ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
Three For the Road > 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."
Eddie Sullivan > MARK FEUERSTEIN portrays Eddie Sullivan, a former mixed martial arts champion-turned-manager who recruits Walter Krunk to take on undefeated champ, Redrum, (Lester Speight), who is managed by Memphis Earle, his longtime nemesis and bookie.
"At first glance, Eddie is a questionable character who has a very different agenda than Sister Francesca and Mary when it comes to Walter," producer Mike Pavone explains. "He owes money to some gamblers - he's a fight promoter and he's looking for a fighter to win his money back in these underground mixed martial arts' bouts." Eddie's true intentions in the film are consistently opaque according to Pavone. "Mark's character leads the other characters down this path where we really don't know if, in the end, he's servicing his own agenda or is legitimately going to help out Walter."
Although Eddie may seem like a bad guy on paper, Feuerstein's supporting cast admits he infuses likability and substance into an otherwise despicable role. "He's a perfect fit for Eddie because he brings charm to the role, he's a loveable bad guy," said Hardin. "In the beginning, Eddie has his ulterior motives, but he actually makes the right decisions and becomes a better man. Mark has all the right elements - he's smart, funny, attractive and charming - to make that change convincingly."
For Feuerstein, playing a darker, down-on-his-luck character like Eddie Sullivan, was a welcome departure from his role as Dr. Hank Lawson, a clean cut, stand-up professional on USA Network's top-rated series, "Royal Pains.".
"I like my character on 'Royal Pains,' but it's very exciting to have the opportunity to play a guy who's got troubles, who's really on his last legs and is struggling to find some hope that things might be okay," he said. "In movies, my heart always goes out to that character."
In "Knucklehead," Eddie's heart goes out to Mary O'Connor, played by Hardin. "In the case of Mary and me, it's about growing out of the dark past into a more mature life," Feuerstein said. "In the case of Walter, it's about growing out of that inexperienced, innocent state into a much more fulfilled experienced place."
Hardin says her character falls for Eddie because he makes the right decisions and does the right thing. "Eddie has his own ulterior motives in the beginning, but he does turn Walter into a fighter, he does win the last big fight with the big money and he isn't the bad guy you think he is," she said. "He falls in love with Walter, like everybody does, and he falls in love with me and becomes a better man."
As for Feuerstein's kissing scene with Hardin, the actress playfully admits, "I happen to think Mark is a nice, funny guy and I had no problem kissing him!"
Mary O'Connor > MELORA HARDIN portrays Mary O'Conner, the beautiful aide to Sister Francesca, whose past life outside the church comes in handy when she is drafted to chaperone Walter's trip to the fight tournament.
"Mary's very warm and likeable - - she's great with the kids and she really takes care of Walter," says Hardin. Wight agrees with Hardin, admitting that Mary "big sisters" his character and "mothers him something terrible."
Hardin refers to her character as Sister Francesca's "teammate" in running the orphanage. She explains, "I think Sister Francesca runs the place with an iron fist and I think Mary's the velvet glove." Wendie Malick, who plays Sister Francesca, speaks highly of her co-star: "Melora Hardin is so lovely and it's crazy how multi-faceted she is!. She's incredibly sweet, definitely someone whom you'd hope would help raise you if you didn't have parents."
Although Mary may seem like a saint, she has a questionable past that reveals itself throughout the story. "She has a background with Sister Francesca that dates back to her sort of troubled past where Sister Francesca came into her life and actually helped her move her life in a different direction," said Pavone.
In addition to her surprising past, Hardin's character also has another quiet talent she eventually divulges: "It's called a Spinning Heel Kick.," she said. "It's a big kick that starts over here and ends over there." Hardin credits her dance training with her ability to execute the stunt. Her co-stars were more than impressed. "The Big Show" and Mark both said, 'Wow.' Hardin admits.
Walter Krunk > PAUL "THE BIG SHOW" WIGHT plays Walter Krunk, a 7-foot-tall, 440-pound naïve giant who was raised in the St. Thomas Orphanage and never left - until he takes to the road with Eddie and Mary. "I play a very sweet guy by the name of Walter Krunk," explains Wight. "He is not polluted by other people in society because he has spent his whole life at the orphanage. He has a nice little world and he is very happy there."
