Director David O Russell

Producers David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Mark Wahlberg, Ryan Kavanaugh, Paul Tamasy, Dorothy Aufiero

Production companies Relativity Media, Mandeville Films

US distributor Paramount Pictures

International distributors Relativity Media, The Weinstein Company

US release date December 10, 2010

David O Russell’s crowd-pleaser The Fighter is a story of heart, in front of and behind the camera. The idea began with Mandeville Films partners David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman more than six years ago when they saw a video assembly of boxing footage and the HBO documentary High On Crack Street.

“It told the story of Micky [Ward] and Dicky [Eklund] and was exhilarating,” Hoberman says of the legendary 1990s boxing brothers. The writers cut it down to 20 minutes and shopped it around town before it landed at Paramount. They worked on the screenplay for 18 months leading up to the studio greenlight.

Mark Wahlberg had grown up within miles of the brothers’ home town of Lowell, Massachusetts. He came on board to play ‘Irish’ Micky Ward, who is coached to the world light welterweight title fight in the film by Dicky, his drug-addicted has-been older half-brother. “I’d known Micky since I was 18,” says Wahlberg.

The actor constructed a gym at his home and trained for four years until production commenced. “We started looking for Dickys,” Hoberman says. Actors Matt Damon and Brad Pitt and director Darren Aronofsky all dallied with the project at various stages.

“Every time the project would fall apart, we figured out a way to make it,” says Wahlberg, who took a producer credit as well as the lead role (pictured below). “Ultimately Todd, David and I went to Paramount to ask them to do it independently.”

Relativity acquired the project, chopped the $50m budget in half and cut a deal with Paramount to distribute for a fee. Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh and president of worldwide production Tucker Tooley felt the script was too dark and worked with Scott Silver to turn it into what Kavanaugh describes as “Rocky with even more heart”.

It was a pitch that ultimately convinced Christian Bale to play Dicky — his daughter attends the same school as Wahlberg’s — and David O Russell to come on board to direct. “We wanted a director who had artistic integrity and was ready for commercial success,” Kavanaugh says.

With Melissa Leo and Amy Adams also cast, filming in Lowell lasted 30 days with an additional three days for the fight sequences. “Any other actor would have needed several weeks but because [Wahlberg] trained so hard, we were able to shoot the fight scenes in three days,” Kavanaugh says.

Bale and Leo picked up Golden Globes in the supporting actor and actress category, respectively. Bale is also Bafta-nominated, though Leo is not. Adams is also nominated for a Bafta in the supporting actor category.