Paz has rightfully become the stuff of Rhode Island legend, a topic of constant local – and national – discussion in the ’80s and ’90s. Soon, that legend will be reborn on the big screen.
Bleed For This, a biopic about RI native Vincenzo Pazienza, aka The Pazmanian Devil, will be released on 3,000 movie screens nationwide in early November. The film was produced by, among others, local film producer Chad Verdi (Woodhaven Production Co., Almost Mercy, Loosies). Executive producers include Martin Scorsese, and it’s directed by Ben Younger (Boiler Room). Miles Teller (Divergent) stars as Paz, alongside Katey Sagal (“Sons of Anarchy”) as his mom and Aaron Eckhart (Olympus Has Fallen) as his trainer.
Motif will have more on the film as its release date approaches. This week, we caught up with Tommy DeNucci, local film producer, director, actor and writer (Army of the Damned, Self Storage), who made the behind-the-scenes documentary for Bleed for This.
“I play one of Vinny’s support team – I’m a sparring partner, walk him to the ring, that sort of thing. Vinny was known for having an entourage that would go where he went, and that carries over a bit to the film. So I probably only have a couple of lines, but I was on set all the time. On a big set, there can be a lot of downtime for actors. Since I’m also a filmmaker, [co-producer] Bruce Cohen (Silver Linings Playbook, American Beauty) offered me the chance to take on the behind-the-scenes,” explains DeNucci.
Like Paz himself, the film seems to be blowing up bigger than almost anyone expected. In addition to wide release, the film is generating early Oscar buzz in the LA Times, especially for its star performances. Not bad for a film from Rhode Island. “You can say that about Vinny too,” points out DeNucci. “He was definitely an underdog story.”
Over years on the boxing circuit in lightweight, light middleweight and super middleweight, Paz proved a reliable performer, picking up four world championship titles. But it was his fifth title that made him a legend, coming as it did after a spinal injury that had doctors telling him he might never walk again, let alone box. No one thought he had any chance at a comeback from that.
“When you’re working on a film, no one’s thinking about Oscars or awards – you’re just trying to do your best on the day-to-day,” says DeNucci. “So to find out that the film’s acquired all this gravity a couple of years after you did the work is kind of strange and really exciting.”
Also like Paz, the film did not follow a straight or easy course. Various drafts of the script have been circulating since Vinny won/reclaimed his fifth title in 1993. Any number of filmmakers have been attached over the 20 years since, and it’s been considered for everything from a Lifetime movie to a raunchy comedy. “I remember reading a draft of the script when I was a 22-year-old intern on one of [Verdi’s] sets. Ten years later, it’s remarkable to see how it evolved,” Says DeNucci.
Motif: How involved was Martin Scorsese in the film?
Tommy DeNucci: He was heavily involved in the beginning and end of the process. He had a lot of impact on the casting and notes on the script. And once we had a rough cut, I know he gave a lot of notes that made it through to final cut. It was exciting to have him involved – he added a lot of class and weight to the production.
Motif: Was Vinny on set a lot?
TD: Vinny was there regularly and was involved. He’s an amazing character in his own right. And it had to be really surreal for him. I got some footage of him basically watching other people recreate his childhood. They recreated his childhood house, and he was reliving his life, but watching other people do it.
I’ve known Vinny for a long time, and Miles would do the Vinny voice and I’d look over my shoulder thinking it was the real thing. He really had it down.
Motif: How did Miles Teller prepare for the role?
TD: He met Vinny of course, but from what I understand, he did a lot of his preparation from video footage. From age 18 till today, Vinny really always had a camera in his face. He was a sports commentator, and there are hundreds of hours of footage and interviews. [Teller] said he would have that material playing on his computer constantly, no matter what else he was doing, and just immersing himself.
Physically, he trained his ass off for the boxing. He could really kick some legit ass in the ring at this point. He got really ripped. He could probably knock you out. You have to get pretty shredded to play Vinny – you can’t look like Turtle from “Entourage.”
Motif: How much Rhode Island culture / heritage is in this film? Does it show where Almacs used to be?
TD: There are enough background elements included that I think it will make Rhode Islanders smile. It doesn’t go too far, it’s not comical. But you’ll see landmarks, and there’s a very authentic recreation of the old Civic Center, before it was the Dunk, with vintage logos from the old days.
Motif: What else do you personally have coming up as a filmmaker?
TD: Today I’m starting preproduction on Anders Manor – it’s a co-production with local company 2 Cousins Productions. It’s taking me back to my horror roots, sort of like “Stranger Things” but with an 18-year-old and set in modern times. It stars Christina Robinson, who played the daughter on “Dexter.” She’s all grown up now, and her character has just checked herself out of an asylum and moved into the family bed and breakfast. Which doesn’t go so well. It’s also an opportunity for me to work with Sully Erna, lead singer for Godsmack (Army of the Damned) again.
On November 15 a kids’ comedy I directed called Arlo: The Burping Pig is being released. It’s a fun family movie about a little girl whose family moves to a place where she doesn’t know anyone. She meets this tiny pig and learns that animals can be friends too. It was a little different for me, but I was excited to work in LA, and I’ve always been a fan of John Candy and John Hughes movies, so it was a chance to do something in that spirit.
Bleed For This releases nationwide in early November. Fb.com/bleedforthis