can possibly be on the walk and just keep digging, every day. I don’t say this as a bad thing, but I don’t think we left a day feeling amazing or feeling like, 'Oh, my God, we crushed that scene!' You just don’t, like on a movie like this it's a constant... I think we did all right. I think we got the scenes, and it's in there. It is precious and you just keep digging. I think the satisfaction, after walking away from it, is that I know that I left it all out there and gave all the colors that I could possibly give, so that someone could paint a picture."
Foxcatcher is playing in select theaters (below) and opens everywhere on January 9, 2015. (Check local listings for theaters and show times).
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