Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, and Naomi Watts star in this biopic of New Jersey boxer Chuck Wepner, whose legendary ability to take punishment in the ring made him the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky.
The story of Chuck Wepner is unique in the world of boxing. Though he was the inspiration for Stallone’s “Rocky” character, he is most famous for the real-life fights he lost.
Among those he ceded titles to were George Foreman, Sonny Liston, and Muhammad Ali, with whom he went a whopping 15 rounds. A New Jersey guy with a blue-collar work ethic, Wepner was dubbed “The Bayonne Bleeder” on account of his ability to take punishment without going down.
“I didn’t even know the “Rocky” connection at that point. I read it and my first thought was: “Holy shit! That’s the guy who started the “Rocky” franchise,” Schreiber told Variety. “What an interesting take on a really famous and celebrated franchise. It was hard to get off the ground at the time (It took almost 10 years for the project to get started). But it was something that was always in the back of my head. The more I lived with Chuck — the idea of who he was — the closer I got to the character.”
Wepner also had an interesting life offscreen with his ex wives. His marriages to second wife Phyllis (Moss), whose support and patience is stretched to the breaking point by Wepner’s bouts of debauchery, and third wife Linda (Watts), who proves to be the grounding force he needs.
“It’s an incredible film, and Liev is just incredible in the part,” Watts told press while at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I get to play his third wife. She’s an icon herself in that she’s got this crazy red fiery head of hair and incredible makeup. She takes great care in the way she presents herself. In fact she talks about it that and says her husband has never seen her without a full face of makeup. So she really is quite extraordinary woman and it’s such a great departure for me to play. It is fun to go there with these characters.”
Schreiber agreed this character was indeed a departure for Watts. “When I saw her walk out of the trailer with a red wig and big boobs and leopard skin print tights I just cracked up, and knew it was going to be good,” Schreiber said of his wife as Linda “This is not a character close to her personality in any way. She went out on a limb, you know. She really did, knowing her. It’s really much more my world growing up in New York, Lower East Side. That’s why I had been nervous about Linda, who is a big character. But she went for it in a totally exciting way.”
The Bleeder premieres at TIFF 2016.