The Fight to Make The Fighter

It’s taken a decade, but The Fighter, the much-anticipated biopic of Lowell boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, finally arrives in theaters this month. Channel 5 sports anchor Bob Halloran — whose biography of Ward, Irish Thunder, got him a job as a consultant for the filmmakers — chronicles the movie’s bruising, eight-round battle to the screen.

Photo illustration by Jesse Lenz

Photo illustration by Jesse Lenz

1. Half-brothers Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund both have promising boxing careers derailed — Micky by a knack for losing, Dickie by a crack habit that lands him in jail. But with a newly released Dickie as his trainer, Micky goes the distance in several legendary fights and wins a belt. A gritty yet uplifting underdog story? Sounds like Hollywood!

2. In 2001 Billerica’s Keith Dorrington releases a documentary of Micky’s comeback, then pitches the idea of a Hollywood movie to Mark Wahlberg. “The story is so amazing,” Wahlberg tells Boston. “All the adversity [the brothers] faced, and Micky being able to accomplish his dream of becoming world champion.”

3. It takes four years to pull together a script, but in 2005 two screenwriters approach producers Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman. “There was clearly a movie there,” Lieberman recalls. The producers bring the project to Paramount, which starts developing it as a star vehicle for Eminem, post-8 Mile.

4. The rapper passes, so another screenwriter prepares a draft for Wahlberg, who signs on as Micky and begins training. “I lived and breathed boxing for four and a half years, trying to get this movie made,” he says. Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) agrees to direct, and the film is eventually greenlighted in 2007.

5. Matt Damon considers playing Dickie, but is unhappy with the script. Aronofsky embarks on draft three, only to see Damon move on. There’s still hope: Brad Pitt is interested — but first, more script changes!

6. In 2008 Pitt takes off. Aronofsky quits, too, and is replaced by David O. Russell, who directed Wahlberg in Three Kings. “From the get-go, [Russell] wanted to make it about family,” says Hoberman. “It’s a boxing movie, but it’s really about this dysfunctional family in Lowell.”

7. Christian Bale is cast as Dickie and the movie is ready to go, but Paramount balks at bankrolling a project rumored to cost $100 million. Relativity Media (The Social Network) steps up, and the budget is cut to $24 million. That’s enough for a 37-day shoot, 34 of them in Lowell.

8. After years on the ropes, The Fighter at last hits theaters on December 10. “I can’t wait for everyone back home to see it,” Wahlberg says. “It’s going to make everybody very proud.”