Bleed for This: Ben Younger’s Passion Project Starring Miles Teller

ingBased on the incredible true story of one of boxing’s most charismatic and colorful champions, Bleed for This centers on Rhode Island native Vinny Pazienza, aka “The Pazmanian Devil,” wonderfully played by Miles Teller.


Executive produced by Martin Scorsese and based on a true story, Bleed For This blends action, humor and tragedy to portray one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports.

Bleed for This is directed and co-written by Ben Younger, based on a story by Younger, Pippa Bianco and Angelo Pizzo.

Teller lays cocky Rhode Island boxer Vinny Pazienza who takes a brutal beating from Junior Welterweight Champion Roger Mayweather in 1988.

His fight promoter Lou Duva (Ted Levine) urges him to retire.  But, nstead, Pazienza moves up two weight classes under the guidance of his shrewd new trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart).


Rooney’s radical strategy pays off when Pazienza, 14 pounds heavier, takes down French boxer Gilbert Delé in front of a hometown crowd to become Super Middleweight champion of the world.  Pazienza doesn’t have much time to relish the victory, however. Shortly after the bout, a head-on car crash leaves him with a broken neck. Initially told he may never walk again, doctors recommend spinal fusion surgery that would guarantee mobility but effectively end his boxing career. Pazienza chooses the far riskier “halo” spine-stabilization treatment, requiring him to wear a circular metal brace screwed directly into his skull for six months.

Recovering in the modest home he shares with his fiercely devoted father Angelo (Ciarán Hinds) and anxious mother Louise (Katey Sagal), Pazienza secretly starts weight training in the basement with the help of a reluctant Rooney, and begins to rebound emotionally as well as physically. Little over a year after the accident, the man fondly known as “The Pazmanian Devil” returns to the ring to do battle with Super Middleweight Champion Roberto Duran (Edwin Rodriguez) in the biggest fight of his life.

Passion Project

Bleed for This  began as a passion project for Rhode Island-based entrepreneur and producer Chad A. Verdi, who saw most of Vinny Pazienza’s matches during the boxer’s heyday. “About 10 years after Vinny finished boxing I noticed that the rights to his story came up for sale,” Verdi recalls. “My wife and I thought Vinny’s story would make a great movie so we acquired the rights.” Verdi, who runs East Greenwich, Rhode Island-based Verdi Productions, spent years developing the story before teaming with filmmaker Ben Younger. Best known for writing and directing the taut 2000 financial thriller Boiler Room, Younger says he was initially attracted to the project because of its larger-than-life characters rather than its action elements. “I couldn’t have had less of an interest in boxing,” he says. “I was not a fight fan, I’m not a boxing aficionado and I’d never heard of Vinny Paz.”  That all changed after Younger had lunch in Los Angeles with Verdi and producer Noah Kraft. “When Chuck and Noah pitched me Vinny’s story, the idea that somebody was actually able to come back despite those odds — that’s what drew me in,” says Younger. “I kept thinking, there’s no way I would have come back from a broken neck like Vinny did. If it were me, I would have taken the spinal fusion and been grateful I could walk, but Vinny wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t give up on his dream.”

Once Ben Younger signed on to write the screenplay and direct Bleed for This , he began interviewing Vinny, his friends, and his family. “Before I even got into the fight stuff, I just want to talk to people and hear them tell the story in their own words,” Younger explains “Vinny himself is a very compelling character so it was pretty entertaining to hear him tell me what happened.”

Although “based-on-a-true-story” Hollywood movies often exaggerate characters to make them more dramatically compelling, Younger says he took the opposite approach after viewing a trove of old VHS tapes recorded by Vinny’s family members. “We saw all these great moments — everything from the costumes they wore back then to a family dynamic that was insanely colorful. In fact, I couldn’t portray Vinny’s family as they actually were because the audience wouldn’t believe it. I had to pull back rather than embellish.” Younger’s take on the material won over legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who came on board as executive producer. “Marty really loved Ben’s script and said it’s one of the best he’s ever read,” says Verdi, who’d teamed with Scorsese and his producing partner Emma Tillinger Koskoff on three other projects. “Ben captured Vinny’s character very well in that he’s cocky in the ring or when it pertains to other fighters, but outside the ring, he’s one of the nicest people you ever wanted to meet.”

Boxing Star is Born

In the wake of his critically acclaimed performance as an intense young drum student in Oscar-nominated Whiplash, Miles Teller jumped at the chance to portray Vinny “Paz” Pazienza. For Teller, who initially earned plaudits in the teen-friendly romance The Spectacular Now and plays a key supporting role in the blockbuster Divergent series, Bleed for This presented the opportunity to portray a more mature character. “I didn’t want to play somebody’s son and I didn’t want to play a student or anything,” Teller explains. “I was looking for a more challenging type of adult role to play.”

The actor responded to Younger’s script on multiple levels. “I really fell in love with the story and wanted to explore what it was like to be a 27-year-old Italian-American champion boxer in the ’80s. To me, that’s a cool guy to play. But the thing that really made me want to do this project is the fact it’s such an incredible story about one of the greatest comebacks ever — forget sports — I mean, just in general.” From the outset, Teller knew it was essential that he be able to deliver authentic boxing performances on screen. To that end, he trained with Los Angeles-based Darrell Foster, a former Golden Gloves champion whose previous clients include Sugar Ray Leonard and Will Smith. “I didn’t want to fake box and that was Darrell’s mentality too,” Teller says. “He didn’t want to teach me movie boxing or show me how to throw fake punches. Darrell’s like: ‘By the end of this movie you’ll be able to mess some dude up if he’s talking to your girl.’” Teller landed the role in March 2014 and spent the next eight months getting into fighting shape. “I started working with Darrell and this nutritionist who put me on a regimen where we’d work out once or twice a day, six days a week. I started losing body fat and shocking the body so I’d be ready to do the boxing down the road.” Teller maintained the fitness regime while filming The Fantastic Four and Insurgent, the second installment of the Divergent franchise. “From April to the end of August 2014 I worked out and dieted very intensively,” he says. After promoting Whiplash in September, Teller continued to prepare himself ahead of the late-autumn shoot. “I weighed 188 pounds and was 19 percent body fat when I got the movie,” Teller says. “From there I went to 168 pounds and got my body fat down to six percent. It’s not just about going to the gym and looking jacked. It’s not about wanting to take my shirt off and look cool or anything. These boxing scenes last all day. The first boxing match you see in the movie we filmed for 13 hours pretty much non-stop.”

Basic Training

Teller’s regimen also encompassed an hour and a half of daily dialect coaching, physical therapy for a tight hip, four hours of boxing and two hours of weights. “When people see this movie they’ll have no idea how much work went into it,” the actor says. “For eight months I didn’t have pizza. I didn’t eat a sandwich. I didn’t have any of that stuff. Every hour of my day was dictated for me.”

In case the diet and training regimes weren’t challenging enough, Teller had to wear the cumbersome “Halo” apparatus during the filming of most of the movie’s second act. “The halo hurt my head and I had to wear it all day. It’s such an absurd thing to relate to, trying to imagine having this thing drilled into your head, plus the fact I’m doing a Providence accent in front of people who are from there — Bleed for This had more challenges than anything I’ve ever done before.”