ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Bang Bang director Vincent Grashaw and stars Tim Blake Nelson and Andrew Liner about the upcoming boxing movie, which premieres as part of the Tribeca Film Festival tomorrow, June 11 at 5 p.m. ET in the SVA Theatre. Additional showings take place on June 14 and 15.

“Back in his glory days, Bernard Rozyski (Tim Blake Nelson), better known as ‘Bang Bang,’ was a beloved prizefighter boxer riding high on his success. These days he’s angry and closed off, living in his grungy house in a blue-collar Detroit neighborhood,” says the synopsis. “When Bang Bang’s estranged daughter unexpectedly drops her troublemaking teenage son (Andrew Liner) off at his doorstep, it gives the bitter old man a chance at personal redemption as he trains the potential-laden kid in the ring. Problems arise when the former champ’s past demons have other plans, forcing Bang Bang to confront everything he’s tried so hard to suppress.”

Tyler Treese: Tim, the film starts with you shadowboxing in your underwear while drunk and dancing. That’s kind of a typical Saturday night for some. We all do it, but what was it like having it filmed and being in front of the cameras while doing that?

Tim Blake Nelson: Well, Vince got that footage from my wife [laughs]. That’s a really good question because it allows me to [praise] our director, Vincent Grashaw, who really guided me in this performance. One of the reasons I decided to do the film and had the hubris to take on a role like this as a 5’5.5″, 120-year-old pencil-neck geek is that Vince has a boxing background. I said, look, I’m gonna go and train, and I’m gonna pour myself into this, but you’ve gotta keep me honest. I think had Vince not had his boxing background, I think I might have urged them to go with another actor, because the last thing you want to do is show up on a set and disappoint a director.

That, to me, would be the worst professional sin I could ever commit. I wanna get on a set and for a director to feel like, “All right, I made the right choice with this guy. He’s gonna come through.” And that’s more than attitude. It speaks to your suitability for a role as well. Actors can often convince themselves they’re suitable for roles they have no business playing, and so knowing that I needed Vince to help guide this performance, and that was an instance in which he was able to talk to me about how the guy might move around the room. We chose a song together that made a lot of sense to me. He replaced that song, Vince did, with something with a similar beat, which is great and fine. But I credit Vince with that sequence every bit as much as I credit myself. So thank you, Vince.

Vince, this is such a great character study, and I’m really excited for it to premier at Tribeca in particular. It’s a really good fit for there. What does it mean for you personally to have this premiering at Tribeca and just be a part of that lineage?

Vincent Grashaw: I’ve never played Tribeca. I don’t even think I’ve been to the festival. So I’m actually really excited to see movies there and obviously showcase this to an audience. Yeah, it has a grit to it. I’ve been to New York obviously many times and and love it out there. So I’m excited to share this one. It’s personal in the way that I grew up close with the sport, grew up watching it with my family. Pay-per-view fights on Saturday nights, like with my grandfather. He grew up a fighter in the forties in Saginaw, Michigan.

So the elements of Detroit in this film were important to honor, too, and do it accurately. We filmed it in Covington, Kentucky, which is right across the bridge from Cincinnati. It has a very, very similar vibe to New York. So we’re really lucky for that. I am just grateful to share this and be invited to Tribeca at this point and begin our festival circuit.

Andrew, I saw on your Instagram that you’re very active in the gym, but what was that experience like having to shore up your boxing technique for this? Because you’re training to be a boxer in the movie.

Andrew Liner: Yeah, I have been kind of weightlifting and training a lot with a trainer back at home. I grew up boxing. My dad thought it was a good thing for us. I have three brothers and we all needed to learn how to fight. Then, when this came along, I think I had a month before I had to be in Kentucky, and I just did a month intensive of boxing, just brushing up on what I know. It’s actually interesting, I think we filmed a training scene with Tim and Kevin Corrigan and Vince was like, “All right, now look like you don’t know how to box.” And I had to flare my elbows and keep my hands down, and it’s just a different thing. So you have to almost forget what you trained for and then kind of work your way back into it. I’m a college athlete, and I wanted to be an athlete more than I wanted to be an actor. So it is kind of the best of both worlds for me.

Nelson: He’s a monster tennis player.

It’s such muscle memory. It’s probably actually difficult to forget that and look like a novice who is trying to learn when you actually know it.

Liner: Yeah, totally. I mean, it was a weird experience too. Because Vince was like, “No, you look like you know what you’re doing. This kid just throws big punches. That’s all he knows how to do.” So I had to be here, and I had to be here [adjusts his arms], and then Tim would check me, and that’s what you see in the film. I think it plays nicely. I think you also can see that the kid is athletic, and he does start with like a good base, and that’s kind of what Bang Bang sees in him, and that’s what sparks this whole journey that the two of them go on.

(Photo Credit: Traverse Media)

Tim, this is such an emotional character study of a role. You’re really showing the personal demons that Bernard has. What is it like just really diving into this character and this dark space? There’s a lot of nice moments too. It’s not always very brooding, but you can always tell that he is just not in the greatest spot in his life. So how is it kind of just embodying that throughout the entire film?

