Oscars: Talking “The Fighter,” Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and the awards season with Jack McGee

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: “Oh geez, O’Connell and McGee? It sounds like a law firm that would be indicted and shut down within minutes.”

That’s how character actor Jack McGee kick started our phone interview on behalf of David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” the Oscar-nominated drama that casts McGee as Mark Wahlberg’s father figure, George Ward.

McGee has enjoyed a lengthy career in Hollywood. He made his quiet debut as a bar patron in 1985’s “Turk 182!,” then went on to contribute to the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, Bill Murray’s “Scrooged,” “Basic Instinct,” “Backdraft” and the legendary “Showgirls.”

Television addicts might recognize McGee from his recurring roles on Denis Leary’s firefighter drama “Rescue Me,” though he also appeared on such popular programs as “Chicago Hope,” “NYPD Blue,” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” over the years.

“You know, if I thought for a minute that I could audition for the same role Natalie Portman played in ‘Black Swan,’ I’d try,” McGee said with a laugh. “But I was a firefighter in New York City for 10 years. I come from a background of blue-collar workers, and I identify with the working class quite a bit.”

Currently, McGee is enjoying a wild ride through a busy awards season as an ensemble member of Russell’s “The Fighter,” which tells the true-life story of blue-collar boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and his ascension to the upper ranks of junior welterweights. McGee plays George in the film, husband to Micky’s birth mother, Alice, played with ferocious naivety by the great Melissa Leo.

“Between Christian [Bale’s] character and Melissa’s character, there were a lot of big, boisterous personalities at play,” McGee said of his time on set and his approach to the material. “Here’s the brilliance of David O. Russell, as well. I don’t ever remember having to do multiple takes. He respected our choices. He’d suggest when it was time to lighten up on something. Obviously for him, you realize he just wanted to have choices when he went into the editing room to make his film. And he got them.”

And people are responding. The film scored seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (for Bale) and Best Supporting Actress (for Leo and her co-star, Amy Adams).

“I was aware of it as we got deeper into it,” McGee told me about the awards potential of his co-stars. “But you never know what’s going to happen with a film. I’ve worked on films that don’t get the attention, the backing and the buzz, but I knew that the ingredients were there. Mark [Wahlberg] was the cornerstone of this thing, and David O. Russell was the heart.”

That would make McGee the voice of the film … or, at least, he was the night the cast climbed up on stage at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards to accept the Best Ensemble trophy. Surrounded by Bale, Adams and Leo, McGee spoke to the crowd and delivered one of the evening’s most emotional, off-the-cuff speeches.

“This is my first time around for all of this hoopla,” McGee admits. “So I was like, ‘What?’ I thought I’d get to go up with them, but when we got up, Christian leaned over and said, ‘This is only the beginning.’ Believe me, I’m a singer. I’ve been in front of 18,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl three years ago doing an Oldies show. That didn’t scare me. But then I started to think of the magnitude [of the award], so when Amy, Christian and Melissa said they wanted me to talk, I was blown away.”

McGee’s not finished. He thinks “The Fighter” has a few more opportunities to make speeches at major awards ceremonies.

“I don’t know much about the politics of Hollywood. I’m not privy to that,” McGee said. “But it seems like ‘The Social Network’ got out of the gate pretty quick, and then we got some attention. … We’ll see where this ride goes. I think we have legit shots in both supporting categories, but with the inclusion of an additional five Best Picture films, we might just have a shot at getting up there [at the Oscars] and getting another piece of hardware.”

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One Comment

  • February 13, 2011 | Permalink |

    There’s been a lot written about The Fighter, but your choice to interview Jack McGee is inspired. He’s a long-time insider, yet enough of an outsider to give a refreshing view of “all of this hoopla.” This piece stands out.

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