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April 20, 2018

24 Amazing Behind the Scenes Photos From the Making of 'Raging Bull' (1980)

Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull isn't a boxing movie, it's a movie about a boxer – one whose greatest fights were against himself.

Raging Bull was Robert De Niro's passion project, and it took him years to convince his friend, director Martin Scorsese, to make the film. He read Jake LaMotta's autobiography during the production of The Godfather Part II, in 1973 or 74. While the book is hardly a masterpiece, De Niro saw in it a rich character: a belligerent and insecure beast that took all his psycho-sexual demons into the boxing ring until he eventually reached rock bottom.

Scorsese never cared for sports, and especially not boxing, claiming that what little he'd seen on television wasn't very visual. But after the great director's personal problems with drug addiction led to a collapse (exacerbated by asthma and a trip to the high altitude Telluride Film Festival in 1978), he realized, from his hospital bed, that he and “Bob” were going to make this their next project. (Raging Bull would be their fourth collaboration out of an eventual nine.)

Scorsese hired the genius makeup artist Michael Westmore (who later created the look of nearly every alien species from Star Trek: The Next Generation) to create LaMotta's busted-up schnozz. But the wrap-around scenes set in the 1960s needed more padding. To that end, De Niro one-upped every screen actor before, and halted production on the film for four months to get “in shape.”

Having shot Bernardo Bertolucci's epic 1900 in Italy, he knew where to go to load up on carbohydrates, and set off on a raging eating binge, gaining 60 pounds to play the down-and-out version of the character. De Niro was known to do research for a character — he drove a few shifts as an actual cabbie before shooting Scorsese's Taxi Driver and spent weeks soaking up the atmosphere of a steel town before making The Deer Hunter – but this level of commitment was unprecedented. Luckily, he'd also done some intensive boxing training (with the real LaMotta) for the first part of the movie, so knew some tips for getting the weight off.

Surely, this legendary bit of backstage business, in addition to the remarkable performance, helped secure De Niro's Oscar win for Best Actor.



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