Fighter Co-Producer Ryan Kavanaugh on His Best Picture Nominee and Tough Academy Breaks

Ryan Kavanaugh awoke early today with the rest of the industry, anticipating if and/or how the Academy would recognize his film The Fighter. But even as the Best Picture nominees were listed, and the Relativity Media CEO's production was among them, there was something a tad... off about it all.

Despite funding and helping shepherd The Fighter from turnaround at Paramount to a healthy box-office performance and seven Oscar nominations -- and despite a screen credit as co-producer -- Academy rules kept the studio head's name off the list of official nominees. (Co-producers Todd Lieberman, David Hoberman and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg received that recognition.) But that's the business, and if Kavanaugh (pictured above with director David O. Russell) was disappointed in the slightest by the time Movieline caught up with him this morning, he wasn't letting on.

Congratulations on the news this morning! What was your initial reaction?

"Jesus Christ, is it really 5:30?" [Laughs] Just kidding.

Did you sleep last night at all?

Yeah, like two hours. But honestly, we couldn't be happier. Obviously it's a film we're really proud of, and it's a film that I, personally, put a lot of emotion into it -- on top of money. A lot of time, a lot of rewriting, a lot of editing and re-shooting and laughing and fighting and screaming and crying, so... When you see this happen -- which is the Holy Grail of nods, so to speak -- it makes it not just worthwhile, it makes for a nice, tingly feeling inside.

Let's talk about the hats you wore on this one. What were your roles here, from page to screen?

Well, prior to us, Paramount developed it for a couple of years with primarily Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman as producers. Mark Wahlberg came on after; David and Todd lobbied for him. He came on about two and a half, three years ago, and started training for the role of Micky -- so much so that he actually built a gym in his backyard to start training. Then Paramount basically decided they weren't going to make the movie. We bought it from them in turnaround about... a year and a half ago, maybe two years. And when we got our hands on the script, it was a very dark -- very dark -- version of what it is. It was much more based on the documentary -- the Dicky Eklund, Crack in America thing that you see taking place in the movie -- and it was Darren Aronofsky directing it.

So we worked pretty tirelessly. I worked closely with David O. Russell rewriting -- just a page-one rewrite of the script. I remember my first meeting with Wahlberg, who was the one who originally brought it in for us to look at. I said, "I've got good news and bad news." He said, "Well, what's the good news?" I said, "I love the idea of the story -- an inspirational true story. In today's time, with the economy the biggest wreck we've since the Great Depression, all-time unemployment, political turmoil, people want to see a story of inspiration. The bad news is that it needs a page-one rewrite and we have to cut the budget in half." But to his credit -- and everybody's credit -- they worked through it. David O. Russell and I worked extremely closely, particularly in the development and editing stage. Not as much in the production phase, but in development. I don't know if you know my history, but before Hollywood I was down and out and told, "You'll never make it in this town." So we kind of crafted it to be a little bit [like] the story of everybody: Your story, my story, the story of every person who's told it's not possible. It's the story of never giving up.

It was about a three- to four-month rewrite, and in order to meet our budget, it was a 33-day shoot. Which is incredibly fast. The only reason we were able to get through the fighting in three days is because Mark never stopped training for the movie, even after Paramount said it was dead. Literally. He just always had it in his head that he was going to play this character.

You recently lost an appeal of the Academy rule that allows for a maximum of thre nominated producers; as a result, you're not technically among today's nominees. Is there anything bittersweet about this morning's news?

At the end of the day, I couldn't be more thrilled to be part of a movie that's getting such great attention. We own it, I produced it, I have a credit on it. At the end of the day the Academy made their decision and... you know. It's the Academy's decision. We're just thrilled the movie's getting the attention it's getting. It's not bittersweet at all.

Mark Wahlberg was not nominated for Best Actor, either, which surprised a lot of observers. What was your take on that?

You know, honestly, he had a really tough role. I think Christian Bale said it best when he won his Golden Globe, which is that here's a role where every person around him is this kind of outspoken, loud, aggressive, over-the-top character. And Mark has to play against this characters -- this really quiet, kind of shy, kind of in his own head, keeps-to-himself kind of character. It's really easy to overlook because his role is almost exaggeratedly subdued _because of the extremity of the characters around him. It was hard to know what to expect thim, just because it's so easy _to overlook. He definitely deserved it, but it's understandable why one might go, "Well, it's kind of hard to tell." But from our perspective, he did such a stellar job just being able to sit there and let them grab these major moments that are all through his eyes. That's the sign of a true actor, and I think he knows that, too. And I think he knew it was more of a chance of a Christian movie than him. Obviously he's getting his nod as a producer, which is amazing.

[Photo: Getty Images]