First, it should be noted, in person, Liev Schreiber’s head looks nothing like a watermelon. Admittedly, this is one of those strange interview moments where I can hear the words come out of my mouth – me, telling Schreiber that his head doesn’t look like a watermelon – but at the same time thinking Why are you saying this to a person you have just met? There is context: Schreiber was telling a story about how a theater critic wrote that his head was the size of a watermelon. Now, this probably wasn’t his cue for me to sum it up for myself and come to my own conclusion, but I went ahead and did it anyway.
In Philippe Falardeau’s Chuck, Schreiber plays the title character of Chuck Wepner – and as the movie tells you from the outset, you probably have no idea who that is, even though you do. Wepner is a New Jersey boxer who got a title bout against Muhammad Ali and, in some sort of cosmic miracle, lasted until the 12th round against The Champ. Wepner still lost, but it’s a story that seems like it came from a movie. Then it became a movie, called Rocky – and then all of a sudden Wepner became kinda, sorta famous, though he saw none of the profits from Rocky. And this is when Wepner’s life starts to fall apart.
Ahead, Schreiber (and is incredibly normal looking head) explains what it’s like working with an actor who is playing Sylvester Stallone, he also makes the case why there should be an Old Man Sabertooth movie, and he gives us a preview of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs.
Your appearance in the “Golden Globes” SNL sketch was great.
I didn’t have to do much, really. But yeah, I thought it was hilarious, too.
You had to have your shirt off and look menacing.
There’s that, yeah. Shirt off, look menacing.
In this movie, Chuck uses a tip-and-strip pen. I always forget this is a thing people had in the ’70s.
That’s right. I was really disappointed that we didn’t have a better close-up of the tip-and-strip pen, because it really was quite good.
Do they still make them or it was vintage?
Those were vintage. I didn’t even know they were called “tip-and-strips”…
I had to look it up, too. I had no idea. You are also in scenes with an actor playing Sylvester Stallone. Is that surreal?
Initially, Jeff Feuerzeig’s conception of the script was that you would blend in between documentary footage and real footage. And I felt that that would be kind of alarming because the characters would be in competition with the real people. So then when we started to work on the script, well, let’s just do characterizations. Obviously, one of the things that we were most nervous about was how do you do Stallone, such an iconic character. And it was just a question of finding the right actor, and Morgan Spector turned out to be the guy.
Having real footage and then going back and forth would have been tough, because you also have Muhammad Ali in this movie…
That was the other one, how do you do Ali? And I think Pooch [Hall] did the same thing. You just can’t be intimidated by it. And it’s the hardest thing about playing characters who are alive. I can’t say I like it very much, you know?
Chuck had some tough breaks. I could imagine not wanting to portray him where it goes too harsh on the guy.
That’s right. Absolutely. That’s how I felt. I was like, are we going too far with all of this negativity and all this stuff? But I think we weren’t so much trying to make a movie about Chuck as we were trying to tell a kind of cautionary tale about fame and celebrity.