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Liam Lacey’s Cannes diary: Steve Carell’s transformation in Foxcatcher gets Cannes buzzing

This image released by Cannes Film Festival shows Channing Tatum, left, and Mark Ruffalo in a scene from "Foxcatcher."


Monday, Day 6 at the 2014 Cannes film festival, was the day the stars really came out to play. There were back-to-back screenings of two of the more high-profile entries at this year's festival, Bennett Miller's true-crime wrestling drama Foxcatcher, with Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell, followed by David Cronenberg's Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars, with Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and John Cusack. The two movies are connected in giving new meaning to the phrase "crazy rich," the delusions of the excessively privileged.

Foxcatcher, which hits theatres on Nov. 14 in time for awards season, has been drawing some of the most unambiguously positive buzz of the festival so far. Miller, the director of Capote and Moneyball (about baseball manager Billy Beane) focuses on another high-profile American eccentric: billionaire murderer John E. du Pont. The obvious talking point about the film is Steve Carell's transformation into the chemical-business heir, with a prosthetic nose, pale eyebrows and dry vocal delivery. The story follows du Pont's relationship with Olympic gold-medal wrestling brothers Mark Schultz and his older brother Dave, and how he shot Dave for reasons that still aren't entirely clear. Though judged mentally ill, du Pont was imprisoned until his death in 2010.

Miller says that he knew nothing about wrestling, and when he first heard of the story, he thought it was "bizarre, absurd and ultimately horrible, yet it felt somehow familiar. There were things that were larger than the story that I can relate to the world and how we live in our country. I wouldn't want to make a comment on it. It's not intended as a political film or a moral position, but an investigation. You can investigate the world through a telescope or a microscope. This one's a microscope."

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Ruffalo and Tatum said their research was closer to investigative journalism than conventional acting prep, as the actors trained with wrestlers for six months and spent time with the Schultz family and friends. "Our lives were wrestling, eating and sleeping and finding out who these people are," Ruffalo says. "We were encouraged to bring in stories and reflections and epiphanies. Everyone we spoke to was very giving, and open and ready to explain their feelings, pre- and post- what happened."

When it came to the wrestling, Tatum adds, "we've got cauliflower ears and bad knees as take-home presents. This is the kind of role that gets into your body and never leaves."

Tatum got to know the surviving brother, Mark, and train with him. When Schultz came to the set to watch, the actor described it as "very polarizing at times. I was grateful that he was there and at times terrified."

Carell actually met Dave Schultz's wife, Nancy – who witnessed her husband's shooting – while he was in character. Later, he had a chance to "reflect" with her out of character.

"What Steve does [here] doesn't resemble anything he's done before and is far outside his comfort zone," Miller says. "I truthfully hadn't any material evidence that this was something he could do, but we chatted about it, and I heard how he thought about the character, and I had a vision of it working. I thought, 'He can do it and he can commit himself, and it might hurt, but he will get there.' "

Miller suggested there was a key to Carell's take on du Pont, a man of privilege without perspective. He asked the actor: "Can you imagine living your life without a sense of humour? I don't mean without being funny. I mean without a sense of humour."

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More


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