LT grad makes movie debut

First Posted: 1/13/2015

Wrestlers tried their hand as actors.

Actors did their best to be wrestlers.

That’s how Keith Gavin and Channing Tatum ended up on the mat – and on film – together.

Mutual respect was earned during the days the two worlds crossed over for the making of the movie “Foxcatcher,” featuring Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Tatum.

Gavin, a Lackawanna Trail graduate and National Collegiate Athletic Association champion while at the University of Pittsburgh, plays Bulgarian wrestler Alexander Nanev in a scene against Mark Schultz, played by Tatum, in “Foxcatcher.”

“We just watched what happened in real life,” Gavin said of re-enacting the 1987 Schultz-Nanev World Championships match. “In filming, we just did the whole match how it really happened.

“We created the situation and they just edited it to make it more exciting, I guess.”

“Foxcatcher” was one of the nation’s top 25 grossing movies on each of the first two weekends of 2015. It tells the story of the 1996 murder by Team Foxcatcher sponsor and USA Wrestling donor John E. du Pont of Olympic champion Dave Schultz at du Pont’s suburban Philadelphia estate.

Gary Abbott, who worked for USA Wrestling then and now, reviewed the movie for, the U.S. Olympic Committee website.

“Regardless of whether you love wrestling, or if you personally knew the people involved in this story, you won’t come away from this movie feeling good about life,” Abbott wrote. “It is a sad, disturbing story, and the presentation can be described as dark.

“The death of Dave Schultz in the prime of his life was a tremendous loss to wrestling.”

Director Bennett Miller, who also delved into sports with “Moneyball,” earned the trust of the wrestling community with extensive research over the course of a decade before launching the project. Miller’s work on “Foxcatcher” earned him Best Director honors at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Ruffalo and Tatum trained as wrestlers to be able to portray the Schultz brothers.

“We were impressed with how they definitely really trained for it,” Gavin said in a telephone interview from Colorado where he is training with the U.S. National Team this week. “Before they even started filming the movie, the actors trained for six months.

“It was still a little uncomfortable for them, but they handled it well.”

Former Harvard wrestler Jesse Jantzen was hired as wrestling choreographer. With much of the movie being filmed in the Pittsburgh area, Gavin was one of the nationally-prominent active wrestlers that Jantzen reached out to for two days of filming wrestling competition scenes at California University of Pennsylvania.

John Guira, a former Wisconsin wrestler who was a close friend and coach of Schultz, served as wrestling and training coordinator.

Jantzen and Guira helped get the actors ready to look like wrestlers on the mat.

In the press kit prepared by Sony Classic Pictures, Tatum explained what he had learned about wrestling.

“I challenge anyone who thinks their sport is harder to come and try it,” said Tatum, an athlete in his younger days, but, unlike Ruffalo, one without any experience in wrestling. “This has been the most painful movie I have ever done.

“I never want to wrestle again.”

Gavin said the interaction with the movie business was “pretty informal.” He expected his scene to make it into the movie because of the significance the bout had in Schultz’s career, but Gavin was uncertain whether he would receive any formal recognition.

At the end of the movie’s credits, after the actors and staff are identified, Gavin’s name is among those wrestlers to appear under the category of “Special Thanks.”

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