KNUCKLEHEAD follows con artist Eddie Sullivan (Mark Feuerstein), who, after incurring a large debt with a local bookie (Dennis Farina), creates a get-rich-quick scheme by enlisting a sweet gentle giant named Walter (Paul "The Big Show" Wight) as his unwitting accomplice. Walter's orphanage--the only home he's ever known--also needs funds desperately. Upon overhearing Walter's predicament, Eddie convinces the no-nonsense head nun, Sister Francesca (Wendie Malick), that Walter can win the money as a fighter and pay off the church's debts. Eddie's plan: travel from town to town with Walter and enter small, unsanctioned fighting competitions for prize money.
Sister Francesca dispatches Mary (Melora Hardin) as a chaperone for both Walter and the money and gives Eddie a week - and a prayer - to make it happen. During their journey across the south to the annual Pro-Am MMA tournament in New Orleans, Walter discovers what life is like outside the orphanage, while Eddie becomes morally conflicted over whether to take all the loot for himself or keep his promise to Walter, the one person he can actually call a friend.
WWE Studios in association with Samuel Goldwyn Film presents "Knucklehead," a knock-out comedy adventure in the vein of "Blades of Glory," "Happy Gilmore" and "Dodgeball."
ABOUT THE STORY
Road to Riches and Revelations
Films take audiences on journeys, but none more literally than road movies. Joined together by duty or survival, misfortune or opportunity, characters in road movies generally struggle to get along while going along. Throughout their journey, these disparate characters not only confront obstacles and detours, but most importantly, they come face-to-face with themselves and the realities of their lives.
In "Knucklehead," a trio of misfits --a naïve giant and church orphan-turned-amateur fighter Walter Krunk (Wight); a former mixed martial arts champion-turned-manager Eddie Sullivan (Feuerstein); and, a church aide-turned-chaperone Mary O'Connell (Hardin) --are thrown together as they fight their way across the south to the annual Pro-Am mixed martial arts tournament in New Orleans. As the miles add up, so do the conflicts and challenges…..in and out of the ring.
"Knucklehead' is a quirky little comedy - a cross between 'Big Fish,' 'Little Miss Sunshine' and 'Nacho Libre,'" said director Michael Watkins. "It's a story about people who are flawed, sort of wounded, and on the journey they go on together. It's not high octane comedy sort of stuff; it's about the real human condition."
Award-winning actress Wendie Malick, who portrays Sister Francesca, sees "Knucklehead" as comedy with a great message. "In many ways, it's a redemption movie with the whole notion of 'Let's not make assumptions about one another,'" she said. "I think there's even a little bit of 'Beauty and the Beast,' in the film with the whole idea of the big oaf who actually turns out to be the gentle lovely man underneath. It's the hidden genius in everyone you see around you."
"Nothing R-rated happens in the movie -- it's just big comedy," explains Rebecca Creskoff, who plays Walter's first love interest, Tina. "I think kids like that, but I'm also picturing my brother-in-law. I know that he would pretty much be laughing at everything that happens in the movie and he's 41. It's funny and fun and big and silly and it doesn't take itself too seriously."
Actress Melora Hardin, who portrays church aide-turned-chaperone, Mary O'Connell, agrees, adding: "There is a real sweetness to the story and there's a lot of heart. The movie is charming -- even the fight sequences are fun, not scary or violent. I think parents are going to enjoy it and the kids are going to enjoy it, too."
WWE Superstar Paul "The Big Show" Wight assures "Knucklehead" will be a great cinematic experience for all. "You will laugh, you'll have a good time, and your heart will be warmed by the experience," he said. "In today's age, where is it that you can take your whole family to a comedy that doesn't have nudity and swearing and have a great laugh,?"
The film manages to be wholesome, while still delivering belly-shaking laughs. Dennis Farina, who plays Memphis Earl, admits, "I read the script and I have to tell you that there were some parts where I laughed out loud. I just fell in love with the story. It's funny and family-oriented with a few messages in there for kids and yet a lot of stuff for the adults, too."
Like Farina, actor Mark Feuerstein, who portrays Eddie Sullivan, says he was attracted to the story because of its combination of heartfelt laughs and hard-luck characters.
"None of the characters has lived to their full potential," said Feuerstein. "We come together, hit the road and fight-by-fight, both in the ring and between the characters, grow into more mature, evolved people. It was very exciting for me to read a script and find a part where the edges are rough. I loved every page of the screenplay and was laughing out loud when I read it. The beauty of the comedy is that it comes out of a real place."
Real places, says Mark Feuerstein, who portrays Eddie Sullivan, Feuerstein, such as the desire to be successful or to find companionship and love -- while avoiding those "Knucklehead" mistakes that can or do derail many a dream. "Everyone can relate to the experience of being a knucklehead. I certainly can."
For WWE Superstar Paul "The Big Show" Wight the real places often included real-life incidents. After all, at 7-feet, 440-pounds, the "World's Largest Athlete," has a lot in common with Walter, especially, his size, strength and embarrassing run-ins with ceiling fans.
