Exclusive Interview: Peter Segal on Grudge Match and Shazam

Grudge Match Robert De Niro

Grudge Match is Rocky Vs. Raging Bull. That’s what it is. I’m surprised I have to point this out. Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro play retired boxers who are tempted back into the ring to settle an old score. Hmm, Stallone and DeNiro in a boxing movie?

I got to sit down with director Peter Segal to discuss the comedic sports movie. There is one spoiler of a Grudge Match cameo you may not want to know before they appear on screen, but you will definitely want to know how they got ‘em. So we’ve kept the question vague to omit the cameos’ names.

Segal directed The Naked Gun 33 1/3, so I also got his thoughts on the recent news of Ed Helms doing a Naked Gun remake. We also got updates on the Shazam movie, to which Segal was attached, a Harvey remake and a movie called One Finger Salute which would be about a different team of aviators who rivaled the ones profiled in The Right Stuff.


CraveOnline: Was Grudge Match pitched as I’ve been calling it all along, Rocky vs. Raging Bull?

Peter Segal: Well, I think that’s the subtext. I think that’s obviously something that we were capitalizing on from a “what kind of movie is this” standpoint, but it’s really not a parody at all. It’s a story unto itself and these are completely original characters.


Of course it is. I just meant as the hook to get people in, I want to see that movie on the premise alone.

Yeah, and I always come from a standpoint of Joe Popcorn myself. When I read a screenplay, would I go see that? And why? When I read this story, it seemed like yes, it was a comedy but it felt like if you’re going to tell this story right, by the time you got to the third act climax, the fight, that fight had to be as realistic and gritty and brutal as possible. The jokes can hang on that but it wasn’t about jokes at that point. I didn’t want a silly fight, or I don’t think the movie would have worked.


You can still be invested in a comedy.

Exactly, but there were times even in preproduction when I heard Bob was doing something for Tribeca. He was on with Judd Apatow and some question came from the audience, “So I hear you’re doing this movie. Are you going to get in Cape Fear shape?” He said, “No, I don’t think so. I think this is just a comedy.” That’s when it hit me. We really have to refocus how we’re going to depict this match. Again, it was critical so I spoke to him and I said, “Look, I actually do think it’s Cape Fear shape.” Sly, meanwhile, was coming down in his weight to get to the same weight class so it looked like these guys would be worthy opponents. Then Bob agreed to take that leap physically. No actor in history has transformed themselves more for a role than he did with Jake LaMotta or with Al Capone.


So was there any extreme sort of training he could do like he did on Raging Bull?

Yes. The weight gain we did with pads. We didn’t have the time to have him gain 30 pounds and then lose it.


He would have done that again?

Well, he asked, “Should I do that?” and I said we don’t have time to go up and to go down. But, we had his same physical trainer, Dan Harvey, from Cape Fear who he’s been with for 30 years. I said, “Dan, do you think it’s possible for Bob to lose 30 pounds and get in that kind of shape.” He said, “He’ll try.” And Bob did it. He lost seven inches in his belt. I think the effort shows on screen.


Were there any other actors who could have possibly made this movie?

You know, I’ve been asked that and the answer is unequivocally no. When I read the script, I thought of two guys, because said, “Well, who out there could play these guys and be believable in the ring, and possibly bring something to it with this subtext of their iconic roles.” It was only Bob and Sly. That was the good news and the bad news of it. The good news, we identified the perfect cast. The bad news was Warner Bros. agreed with me that that was the perfect cast and said unless you get that cast there will be no movie.


Was it ever up in the air that Stallone could play Kid and De Niro could play Razor?

There was a time when we thought about that, but it seemed to me the more we did rewrites on the script that the wounded warrior, for Sly to play that kind of harkened back to the sympathetic nature of Rocky Balboa in 1976. I don’t think since that time have we seen Sly do a role that’s as sensitive as this. I’ve been very rewarded and gratified by not just men coming out of screenings of this movie but women saying it’s the most sensitive portrayal of a character that they’ve seen him do in a long time.


Copland also and the last Rocky Balboa and Rambo, but not The Expendables.

And a few other movies. He seems to have moved away from that and one of the ways I convinced him to do this, I said, “Look, you look at Meryl Streep with Postcards from the Edge. That was a turning point in her career of lightening things. Bob did it with Analyze This, tipping his hat to The Godfather. If you can lighten what you’re doing and bring a sensitivity to it combined with humor, you can actually have a whole new career without even having to hold a gun.”


Was he game for that? Because I believe he had some negative experiences with comedies in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

He did. So he not only had those negative experiences, but he did not have the experience that Bob did in already tipping his hat to one of his iconic roles. So unlike Bob with Analyze This and Godfather, he had not done that yet and it took a lot of convincing. Both Bob and I kind of tag teamed and met with him several times and rewrote the script several times with Sly’s notes and finally got him to a point where he felt comfortable taking a leap of faith.