By Gill Pringle

Inspirational underdog stories are the very bread-and-butter of the boxing movie subgenre, driving everything from Rocky right through to last year’s Southpaw. Inspirational stories, however, don’t get much more inspirational than that of Bleed For This, the new drama from writer/director, Ben Younger (Boiler Room, Prime). The film tracks the extraordinary true story of American world champion boxer, Vinny Pazienza, who, after a near fatal car crash, which left him not knowing if he’d ever walk again, made one of sport’s most incredible comebacks, punching his way right back to the top.

Pulling on the gloves to play Vinny Pazienza (later just Vinny Paz) is young actor, Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole, Footloose, Whiplash, Fantastic 4), who digs deep and gives what could be called his first real “adult” performance after expertly essaying a gallery of callow and not-so-callow youths. “I felt that I’d won something,” Teller says of scoring the role. “I was excited, and the, ‘Oh, shit!’ factor settled in pretty quick. I knew that I was going to have to work extremely hard. I knew that boxing training was going to be the toughest physical training that I’d ever done by far. It’s kind of unparalleled in sports. Usually guys are fighters because they can’t do anything else, so they’ve just got to fight. The training was an eight-month process. I had to film two movies during those eight months, but it was eight months of me thinking about it, and working out, and dieting. I was having a bit of physical therapy too, because throughout all of it, I was hurting. It was by far the most prep that I had to do for a character.”

Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller in Bleed For This
Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller in Bleed For This

But all of that training didn’t harden Teller up enough for his biggest challenge during the shoot: having Vinny Paz himself on set, watching his moves in the ring. “In the beginning, I was like, ‘Please don’t have him on set, man.’ I’m embarrassed, because I’m just an actor, and this guy is just a man, and a badass,” Teller groans. “I only had a couple of weeks to learn boxing, and I didn’t want him to feel like his legacy was getting tarnished. But then, honestly, we’d done the work, and we were on set, and it just felt so real! It really did. The house that we were filming in, and the wardrobe, and the shoot in Providence [Vinny Paz’ hometown] all just felt so real that I was eventually like, ‘Yeah, please, let’s get Vinny on set.’ In a weird way, I wanted him to see himself, or see his family, 25 years ago. I wanted him to see this moment in his life…these moments that were the most precious to him. So it was great for everyone to come on set, but he got bored by the whole thing, you know?”

Was he emotional though? “I don’t know,” Teller smiles. “I didn’t really get that sense. I think one of the days was hard. Maybe he was just bored. But I saw him in Savannah recently, and he’d seen the movie. I’m excited to see it with him in Providence. We’re doing a premiere in Providence, and they might as well name that ‘Vinny Paz Day’ because it’s going to be such a celebration of him.”

Look for Bleed For This in cinemas soon.



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