"When we were developing the script, I told a story about something that happened to me in high school and it was worked into the script," explained Wight. "I was at a party and it took place in a trailer in South Carolina when somebody's parents were out of town. Everybody had crashed out on the floor and in the middle of the night, I got up to go to the restroom. It was dark, so I was looking down to make sure I didn't step on anyone and heard 'swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.' And then bam, I walked right into the ceiling fan, fell over and went through the coffee table, destroying everything and waking up all my friends. Luckily, I did not crush anyone and when they turned on the lights, the ceiling fan was going around with one blade missing. Just like poor Tina's trailer. I always have issues with ceiling fans."
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS > Director Watkins says casting the three lead characters in an ensemble film such as "Knucklehead" is similar to putting together "an orchestra," in which all the musicians and instruments need to mix seamlessly in a true collaboration. "You need to have a cast on which you feel all the tumblers are going to come together," said Watkins. "As different people come into the mix, you look at how they will work with and off one another in a bit of a construction. We had Mark and Paul and then Will came into it, and Dennis and Wendie, and Melora and it all floats on a level where you are moving everyone around, seeing how they fit together." For "Knucklehead," the actors fit together in a supportive, fun-filled environment where spontaneity and respect led to comedy on and off the film set.
"The three of us really hit it off," said Hardin about her relationship with Feuerstein and Wight. "We really enjoy each other and often spend our lunch hours and down time sitting in The Big Show's bus, watching movies and eating lunch - - just hanging out, making jokes and being silly together." "The camaraderie that we established, we constantly made fun and had fun, organically lent itself to the chemistry between the three main characters," said Feuerstein. "We keep each other in check. We try to keep it grounded and remember what's going on in the scene." Read more
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
"Knucklehead" producer Pavone knew the action comedy and road movie presented a number of challenges to a director - a fast-paced, five-week shooting schedule; numerous locations; extensive choreographed fight sequences; and, a far flung cast of characters and actors. And that's exactly why he chose director Michael Watkins.
"Michael Watkins was the perfect director for this film, someone I can trust, whom I knew could work at this pace, and that would be terrific with the actors and the athletes in the movie," Pavone said. "He used to be a director of photography, so I knew he would be able to give the film a great look - again - moving at an incredible pace. I needed somebody like that who was also a producer and Michael is all of those things."
In addition to his technical knowledge and abilities, Watkins created an easy, friendly and energetic atmosphere on set, which as Pavone explains, "builds relationships between people, which translates onto the screen." Pavone was also in awe of Watkins' pace during filmmaking, explaining that they would sometimes shoot up to seven pages a day--a virtually unheard of feat for most feature film directors.
"He's fast, and great with actors," said Hardin. "He creates a really safe space. If a safe space is created for the actors, they feel that they can play."
Malick notes, "Michael just runs a great ship. He's like a kid himself, and he helps everyone go to that place and find the reality of the situation, while having a great time in the process."
For Wight "my first introduction into the movie business, working with Michael Watkins, who is such an accredited and accomplished director, has definitely spoiled me."
"Knucklehead" was the first film developed and shot at WWE Studios, NOLA, which is located in New Orleans, Louisiana. "New Orleans is a fabulous city, as anybody who's ever been there knows," said Pavone. "It has a lot of different looks and characteristics. Our picture is a road show, so we're shooting it all in and around New Orleans, but we're trying to make it look like we're covering a three-state journey. Since the area offers you a lot of different landscapes and backgrounds, we can make the audience believe that we're going to different places when we're still within a 50-mile radius of downtown New Orleans."
Pavone also applauds the region for providing a wide variety of backdrops for the film. Filmmakers shot at New Orleans City Park, Touro Synagogue, the Roosevelt Hotel, the Republic on S. Peters St., Feret St. Gym, and at locations outside of New Orleans in the cities of Marrero, Loranger and LaPlace.
"New Orleans, Louisiana is a beautiful city and it has great architecture," said Hardin. "It's astounding how many different kinds of looks you can find in and around New Orleans. I did two other projects here and I couldn't wait to get back."
One location used as the backdrop for the final fight scene proved to be the most extraordinary--and uniquely New Orleans: Mardi Gras World.
"Mardi Gras World by the Convention Center in New Orleans is such a fantastic, colorful setting to hold a fight," said Wight. It's the storage facility that holds all of the Mardi Gras floats that you see in the Mardi Gras parades."
Whether it was Mardi Gras world or Mad Milton's backyard, the mood on set was nothing short of fun, energetic and playful.
"I feel like we've probably made lasting friendships on the set, which is really nice and I wouldn't say necessarily the norm." Pavone notes that Hardin, Feuerstein, and Wight grew particularly close during filming. He says, "When the cameras stopped rolling, they would always be off in the corner together laughing, fooling around and having a good time. I think we developed a real family in the cast which makes a difference on screen because they don't have to fake that closeness - they really do care about each other."
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING