Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Liev goes from TV 'Ray' to movie 'Chuck,' a fight flick with some local ties

"Chuck," a historically connected fight flick, finally gets a an opportunity to flaunt its cinematic stuff Friday when it opens at the Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights.

Cleveland even gets some mention in this funny and, at times, touching tale of boxer Chuck Wepner (engagingly played by Liev Schreiber), though, director Philippe Falardeau ("Monsieur Lazhar") makes it more of an affable profile/period piece than a sports movie. Still, for those who don't know, it actually was Wepner who inspired Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" movie franchise after taking champ Muhammad Ali into the 15th round at the former "Coliseum" in suburban Richfield, Ohio.

As detailed in Falardeau's film, Ali pummeled the never-say-die Wepner endlessly during the bout, Stallone certainly took notice, and the former New Jersey butcher became the still-living legend known as the "Bayonne Bleeder."

That's why "Chuck" was originally titled "The Bleeder" when it enjoyed its North American premiere at last September's 41st annual Toronto International Film Festival. That's also where Schreiber, the Emmy-nominated star of Showtime's exceptional, if grim "Ray Donovan," talked about Wepner and some other things.

Schreiber, as Wepner, in "Chuck," originally called "The Bleeder."
"It started with the story," Schreiber said, "but then it got personal for me. People knew I liked boxing but, to be honest, I wasn't that interested.

"I mean, I love Chuck's story, and I love who Chuck is but, over time, I started to parse it as this kind of cautionary tale about the pitfalls of celebrity and fame and narcissism and that got more interesting to me.

"Then I met Chuck," the actor continued. "He's a very likable character in a difficult story line, and  I thought, 'Well, that would be fun to play.' At least for me, I felt like as many mistakes as this character makes, you never stop wanting him to succeed. You never stop liking him. I thought, 'That's a really unique person.' 

"I rather quickly found out why Chuck is the kind of person who could do what he did that night in Cleveland (on March 24, 1975). It takes someone very special to accomplish that. Chuck doesn't perceive it as pain. You put him in front of a crowd and he simply wants to entertain, I think he uses it as motivation and inspiration in the ring as well."

By the way, the only real scene defined as "Cleveland" in the film actually was shot on a street in Yonkers, N.Y., Also, Ali is played by Schreiber's "Ray Donovan" co-star Pooch Hall.

"Pooch is a tremendous boxer," Schreiber said. "We've been fighting together for years on the ('Donovan') set. "Ray Donovan" begins its fifth Showtime season on Aug. 6. 

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