Recently, I was with actor Christian Bale and former world-class boxer Dickie Eklund in a crack house on Smith Street in Lowell, Massachusetts.
I should say former crack house. Back in 1993, it mainly served as a safe place for junkies and addicts to hang out and get high. Off and on, for nearly 18 months, I spent time inside the scantly furnished, dimly lit, cockroach infected, two-bedroom apartments on the second floor with a video camera.
In those days, I was a documentary filmmaker. My job was to document the demise of Eklund. He was a crack addict. He’d fought on HBO many times and even went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard. I put him back on HBO — but this time as one of three stars in the “America Undercover” documentary film, “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell.”
On July 13, Lowell will host the production of a feature film that has been in the works for almost a decade. “The Fighter” is the biopic of boxer Irish Micky Ward and his trainer/brother, Eklund — two professionals, one with skills of a magician and the other with the heart of a lion.
Bale will play Eklund, a Lowell fighter who had all the tools but lost everything to drug addiction. Mark Wahlberg will become Micky Ward, the “Legend of Lowell,” a man whose heart was much larger than his talent and whose left hook crumbled anything it hit.
Today, from the outside, the broken-down tenement house on Smith Street hasn’t changed. Like the majority of the homes in the lower-Highlands section of Lowell, though, it now houses a Cambodian family whose relatives most likely fled their country in a quest to be free.
A young boy, maybe 5 or 6, stood alone on the front stairs with a Barney backpack. His jet-black eyes opened wide with fear as I pulled my black SUV Ford in front of his house.
Bale, Eklund and I approached the boy slowly. I asked if his mom or dad was home. He didn’t answer. His eyes jumped quickly between the three of us. Eklund tried to break the ice by asking if he had seen the movie “Batman.” He shook his head. Bale jumped in, “I think he’s a little young for ‘Batman,’” he said.
An elderly man stepped out onto the porch and tried to communicate with us. He didn’t speak much English, but we were able to determine he was the grandfather. He had no idea that Bale was a famous movie star.
I spent two days showing Bale around Lowell. It was surreal. As a former heroin addict, I roamed the same crack houses and “shooting galleries” in Lowell from 1984 through 1987.
I couldn’t help but be amazed at Bale’s intensity. He studied Eklund’s nonstop movements. He took notes and recorded Eklund’s distinct Lowell accent. He even went so far as to have the producers take pictures of Eklund’s receding hairline and chipped front teeth so makeup could duplicate his appearance.
In my two years working with writer Scott Silver, I’ve seen “The Fighter” up and down off the canvas a half-dozen times. Each time, Mark Wahlberg has picked it up and kept it moving forward.
More than six years ago, Wahlberg had the dream. He understood this perfect love story about two brothers who together mastered their demons to create a moment in time that will live forever.
And because of Whalberg’s passion, “The Fighter” has the potential to knock out “Raging Bull.”