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INT: Gavin O'Connor

02.06.2004

In the world of sports-themed movies, hockey has always gotten short thrift. Every other major sport has its classics: HOOSIERS, THE NATURAL, REMEMBER THE TITANS, BLUE CRUSH. Hockey, however, has failed to inspire the folks in Hollywood. Hardcore hockey fans wince at the thought that the most famous films made about their beloved sport are THE MIGHTY DUCKS movies. You have to go all the way back to 1977 to find the last watchable one, SLAP SHOT.

This week brings us a movie that hockey fans can finally be proud of: MIRACLE, the story of the U.S. hockey team that triumphed over the godless commies in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. One thing that sets MIRACLE apart is how much the it strives for authenticity. The filmmakers resisted the urge to fill the cast with the Ashton Kutchers of the world: big-names who might fill the seats but can’t skate a lick. Instead they opted for a cast of relative unknowns, all of whom have at least some experience playing organized hockey.

Another thing I liked about the film was that, despite the subject matter, there wasn’t one annoying Canadian to be found. Bravo Disney! I got a chance to talk with first-time director Gavin O’Connor about his film. Check it out.

GAVIN O'CONNOR

How important was it to make the hockey in the film authentic?

To get to the level of hockey that I wanted to attain and not use stuntmen, to have the same kids on the ice be the same kids off the ice, I wanted to find hockey players. It was very rigorous – we saw over 4,000 kids – I needed to get hockey players, but I also needed to get kids who were born with the acting gene and didn’t know it. And it took a long time to find that. Then, of course, there were the other qualities – the physicality, they had to look like the guy. O’Callahan was a lefty – I needed a guy who was a lefty because, in that world, righty and lefty is a very important thing. I needed a guy who had the Boston (accent).

We all know when you meet someone from Boston, there’s a dialect, there’s a regionality that...you can smell the falseness of it on-screen when actors play that. Boston is a very difficult dialect. The kid Mike Mantenuto, who plays O’Callahan, he was playing at the University of Maine, which won the national championship his sophomore year. It’s one of the top programs in the country. The coach passed away from cancer. Mike didn’t get along with the new coach and he quit. He was working on a fishing boat and was going to transfer to UMass. He read about the auditions and I found this kid. The kid can act. He’s a really good actor, he just never knew it.

We’re told that Mike actually got into a fight during the auditions.

Well, he was playing Jack O’Callahan, who was a bit of a bruiser, so he knew who I was looking for him to play. But actually, the kid that he got into the fight with at the tryout was a guy who had started three fights previous to that and no one else stood up to him, because he was a big kid. It was a kid that played at Harvard. The kid started it with Mike and the Mike dropped his gloves and started swinging and they went at it. Mike kicked the shit out of him. He really did. And the guy was a big guy. I was impressed.

What was a touchstone for you when you made this film?

My touchstone was that game. I’ve seen that game 100 times. I’ve watched all the games in the 1980 series from, Sweden through Finland. I’ve seen all those games. The crowd, especially at the game against the Soviet Union, was like a character in itself. The whole place was rocking. There was so much electricity in the air, because people were so caught up in this team. So, I was honoring that. I wasn’t attempting to make a movie about patriotism. I was just honoring those two weeks.

What was important in the telling of the story was the seven months leading up to that game. My goal was to get the audience emotionally connected to Herb and his quest and these kids. And if I can get the audience involved with them emotionally, then I think when we get to the ice and these kids are playing for their country, I figured the audience would get behind them.

In terms of the United States, do you see parallels between now and 1980?

The film was greenlit after 9-11, so we were headed in a direction. I think the parallels today, vis-à-vis 1980, aren’t so much political, because I think we’re in a very different place – our government, our administration, our philosophies. If you think about it, in 1980 we were sort of at the bottom of the food chain in regard to the way the world viewed us. Now we couldn’t be more on top. We flex our muscles everywhere and no one can do anything about it. So I don’t know if there are any parallels there.

But I think where there are parallels is that there is a certain fracture in our country in regard to how we’re gonna define ourselves in the next ten years and where we’re headed. Some people support what happened in the Middle East and some people don’t. So I think there’s a parallel there. Ultimately, what the film is about all that this country stands for that is great. And that’s why so many people come here, because if you work really hard, if you pursue something with passion, if you believe in dreams, in this country they can come true.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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