The characters' journey at the center of the plot is an opportunity for Walter to leave the only life he has ever known at the orphanage, and venture out into a strange and unfamiliar world. Letting Walter out into the world is like "letting a rhinoceros loose in a china shop," according to Wight. "Walter has a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he says. "Walter is responsible for a lot of damage that happens in the orphanage, not done intentionally or maliciously, it's just that he's an enormous man and he tends to break things by mistake." Wight cites several examples explaining, "He wipes out an entire play on stage, he sets the kitchen on fire, and he's clogged up numerous toilets."
"I think 'The Big Show's' perfect for Walter because he's got a lot of humanity," says Hardin. "He's got heart, he's got soul and he's a sensitive person - -it's not just that he's a big guy."
"I am stunned at 'The Big Show' and how vulnerable he is as an actor - - he is malleable, honest, pliable, and tender - I have so many adjectives," said Watkins. He is able to do things in front of the camera without being restricted. He reads between the lines and executes scenes unbelievably well. It's a real gift to work with him."
Standing at a whopping seven-feet-tall, Wight towers over other members of the cast. Bobb'e J. Thompson, describes "The Big Show" as being "uniquely built." He explains that Wight's size is similar to Shaquille O'Neal, "When you first see Shaq, you are at a loss for words." Feuerstein describes his shock at "The Big Show's" size, saying, "When you see "The Big Show," from a distance, you see this very well-proportioned, normal-looking guy, but suddenly he emerges and he's pretty intimidating."
Despite his intimidating size, Feuerstein and his co-stars said Wight quickly put them at ease. "I had some trepidation, but when I got to know him, I fell in love with him - he is the nicest, most humble, funny, smart guy I've had the pleasure to be in a movie with. We found a comedic rhythm that I've never really had with anyone else."
Even though this is Wight's first major starring role, he has already gained the respect of his acting peers. "He's a multi-faceted man and a very good instinctual actor with a great sense of timing," said Malick. "He's quite light on his feet. He reminds me of John Belushi in that way, who was such a big, hulky guy who danced like a ballerina, moved so beautifully. Paul has incredible skill and control over his enormous body, a great awareness of himself physically and a great heart, which will surprise a lot of people."
Hardin agrees. "The first thing I noticed about him is that he just naturally has great instincts as an actor, as a performer. When you watch him wrestle, you see that he has wonderful dramatic intuition. He really knows when he should make a face and when he should throw his arm up in the air, and I think that all speaks to his natural kind of theatricality."
Co-star Creskoff believes Wight's performance in "Knucklehead" will grab the attention of critics and fans alike. "I hope 'Knucklehead' is known as the movie where "The Big Show" becomes a huge star," she said. "He's very funny, very smart and he likes to entertain. He's got a big personality and he's fearless. When you put all of that together, it's a pretty great leading man."
On A Mission From God: Sister Francesca > WENDIE MALICK portrays Sister Francesca, the tough-talking, intimidating head nun at the St. Thomas Orphanage, who pushes Walter to go on the road with Eddie.
Malick, who has appeared in more than 100 television shows and films, says she jumped at the chance to play Sister Francesca. "This was a chance to play a character I have never played," she said. "My characters are usually a bit bawdier and more outrageous. Sister Francesca is someone who is very passionate about her flock, but her passion is kept in check - so I have to show a little restraint."
Sister Francesca's fervor for her vocation as well as her orphanage makes her completely dedicated to its occupants. "I think that she is just so passionate about her flock that she will do anything to protect them. It's a kind of tough love, but underneath it all she cares deeply," said Hardin. "Sister Francesca is absolutely committed to her quest to make this orphanage a great nurturing place for these boys. She feels 100% led by God, so she doesn't let anyone mess around with her. She's pretty tough."
Malick's character not only demands respect, but she also inspires fear. Producer Pavone admits, "Sister Francesca may be the toughest person I've ever met."
Feuerstein shares a similar view of Sister Francesca. He explains, "In the hands of Wendie Malick, Sister Francesca becomes more intimidating than a combination of Don Corleone and Andre the Giant - she is enormous and when she wields that cane and whacks "The Big Show" in the face or me in the throat, you just want to collapse on the ground from sheer terror."
Wight says he learned a lot from watching Malick. "Wendie is phenomenal because she resonates this power and professionalism," he said. "When she becomes Sister Francesca, she has this force that radiates off her that scares the crap out of you. I've been to Catholic school and I've seen those nuns and I know that look they get in their eye. Wendie has all that down."
