When Vinny Pazienza was involved in a serious car accident, shortly after winning the junior middleweight world title back in 1988, doctors told him he might never walk again and would certainly never fight.
Pazienza was having none of it though and over the next few months and years embarked on a comeback that’s since become the subject of the Miles Teller-led drama Bleed For This.
Ciarán Hinds stars as Pazienza’s real-life father, Angelo, an overzealous and at times overbearing presence in his son’s boxing career. He spoke exclusively to loaded about what it was like to work with Teller, perfecting that Rhode Island accent and finally getting the chance to “bulk up” for a role.
loaded: How did you get involved in Bleed For This?
Hinds: I was in Dublin doing a play and suddenly got a call about speaking to Ben Turner (the film’s director). He was the one that convinced me to come on board. He’s a fascinating guy.
That said, when we first met face to face he was a little surprised. I remember him asking me if I had lost weight which was true – I had been rather portly. It was a bit awkward as I remember he asked me if I would be willing to put weight on for the role of Vinny.
I was game. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t use doing this film as an excuse to drink Guinness and eat shit. It was the script – I was drawn to it. It just seemed like an extraordinary story and one based entirely in reality.
loaded: What was it in particular that stood out?
Hinds: Ben talked to me about Vinny Pazienza. His whole story. I’m not a massive boxing fan so I had never heard it before but it just struck me as extraordinary. Here you have this character who not only fought for world championships and went through this death defying experience.
Then there was the challenge of playing Angelo, this larger-than-life father who wasn’t exactly a subtle character but loved his son so much. It just grabbed me.
loaded: What was your process for putting the weight back on?
Hinds: Well, it’s a strange one. I’ve never deliberately put or lost huge amounts of weight for a role. I guess just let things “go to seed” as it were. Whatever discipline I had went out the window and I went full steam ahead. Losing the weight again was the tricky part.
loaded: How else did you prepare for the role?
Hinds: I had to nail Angel’s distinctive Rhode Island accent down. It’s a weird on in that it’s not quite New York but al little Bostonian along with that Italian American element. Angelo, my character, was particularly gregarious.
Fortunately, there was a Professor Thom Jones at the nearby Brown University, who was a specialist in linguistics. I worked with him every day for a couple of hours to work on the dialect. It was a huge help. It’s about getting free enough with the dialect that it sounds free and natural.
loaded: What separates Bleed For This from other boxing movies?
Hinds: Boxing films only really work when it’s a story about someone who has come from nothing. It’s that struggle and his commitment to the graft that makes it. That’s the human struggle of life. It’s about picking yourself up and moving forward and boxers do that every day.
I just had never heard such a story as one about a boxer who broke his neck and not only walked again but got back in the ring. This guy broke his neck and was willing to undergo surgery so that he might return to boxing – something where the head is repeatedly getting punched.
“Miles looked like a lean fighting machine”
There’s a scene where he’s training and asks if anyone will spar with him and no one wants to. It’s based on a true story and it’s an extraordinary story and at the heart you have this man, Vinny, who just did things his own way.
He’s a free-wheeler and he has his own sense of honour and discipline which is cool and makes it a unique story. Things don’t always work out the way you might have wanted it to in life but films like Bleed For This celebrate human endeavour in extreme circumstances.
loaded: You witnessed Miles Teller’s transformation for this film first-hand – what was that like?
Hinds: Miles is phenomenal. A very gifted actor. The work he had to do to become Vinny was impressive. He was very connected to the character and the material.
Miles had been preparing for about five or six months before filming started. He’d got his body fat percentage down to something astonishing like seven per cent. Miles looked like a lean fighting machine.
They then got him to go up against real boxers, fighting in the ring. Now, I know they pulled their punches a bit but when you watched them in the ring he looked like the real deal. He’d learned all the routines.
There were three main fights in the film and they shot they in about two days, which is kind of incredible when you think about it.
loaded: Did you guys do much work together on building that father and son bond?
Hinds: It kind of came naturally. We just kind of like each other. Miles and I are very different people but there was a mutual respect there. He didn’t give me any problems.
We also got to meet Vinny Pazienza. Miles had wanted to meet him. Just to hear Vinny talk about his father was fascinating. We also met a number of guys from the Italian American social club who told us some great stories about Vinny and Angelo.
Angelo was a fascinating guy and a big presence in Vinny’s life. Sometimes almost too big a presence in that he lived for some of Vinnys’ reflected glory. It was a big deal to him that his boy was a top dog in town.
But there is a point where he realises all the stuff he was fixated on could have ended up killing his son and he stepped back – that’s something that happened in the film.
loaded: How did the experience of Bleed For This compare with working on Martin Scorsese’s Silence?
Hinds: Bleed For This was full of life and about a struggle. Silence is about struggle too but it’s a struggle that’s more personal, more internal. A philosophical treatise on faith and that can only ever be a personal thing.
It doesn’t reach out to an audience watching it unless they find a way to connect with it themselves. Bleed For This almost comes at you with a message. It’s exciting and dynamic in that sense. Silence is a man’s personal journey against this epic backdrop.
loaded: Now, we know Mance Rayder was killed off on Game of Thrones but given the number of resurrections going on, is there any chance of a return?
Hinds: I don’t think at this stage they are planning on bringing me back. They have so many characters to get through. To start bringing people back again would make no sense. I think I will be resting in peace unless something strange happens.
Bleed For This is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.