Chuck Wepner told me he is just happy to still be alive so that he can tell his story – and now it will be shown on the silver screen for all to see.
Wepner is a former professional heavyweight boxer who was known as “The Bayonne Bleeder” because he had one of the sport’s bloodiest faces. Most notably to that point, there was a fight between Wepner and Sonny Liston in which the New Jersey heavyweight required 72 stitches to his face.
But the match that changed Wepner’s life was his 15 round battle with the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Muhammad Ali. That fight yielded a $100,000 payday for the Marine Corps veteran (the biggest check of his career, although Wepner insisted to me that he would’ve fought Ali for free) and inspired a young man named Sylvester Stallone to write a screenplay called “Rocky.”
And in the new film “Chuck,” out Friday, the world gets to see not only the real-life fighter who inspired the iconic movie series but also the effect that it all had on his personal life – filled with ups and downs that were fueled by sex, alcohol and drugs and led to marital issues and a stint in jail.
However at Wepner’s insistence, the film needed to be family-friendly. He attributes that characteristic along with the task of finding a good lead character in why it took 12 years to make. And it wasn’t until Liev Schreiber that Wepner knew they had their man.
“It was actually (Liev) who asked to play the part,” recalled Wepner on the second floor of the Loews Regency on New York City’s Upper East Side. “Taking no money up-front, everything on the other end. That’s how much he loves the movie.”
Wepner also revealed that Naomi Watts, who plays his third wife, signed up for the same deal.
“They wanted to do this movie,” he said. “They put their heart and soul in it and that’s why the movie is good.”
Schreiber’s acting chops impressed the boxer, right down to his in-ring dialect. Wepner even allowed that the “Ray Donovan” star has a little New Jersey in him.
“He’ll use a little slang now and then, if you know what I mean,” the boxer joked. “He likes to drink. He likes to party. He likes the girls.
“Yunno, that’s me!”