Senior HTF Member
- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Chuck Wepner has a magnetic personality. Learning to fight on the streets of New Jersey, he joined the U.S. Marines where he made a name for himself on the boxing team as a man who could take punches. He became a professional boxer, becoming the New Jersey State Heavyweight Boxing Champion, but it was the fight on March 24, 1975 that would change his life forever. On that night, Chuck Wepner would go just seconds shy of a full 15-rounds with ‘The Greatest,’ great Muhammed Ali. The fight, and Wepner’s performance (many predicted he would last only a few rounds), would become a pivotal moment that shaped the rest of his life
We have already seen a good deal of Chuck’s life realized on the silver screen before, but you might not know it. Sylvester Stallone, having seen the Ali-Wepner fight, was inspired to write the film Rocky, incorporating a number of details of Wepner’s life (a working-class boxer who gets an unlikely shot at the title - and like Wepner’s fight against Ali, would go the distance but ultimately lose).
The film Chuck is based on Wepner’s life, with Liev Schreiber giving perhaps his finest onscreen performance as the plucky boxer. Wepner’s ups, downs, and ups again are shown in all their unvarnished reality, highlighting his plucky, likeable ways hindered by his fascination with fame and drug troubles.
Chuck is a very good film that is more a film about a boxer, than a boxing film. It is also filled with terrific performances from the likes of Elizabeth Moss and Naomi Watts as Wepner’s first and second wives, Ron Perlman as his ringside ‘cut’ man, Michael Rappaport as his estranged brother, and Jim Gaffigan as his best friend, John Stoehr.
Chuck is currently available on DVD, Blu-ray, and HD Digital.
HTF: Hi, Chuck
Chuck Wepner: Hey, Neil. How you doing, buddy?
HTF: I'm doing remarkably well, thank you. It's a real pleasure to talk to you. How have you been today?
Chuck Wepner: Oh, I've been fine. I detect a bit of an accent.
HTF: I am English. And I know you fought in England. Is that right?
Chuck Wepner: Oh, yeah. I fought over there twice. I fought [Joe] Bugner and I fought, I think, McLendon.
HTF: Were you warmly received by the Brits when you went over there?
Chuck Wepner: You know what? I was a contender. I wasn't a big name at that time - not as big as now, anyway - and it was nice. I liked England. Unfortunately, I was only there three days each time, and it rained both times [laughter]. One stay it rained all three days, and the other time it rained twice. But they tell me that it rains a lot over there, and I was just over there to fight anyway, so I really wasn't looking to go out sightseeing or anything. I went over there. I stayed in my hotel. I boosted up and did some exercise, and just got myself ready for the fight.
HTF: Well, let me ask you about Chuck. What was your first reaction upon seeing it? I take it you've seen it, but what did you think when you first saw it?
“But when I saw the movie, I was absolutely blown away. I mean, first of all, I consider myself very lucky to have Liev Schreiber playing Chuck Wepner in a movie. And Naomi Watts came on board as my wife, Linda, in the movie. And we had Elizabeth Moss there, who was my [first] wife, and I just said to myself, "Unbelievable. Where did they get all these superstars to play in my movie?"”
Chuck Wepner: Well, I was on the set for the making the movie. I was on the set 11 times, and I watched the different scenes. And I didn't see them all, because it was quite busy. They were shooting sometimes two different scenes at the same time. But when I saw the movie, I was absolutely blown away. I mean, first of all, I consider myself very lucky to have Liev Schreiber playing Chuck Wepner in a movie. And Naomi Watts came on board as my wife, Linda, in the movie. And we had Elizabeth Moss there, who was my [first] wife, and I just said to myself, "Unbelievable. Where did they get all these superstars to play in my movie?" I was just thrilled. And when the movie was finally made and I got to see it at a private studio in New York the first time. I was thrilled. I was very honored and very happy with the movie.
HTF: And, Liev Schreiber, probably his finest performance in anything that I've seen him in. And he had a swagger. He seemed to have your speech down, and carried himself like you. I wonder how closely you felt like he got into the vibe of who you were at the time he was playing you.
“…I was just blown away with the job [Liev Schreiber] did and how hard he worked. I saw him on the set and it was just amazing how hard he worked. And he worked with the boxing people to learn how to box. And he actually looked like he could be a fighter.”
Chuck Wepner: I think he was very close. As a matter of fact, the way they made him up with makeup and everything-- we have some pictures here and I looked at pictures of myself then and when they were making the movie, and how he looked then, and he looked a lot like me. And he had a similar build. And I was just blown away with the job he did and how hard he worked. I saw him on the set and it was just amazing how hard he worked. And he worked with the boxing people to learn how to box. And he actually looked like he could be a fighter, the way he threw punches and everything else. He was spectacular.
HTF: When you watch the film, it doesn't rosy the picture of you. It shows your downs as well as your ups. Is that uncomfortable to watch or do you think about those times as they're all pieces that make up who you are today, and you wouldn't want to take out any one of those good times or bad times because who you are and where you are now might not be the same?
Chuck Wepner: Well, I don't think I'm the same person now as I was then. Then I was a little selfish and I was thinking myself more than anybody else. But, yeah, they showed the downward spiral more than anything else. But it would've been nice if they had shown the recovery aspect of the movie and where I am today. But you know what? It is what it is, and I loved the movie anyway, and I loved the people in it.
HTF: The film does end on a very upbeat, positive note. I was grinning from ear to ear after watching it, because even through the darker times of the story, you are-- and Liev's portrayal of you--remains a likable, magnetic human being, and that carries all the way through the ups and the downs. And when you walk away from the film, you walk away with a smile because you made it on the other side of all of that stuff. Do you feel that too when you watch that closing scene?
"I never really hurt anybody except myself, not only in that movie but in life. And I've always been a good guy, I thought. I never hurt anybody. I helped a lot more people than I did anything bad to."
Chuck Wepner: Definitely. I never really hurt anybody except myself, not only in that movie but in life. And I've always been a good guy, I thought. I never hurt anybody. I helped a lot more people than I did anything bad to. And I think that the way life turned out for me is great. And right now I'm probably feeling better than I ever felt in my life. I'm 78 years old. I'm still in the gym three days a week, and I have a beautiful wife, good times. She's right behind me. She told me to say that or she’s going to hit me in the head [laughter]. But things are going great for me. I have a great job, I'm with the same company 50 years - Allied Liquors, the liquor company. I work for great people and I couldn't ask for anything more at this time in my life. I mean, I'm just so happy with the way everything turned out for me. I'm happy with the film. So even though I think it showed more of the down times of me than the good-- but you know what? In those days, maybe there were more down times than good.
HTF: So you're a person that always keeps moving forward. You get knocked down and you get back up. You knock yourself down and you find a way up and through. What would you tell people who are faced with what they think is an insurmountable obstacle? They've been knocked down and they don't think they can get back up. What is it inside you that kept you going, that kept you moving forward, that you would tell them, or you would use to inspire them to keep going?
“…just keep trying and never give up and things'll work out for you…”
Chuck Wepner: You know what? You're only here once. You only go through life once, and if you don't pick yourself up, you're never going to get up. So just keep trying and never give up and things'll work out for you.
HTF: Well, thank you, Chuck. I sincerely appreciate it. All the very best to you.
Chuck Wepner: All right, buddy. Take care.