“It was really good,” Micky Ward told me when I caught up with him last week. “Obviously, they don’t make things up, but they make things more dramatized in the movie. But I was happy with the way it came out.”
Ward, film critic, winner of 38 professional bouts and loser of 13, knows boxing was only part of what made his story attractive to Hollywood. His half-brother, Dicky Eklund, an ex-fighter himself and Micky’s sometime-trainer, has struggled with drug addiction. He’s been in and out of prison. Ward’s mother managed much of his career, and his seven sisters by turns supported, distracted and embarrassed the boxer as he tried to concentrate on his trade. At one dramatic moment in the film, Micky, played by Wahlberg, steps between the feuding camps of his girlfriend and his family in an attempt to make peace. He tells his brother, his mother, his sister and his wife that he needs them all. The reconciliation achieved in the film has not blossomed off the screen.
Wahlberg is convincing as Micky Ward, but Micky himself feels that the folks who nominated Bale for Best Supporting Actor based on his portrayal of Dicky definitely knew what they were doing:
“It’s just unfortunate that Mark played my character, that’s more laid back, not as crazy as Dicky,” Micky said. “I feel bad that Mark didn’t get to play that nutty guy, you know? But it is what it is. But Christian did — I’m telling you — he nailed it. And he’s a very nice person.”
In one of Bale’s more athletic scenes, he jumps from the second story window of a crack house to avoid getting caught in the place by members of his family. I asked Micky Ward if Dicky was OK with that scene.
“Oh, he was good with it,” Micky said. “It was funny. When we went out to LA to see it for the first time, me, Mark and Dicky were in the front, and Christian and his wife were in the back of the theater, Paramount Theater, and we’re looking at Dicky making faces when the people jumped out the window. So I said to him, ‘That didn’t happen?’ And he says, ‘Yeah, it happened, but I went out the third floor, not the second, and there were no barrels beneath me.’ So I go, ‘OK, you proud of that?’ And he says, ‘No, I’m not.’ ”
According to Micky, Dicky is currently “doing OK.” He’s working with youngsters in the gym Micky co-owns, staying sober, taking it one day at a time. But that’s not to say Micky is completely free of resentment regarding his half-brother. It was Dicky, after all, who fouled up the cameos director David Russell tried to give them in “The Fighter.”
“David O. Russell gave us like two paragraphs apiece,” Micky told me. “We were gonna play people on the street. And so he gives me my script and Dicky his script. So I look at it, and I go, ‘OK, I gotta go home and study it.’ Dicky looks at it and goes, ‘I wouldn’t say this.’ And David goes, ‘Dicky, it’s not you. You’re a person from the street in Lowell talking about yourself. You’re not you.’ Dicky goes, ‘I don’t care. This person shouldn’t say that.’ He goes, ‘Dicky, it’s a movie.’ Dicky goes, ‘Well, this person’s crazy. He shouldn’t say that.’ He goes, ‘It’s a movie.’ Dicky goes, ‘Ah, I don’t want to do it.’
So that was that? And Dicky Eklund took his half-brother’s acting career down with his own?
“Yeah, that was it,” Micky told me. Then he laughed and said, “But, I’m a fighter, and I’m gonna come back.”
It is a good and even a great thing that Micky Ward can laugh about Dicky’s most recent act of sabotage. In the movie, Dicky is portrayed as a crafty but thoroughly undependable corner man — a guy who can’t even be counted on to show up at the gym sober and on time. According to Bob Halloran, with whom I spoke in 2007 regarding his Micky Ward biography, “Irish Thunder,” that portrayal is true to the relationship Micky Ward tolerated for years.
“I don’t have any specific details regarding Dicky when he was on drugs,” Halloran told me. “But Micky told me there were times when he could not understand what Dicky was saying.”
As he got to know Micky Ward and became more aware of the volatile circumstances of his home life, Halloran developed tremendous respect for Ward’s determination.
“I don’t know where Micky gets his moral compass,” Halloran said. “It wasn’t from his family, and it certainly wasn’t from boxing. But he was so focused on hard work and success. It was if he was saying, ‘You do what you want, you can steal the money. I’ll be in the ring.’ ”
In “The Fighter,” Wahlberg is convincing as the determined and, ultimately, triumphant Ward. But verisimilitude requires that Ward’s sisters be portrayed as obstacles to the fighter’s career… and loud, drunken, obnoxious obstacles at that. Before he saw the film, Ward said that he knew that if he was going to watch it in the company of his sisters, he’d better wear his boxing headgear. Happily, it turned out that fisticuffs did not mar the occasion.
“It went OK,” Micky said with a smile. “I mean, some of the sisters liked it, some didn’t like it, some got up and walked out, and some threw f-bombs at me as they were walking out.”
“Did they blame you?” I asked him.
“No, no,” he said. “They didn’t blame me at all. They didn’t blame me whatsoever. They were just upset at the way they were portrayed, you know, with the high hair and the craziness. They were crazy in their own way, but they didn’t have high hair like that. That didn’t make them look too good.”
As Micky puts it, there is still no love lost between his sisters and his wife, Charlene. But except for that unhappy circumstance, Micky Ward seems to be doing pretty well for himself. His businesses include a tanning salon, an indoor floor hockey facility and the aforementioned gym. He’s looking forward to attending the Academy Awards ceremony a week from Sunday. He’d love to see the actors and director he’s gotten to know honored for their work, and he figures “The Fighter” has at least an underdog’s chance to be named Best Picture. But even if it doesn’t win, the making of the movie and the attendant publicity have become important parts of Micky Ward’s post-boxing life.
“It’s opened up a lot of different avenues, as far as speaking stuff I do, some business stuff, things like that,” he said. “People got to see what my background was a little bit, and how things were in my life, what I had to overcome to get where I got. Because when they watched me fight, they didn’t realize the things I was dealing with outside the ring. And for people to see that, and for younger fighters, or anybody in any sport, to see you can go through turmoil, or some family drama, and you can still make it as long as you keep your heart and your mind, and you believe in yourself, I think that’s what the movie showed people.”
Micky Ward, now 45, last fought in 2003. His recent brush with the glitter and glamor of Hollywood notwithstanding, he continues to reside in Lowell, Mass.