Nelson: Well, I would never complain about it. This is what I live for, a role like this. It’s beautifully written and really well guided by a director who knows what he wants and whose producers are supporting him. So I woke up every day, no matter how dark the sequence, feeling absolutely lucky to be exactly where I was. There was no place I’d rather be than in this weirdly shambolic corn cob-shaped hotel in a high wedge-shaped room in Covington, Kentucky, with all manner of vermin crawling around, getting to play this role in an indie film. God bless indie films because if this were a studio movie, I wouldn’t have been in the role. Also, indie films with all the grit and guerrilla-style approach to sneaking onto a bus and shooting me buying fares and just kind of acting like we were a student film, or I don’t know what the hell you guys said to that bus driver.

To be able to be doing that in my late fifties is an absolute privilege. I feel vital and alive and excited by the challenge, and to delve into the kind of stuff we delved into in this film just ultimately makes me a better and richer human being. So all I can do is just say thank you to the guy who wrote it and thank you to the guy who directed it and asked me to be in the movie. Thanks to generous scene partners like Andrew and the give and take we had, and thanks to Will Janowitz for writing such an interesting character.

Vince, there’s such a great history of the sweet science and boxing movies in film. A good 12-round boxing match, like we saw with Fury and Usyk, you see the theatrics there. It just lends itself so well to the film. But what I really like about this movie, Bang Bang, is that we’re seeing the aftermath of a career, and we’re seeing the toils that it can take on a person emotionally and physically. What did you like most about really exploring this side of boxing that isn’t as glamorous as Rocky or somebody on the come-up?

Yeah, I mean, what they say about boxing, it’s the theater of the unexpected. And, yeah, Usyk and Fury, I watched that fight, and it once in a while… I mean, boxing will always find a way to give itself a black eye. It is just always bad judging or controversies, and the wrong guy wins the decision. Somehow fighters always get screwed. It is just the way it is, but once in a while, they’ll do it right. Boxing will get it right, and you’ll have a great fight. It’s why everyone clamors back to it. Boxing’s doing really well right now.

But you don’t see the dark side of the sport where boxers are left in the aftermath; no matter how big they were. A lot of times, the bigger you are, the longer it takes for you to retire, and because you’re addicted to that adrenaline and that drug of coming out on the ring walk. There are elements to the sport they just can’t let go. I think you really can see the aftermath of somebody who with his own family grew up in it. Bang Bang obviously grew up in the sport, his father and his own brother, they’re almost inherently in it. That happens a lot where family; it’s almost like military service; boxers’ children will follow in their footsteps.

The thing about this story is a lot of times, fathers may or may not realize that they could be putting their own son in danger, and so there is that element to that. I was really interested in exploring that Bang sees potential in this guy, in his grandson, but how much of it is self-interest in whether it’s to kind of get back into sport out of revenge to his former opponent, and how much of it is healthy in bringing him out of his shell? The script was complex in that way. Like the theater of the unexpected, this script doesn’t go the way you think it may. That’s what I loved about it and what I’m excited to share with you.

Bang Bang Interview: Tim Blake Nelson, Vincent Grashaw, & Andrew Liner Talk Boxing Movie
(Photo Credit: Traverse Media)

Tyler Treese: Andrew, I really like this grandson-grandfather dynamic. It’s very unique. One nice thing about this is you didn’t have to really establish this back-and-forth rapport because they weren’t super close prior to you being left with him. So, how was it just kind of working as this estranged grandson really getting to know his grandfather and going under his very strange tutelage in boxing?

Liner: Yeah, I think it was really interesting because I think Justin is in a place at the beginning of the film where he is very much searching for who he is, and he’s very curious about the world and about what he wants to do. He doesn’t really have a male influence in his life or a male role model in his life. I think the opportunity of being dropped off at Bang’s doorstep kind of ped an interest because he knows how nutty Bang Bang is.

I think they find a sense of purpose together. While Justin also fills Bang’s sense of purpose, Bang fills Justin’s. I think that was also a really interesting thing to play because you have these two guys that are very interesting and bizarre and similar in their own regards come together, and it feels like for a moment, it’s them against the world. It was super interesting to explore.

Tim, I won’t get into spoilers, but you have this really fantastic scene near the end with Glenn Plummer, and I was just curious what stood out about him as a scene partner? It’s a very physical scene and it was really such a highlight of the film.

Nelson: I don’t think that that it spoils anything to say that we fight in the movie. I appreciate you’re not wanting to spoil the film. Glenn is actually really good at it, and he’s a very physical actor in a good way. I tried to use it, but I was just trying to keep up with him because in terms of the fight choreography, he was just more naturally adept at it than I was because he had some experience with boxing, and I didn’t, other than my intensive training in the months leading up to the movie. So it was very helpful, um, to be on edge in that way with somebody who really knew what he was doing and had the, the, not only the agility but that ineffable feel of being a boxer and fighting and just the way he moved in his bones.

There was one moment, which was very much on me, I missed a piece of choreography and took a punch. On the other side of it, since I didn’t really get hurt, it was pretty exciting. I was very shaken at the time. But on the other side of it, it was pretty exciting.

That’s incredible.

Grashaw: It was a little scary, though. In like most boxing movies, even if you accidentally get hit, you have gloves. I mean, in that, this scene, it obviously, we didn’t have that sort of safety net to it. So yeah, it was a little nerve-wracking, and we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot that scene either.

Nelson: And just to be clear, so that it doesn’t get misinterpreted, I was the person who missed the choreography. I just had too much of my head at the time, and I just missed it. So that was on me.

The scene’s really incredible. So, at least you took a punch for great art.

Thanks to Grashaw, Nelson, and Liner for taking the time to talk about Bang Bang’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere.