Aaron Eckhart went ‘all the way’ in ‘Bleed For This’

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In the fact-based film, Bleed For This, cocky Rhode Island boxer Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) takes a brutal beating from Junior Welterweight Champion Roger Mayweather in 1988. After his humiliating loss, fight promoter Lou Duva (Ted Levine) urges him to retire. Instead, Pazienza moves up two weight classes under the guidance of his new trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). Rooney’s radical strategy pays off when Pazienza, 14 pounds heavier, takes down French boxer Gilbert Delé in front of a hometown crowd to become Super Middleweight champion of the world.

Pazienza doesn’t have much time to relish the victory, however. Shortly after the bout, a head-on car crash leaves him with a broken neck. Initially told he may never walk again, doctors recommend spinal fusion surgery that would guarantee mobility but effectively end his boxing career. Pazienza chooses the far riskier “halo” spine-stabilization treatment, requiring him to wear a circular metal brace screwed directly into his skull for six months.

Recovering in the modest home he shares with his fiercely devoted father Angelo (Ciarán Hinds) and anxious mother Louise (Katey Sagal), Pazienza secretly starts weight training in the basement with the help of a reluctant Rooney and begins to recover both emotionally and physically. 13 months after the accident, the man fondly known as “The Pazmanian Devil” returns to the ring to do battle with Super Middleweight Champion Roberto Duran (Edwin Rodriguez) in the biggest fight of his life.

For their roles, Teller had to bulk up while Eckhart had to flab up. While some attractive actors are leery about gaining weight for a role, Eckhart dived right in to the deep end of the deep dish.

“We’re playing real people and that’s what he looked like. He was a fighter at one time. He trained with Cus D’Amato who was the greatest trainer and a boxer himself. [D’Amato] gave up his career to train [Mike] Tyson. When he was fired from Tyson’s camp, it was sort of the beginning of the end for Kevin. He took a psychological hit and gained weight. He started gambling and drinking. He was really at the bottom when he met Vinny. I gained 40 pounds to get into that head space. I’m a pretty active person so I just circled a date on the calendar and said, ‘after that date, there’s no more jumping rope. There’s no more riding my bike or going to the gym.’ I went from arugula to pepperoni pizzas everyday. I saw a nutritionist in the beginning and she put me on fava beans or whatever. I said that wasn’t going to work so I went back to the pizzas.”

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Frederick Mintchell

Frederick is a featured writer for Morning Ticker, where this post originally appeared.

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