Many of the cast and crew wondered how Sister Francesca would fare in a WWE ring. Farina notes, "In the WWE, Sister Francesca would be formidable." Hardin agrees, saying, "I think even the big guys would cringe and shrink back just from her presence."
Wight, however, cannot see Sister Francesca as an in-ring Superstar. He says, "If she was in the WWE, she wouldn't be a diva. She'd be the boss. She would come out to Vince's [McMahon's] theme song. Sister Francesca would be Vince as a woman."
Malick seems to enjoy the fear that she inspires, and warns, "Nobody should ever mess with me. I'm the toughest girl in the room."
Memphis Earl, Redrum and Vic > One character who underestimates Sister Francesca is Memphis Earl, played by DENNIS FARINA, the fight manager and bookie who is determined to ensure that Eddie and Walter never make it to the Pro-Am tournament to face Redrum, his undefeated fighter.
"I've known Dennis for years, and he's always kind of that groovy Frank Sinatra kind of guy," said Malick. "He's charming, but his character suffers the wrath of Sister Francesca. The cane is my weapon and it does some very special things besides being a baton twirler. I use it to 'settle down' a few outrageous people who need to learn a lesson."
Farina believes "being a bad guy is all in one's head," and is quick to defend his villainous character. "I think he's the most honest guy in the movie. I know Memphis Earl is a cheat, a liar, he's duplicitous, he's everything, but he is a lot of fun to do. I don't think of him in terms of a bad guy. I just think he knows what he wants."
And what Memphis Earl wants, is to stop Eddie and Walter, his new-found fighter at all costs. Of course, Earl uses Redrum his "right-hand man" played by LESTER SPEIGHT, to do just that. "He's my go-to guy," said Farina. "However, he always wants to think things through, where I, on the other hand, as his boss, just want him to act, harm people and carry out orders."
"Lester is a thinker," insists Speight. "He is a philosopher, but gets no respect from his boss who just wants him to beat people up."
Feuerstein, who previously worked with Farina on the set of "Law & Order," agreed, adding, "We're just constantly laughing. And Dennis, is so good at what he does. He'll throw something in - a look, a gesture. It's so subtle, but so expressive. I just love working with Dennis."
For Speight, working as Redrum, the undefeated mixed-martial-arts-fighter managed by Memphis Earl, being part of a character-filled ensemble cast was "great fun. We had such a good time doing our scenes, especially since Dennis is so used to swearing in his films and in this one, he couldn't. He'd start to improvise and swear and we'd all crack up."
When Speight wasn't sharing laughs with his co-stars on set, "the first place we would look for him was in the gym," said Watkins. "And, that's where we would find him."
According to Wight, Speight's great attitude and dedicated work ethic showed in the fight scenes they did together. "Lester worked his tail off and did a fantastic job," he said. "Whether you're an actor or an athlete, it's not easy to step into the ring. It takes a lot of breathing technique and a lot of physical endurance that you have to build up. Lester's a tremendous athlete and a great actor and has a very strong, physical presence in the ring."
The first time the audience sees Speight's character is in Vic's gym where he goes with Memphis Earl to collect money from the indebted Eddie. That's also where we first see actor WILL PATTON, who portrays Eddie's father, Vic Sullivan, an ex-fighter, trainer and gym owner.
According to Feuerstein, Patton's well-known enigmatic screen presence is evident in his portrayal of Old Vic. "He's so creepy, cool and odd, but in a charming, sweet, lovable way," said Feuerstein. "There's not a take where he doesn't find some nuance, some brilliant thing to add to the shot. I just feel so lucky to get to work with him. He's really a character."
Mad Milton: Young Promoter > Another stop - and character -- for the trio en route to New Orleans is the backyard of a fast-talking, pint-sized fight manager, Mad Milton, played by rising star BOBB'E J. THOMPSON, whose ambitions extend beyond his suburban ring exhibitions. Thompson describes the scene-stealing Mad Milton character as "a 13-year-old hustler" who is "a man trapped inside of a kid's body."
In the scene, Eddie psyches Walter up for the match to the point where Walter becomes enraged. Thompson explains, "My dad comes home early and sees that the fight is going on, and as "The Big Show" is getting pumped up, he doesn't know who the actual fighter is. So, as my dad is yelling and screaming and going crazy inside the ring, he mistakes my dad for the fighter and comes out and throws my dad through a fence, which is kind of awesome."
