April 4, 2011

Behind The Fighter

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On Sunday, the inspirations for the Academy Award winning movie The Fighter, Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, took center stage in front of a small but captivated crowd for a presentation coordinated by the Cornell University Program Board.

While Micky’s character, played by Mark Wahlberg, was the film’s protagonist, it was Micky’s half-brother Dicky Eklund who stole the show Sunday night. Constantly standing, fidgeting and shadowboxing throughout the presentation, Dicky drew either laughter or applause from the crowd nearly every time he spoke. Dicky, a former boxer and drug addict, was always charismatic, if not sometimes hard to understand due to his rambling voice and thick New England accent. In the hour he was on the stage, Dicky’s emotions ranged from smiles to tears and back to smiles again, as the man portrayed by Christian Bale in the film overshadowed his World Champion half-brother for much of the presentation. After witnessing Dicky, who was both literally and symbolically at the center of the Statler stage, one can see why Bale swept the Best Supporting Actor awards this season for his portrayal of Eklund. Spurred on by the questions of the night’s moderator, Richard Farrell, Dicky described his introduction into professional boxing (at age 12), his professional peak (fighting Sugar Ray Leonard) and his eventual downfall into a life of crack addiction and crime. The movie had a storyline about HBO making a documentary about Dicky’s life, and when a clip of that 1995 documentary High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell was shown in the Statler Auditorium, Eklund, red in the face, placed his head in his hands and began to tear up. “I went downhill, and God gave me another chance,” said Dicky of his time as an addict. Dicky, crediting jail with saving his life, told the audience he hopes his story can affect at least one person listening to stay away from drugs. Knowing that alcohol consumption is  prevalent at college campuses, Eklund specifically warned the students in the audience to beware of alcoholism impacting their family and friends. These cautionary sentiments caused the most boisterous applause of the evening.

In contrast to the jumpy and anxious Dicky, Micky Ward was stoic for most of the night, hardly moving his chiseled frame from his chair. Like Dicky, Micky answered questions about key elements and characters from the film. Micky described his current wife, played by Amy Adams, as “the rock behind him” when he was making his comeback into the world of boxing. He somewhat jokingly described his sisters as being just as, “if not actually worse,” than how they were depicted in the film. Ward talked about working with Mark Wahlberg on the film, and even suggested that the former rapper and current movie star could have been a solid boxer if he had not been rolling with the Funky Bunch. While always praising the movie for being top-notch, Ward did discuss how certain scenes did not follow reality in terms of timeline or setting. For example, the scene when Ward’s mother and sisters were all sitting in the living room and yelling at Micky’s girlfriend Charlene was fictionalized, but, as Ward put it, “Had they all been in the room together, that’s exactly how it would have played out.”

Ward talked at length about dealing with his half-brother’s drug problems, and why he could not let himself turn his back on Dicky. “I was gonna leave,” started Micky, “but said I couldn’t, it’s family.” These strong family bonds which run through the two brothers was apparent every time Dicky hoped out loud for their mother, played by Melissa Leo in the film, to recover from very poor health. Leo won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for portraying Alice Ward.

Along with allowing audience members to come up on stage for pictures and autographs after the presentation, Ward and Eklund interacted with the crowd by bringing two audience members up for a boxing tutorial. One was Shawn Goldsmith ’12, a member of the Cornell Boxing Club. “It was really surreal,” explained Goldsmith. “They are my idols, not just in boxing but in life.”

Original Author: Brian Gordon