Based on a true story, Foxcatcher is a tragic character study that focuses on the lives of Olympic wrestler Mark (Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and their relationship with the eccentric John DuPont (Steve Carell), heir to the DuPont fortune. Without giving too much away, the Schultz brothers (along with other Olympic athletes) begin living at DuPont’s Foxcatcher farms in order to train for the Olympics. At first, DuPont appears harmless, his weird personality and mannerisms are almost amusing and endearing. However, as time passes, DuPont’s declining mental health starts to affect everyone around him and his funny eccentricities stop being funny.
I had the opportunity to conduct a roundtable interview with the Foxcatcher‘s Oscar-nominated director, Bennett Miller (Moneyball and Capote). While talking to Miller, it is obvious how deeply he cares about the film and his craft. Pauses in his answers reflect thoughtful, careful responses to our questions about Steve Carell’s transformative performance, the atmosphere of his movie sets, how he first found out about the film, and much more! Check out the interview below and make sure you go see Foxcatcher in theaters this weekend!
Lauren B.: You filmed parts of Foxcatcher up near Leesburg, VA, right?
Bennett: Yes, the exterior of the house was shot in Leesburg.
Lauren B.: Oh okay, so just the exterior shots?
Bennett: Yeah, the big house.
Lauren B.: How much was the real Mark [Schultz] on set with you guys? Was that difficult?
Bennett: I think he was there for two days. He was enormously supportive and trusting. By the time we got to the shoot, he was really on-board and just wanted to be around to offer support. It drove us crazy [everyone laughs]. I think he was going to be there for another day or two and we love and respect him, but it was a distraction.
Lauren B.: Did you feel like you were having to walk on eggshells?
Bennett: Not me, so much. Channing [Tatum] would never complain, but I just sensed there was a disruption.
John Hanlon (JohnHanlonReviews.com): I heard that an attendee at a convention handed you news clippings of the story and that’s how you became familiar with it.
Bennett: It wasn’t a convention. It was at Tower Video in New York. It was a DVD signing… I made a documentary called The Cruise and [then] it was released on DVD [by] Lionsgate in 2006. They arranged for a DVD signing of The Cruise, which is for uber-geeks only and that’s where it happened… He just handed me the envelope and said ‘there’s a story in here that I think you’re gonna want to turn into a film.’
John: I’m sure there are people everyday who are like ‘you should make this into a movie. You should make this into a movie.’
Bennett: Every time you do a Q&A or something after a screening, it’s not uncommon for somebody to approach you and say ‘hi I’m an actor, can I give you my resume’ or ‘I have something I want to give you’ and it’s impossible not to have a very knee-jerk “ick” reaction… It was about a month later [when I rediscovered the envelope]. I was throwing stuff out and I forgot what it was and that’s when I opened it up.
John: And did you know immediately [that you wanted to make it into a film]?
Bennett: Yes, before I finished the first article. That’s never happened to me before. I said ‘oh, oh this is what I’m doing.’
Lauren B.: Steve Carell really nailed the look of John DuPont, especially when I looked up the story after the film. Can you talk about your collaborative effort with him to get the perfect look?
Bennett: With [Steve] and with Bill Corso, who is an incredible makeup artist. He spent about a month designing and doing tests. He worked on the character the same Carell worked on the character. To me, it really is a work of art. That design is a work of art.
Lauren B.: Did it take long for him to get into the makeup every day?
Bennett: It was about a two hour process and because of that, he was the first guy on set every day. Because he was the first guy on set, no one really every saw him out of makeup. Throughout the shoot, I don’t think there were three occasions where I saw Steve Carell out of makeup, and the same goes for the other actors. That really has an effect because the makeup makes him so repellant, people avoided him throughout the whole shoot. He ate lunch alone. He and Channing never talked. Not until the Cannes Film Festival did they begin to get to know each other.
Lauren B.: So was the set lacking in fun… I mean, was it a drab set?
Bennett: It was lacking in fun [everyone laughs].
Lauren B.: Are your sets usually pretty serious or was this exceptionally serious?
Bennett: Yeah, I don’t like to play around and different people have a different sense of “fun”. I find it really satisfying… I enjoy concentrating. On Moneyball, I think Jonah [Hill] and Brad [Pitt] felt the need to lighten things up here and there and do practical jokes on each other and stuff.
Lauren B.: And Chris Pratt too. I feel like he would be a kind of…
Bennett: No, Chris Pratt is deadly serious, an enormously disciplined, caring… I would even say intense guy. Very, very funny and sweet guy, but he is definitely not playing around. He’s in it for real. Not that Brad and Jonah aren’t, it’s just their way of making space for themselves and affecting the atmosphere so they can do what they do, which is something every actor has to take responsibility of to an extent. I think, actors aside, the tendency ends up being a very quiet and concentrated set.
John: I heard that Steve Carell asked you questions about what Philip Seymour Hoffman did in Capote. What advice did you offer him [about] transforming into a different character?
Bennett: That everyone’s got their own process and don’t worry about another person’s process. There are speech coaches that some actors famously have; some actors never take a job without them. That will help them learn dialect especially actors from Australia and England [who are learning] American-type accents… The voice is so different and Capote is so different, the question of a speech coach was raised. I found a very good person for Phil and he met with her once and said ‘you know what I can not do this. This is just– it’s the opposite of how I work. I can’t introduce this measure of self-consciousness into my process. I can’t. I just have to listen to Capote’s voice all day long and I just have to try to hear where he’s coming from and match it without anyone talking to me about my hard palate’ and I told Steve that I would avail him to a speech coach– whatever he wanted– and he said ‘no I’m gonna do it that way too.’