Thompson goes on to praise the scene saying, "What makes the scene funny is just what everybody brings to the table. We have Mark, Paul, Melora, and me, as well as all the extra little kids. Everybody brings something special to the table and that just brings a lot of joy and laughter."
Considerably younger than the rest of "Knucklehead's" cast, Thompson shines as Mad Milton and has gained the admiration of his costars. Feuerstein predicts Thompson "is going to be the next Eddie Murphy. He is so funny, off the cuff and spontaneous, I think that kid is brilliant."
A passion for comedy is what attracted the young "Role Models" star to the role. "I just love making people laugh." He proudly confesses, "Anytime I have a chance to work on something and put a smile on someone's face … I'm going to jump at it."
Wight says he was extremely impressed with Thompson's talent and personality. "He's a 13-year-old kid, who's got so much going on behind his eyes. He's quick witted, knows his lines and is so funny. There is something very intelligent and funny about a kid who talks to you like an adult and reminds you that you are pretty stupid compared to him."
Thompson, likewise, says he enjoyed working with Wight. "Paul Wight is an awesome guy and I'll work with him any day, anywhere," he said. "On 'Monday Night Raw' "The Big Show" is mean and big and cruel, so when I met him, I asked, 'You're not going to punch me or chokeslam me, are you? No? None of that? Well, then, hi, I'm Bobb'e. I was going to keep my distance but you seem to be pretty cool.' And he is! I love him."
Thompson says he is a longtime fan of World Wrestling Entertainment, citing the WrestleMania XXIV match between "The Big Show" and boxing champion Floyd "Money" Mayweather as one of his favorites.
Similarly, although Mad Milton's short stature is a stark contrast to the giant Walter, Thompson insists that his character is a force to be reckoned with. "Mad Milton is a little more intimidating than Walter," he said. "Walter is a little too easily distracted."
The Rabbi and the Synagogue SmackDown >SAUL RUBINEK plays Rabbi, a deeply religious man who happens to organize fights in the synagogue basement for his impassioned congregation.
Rubinek explains, "As far as I am concerned I am a bookie, running a wrestling match, but I am an Unorthodox Rabbi so, I am going with the flow." He jokes, "I am probably going to be banned from doing the next 12 or 13 Jewish films, but what can I say, it's a living."
Feuerstein attributes the comedic brilliance of the Jewish synagogue scene to Rubinek's performance as the Rabbi. "What sticks out in my mind was working with the great Saul Rubinek, who is incredible and hysterical in that scene."
The underground match at a Jewish synagogue is a memorable scene for Wight. "There are a lot of funny scenes in the film, but this one is special because this is the first time Walter has ever been in a fight his entire life, and he is just completely inept from every angle. He has the strength and size to be a nomadic Viking if he wanted to be, but he doesn't have the practical knowledge."
Wight adds, "This is probably the first time I have ever been able to be in the ring and act like a complete idiot." He pauses, admitting, "No that's not true. If you talk to Triple H, he will tell you I act like an idiot all the time."
In the scene, Walter is matched up against a fighter named Sugar Ray Rosenberg, who is "a wild man." Jerry Katz, who plays Rosenberg, ultimately resorts to an unorthodox fighting technique when physical blows prove futile. "I throw a barrage of punches, and I try to knock him out, but, of course I can't.," said Katz. "So I do what any athlete would do, I give him a wedgie."
Wight admits this is his first wedgie. "Most of the time, I have been on the giving end of wedgies," he says. "I like to say that I am a wedgie expert. I am known throughout the wedging world as being someone who can tear the waist band away from the underwear and hook it on my opponent's forehead, so then it pins their neck back and their underwear is still being pulled up their keister."
Wight's costume during this scene required him to perform in his underwear. Wight's costars had mixed reactions towards seeing him in briefs.
Feuerstein admits, "I have not gotten the image of "The Big Show" in his tighty whities out of my head."
Rubinek says words can not do justice to the sight of The Big Show in his briefs. "I think that no one should describe that. You should see it for yourself once. . . That's a sight beyond description."
Bare Knuckle Dave > Wight definitely needed that bravery when he found himself in another ring, facing an "even wilder" opponent than Sugar Ray Rosenberg: the undefeated Bare Knuckle Dave. Read more