Biopics Create Strange Celebrity for Real-Life Heroes
When Dicky Eklund surprised Christian Bale on stage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, a familiar scene played out in front of viewers. Bale, who played Eklund in 'The Fighter,' threw an arm around the former boxer and said, "This is the original quacker right here. Thank you for living the life, and thank you for letting me play you."
"How do you like me now?" replied Eklund.
"I like you now," joked Bale.
'The Fighter's' success hasn't always been a laughing matter for Eklund. "It made me sad to watch it," he told the Boston Herald after previewing the film.
In the same interview with the Herald, Eklund made it clear that the resurgence of his fame hasn't changed him. "These days he teaches classes at two local gyms and hopes to slip out of the spotlight and convince people that being featured in a movie hasn't changed him, financially or otherwise," read the article.
Eklund, "The Pride of Lowell" Massachusetts, is far from the first real-life hero to share the stage with an actor being awarded for their role in a biographical film.
Nominated in 15 Emmy categories, HBO's biographical film 'Temple Grandin' gave the real-life Grandin, a doctor of animal science and professor at Colorado State University with high-functioning autism, a brush with fame.
When the film took home the Emmy for Oustanding Made for Television Movie, producer Emily Gerson Saines told Grandin, "On behalf of all the parents like myself who have a child with autism, you are our hero." Saines named Grandin's mother, Eustacia Cutler, as the film's "inspiration." "Mother, stand up. I know you're nervous, but please stand up," Grandin said as cameras in the audience cut to a beaming Cutler.
As the film gained critical acclaim, Grandin became a staple at award shows, sitting alongside the nominated cast and crew. Attending award shows may have been a change of pace for Grandin, but as an internationally recognized advocate for autism, she has appeared on television, radio and documentary films.
In the same way the 2000 film 'Erin Brockovich' brought attention to the consumer advocate Julia Roberts portrayed, 'Conviction' put a spotlight on the incredible story of Betty Anne Waters.
In 'Conviction,' Hilary Swank played Waters, a Rhode Island waitress who earned college and law degrees to overturn her brother's murder convinction after he was wrongly sentenced. But the transformation from local to nationally recognized hero wasn't an easy one for Waters. "I'm not going to say this is fun for me; I've had fun moments," Waters told The New York Times when the film was released in October 2010. "I'm tired right now. I could never keep this up."
Barry Scheck, a lawyer who assisted on the case that freed Waters' brother, spoke frankly about Waters' transformation from real-life hero to cinema fodder.
"It's not everyone who gets a movie made about her life. The amazing thing is, she's the same person. She's this totally down-to-earth, likable, accessible person who did this extraordinary thing."
It's no secret that films based on true stories draw audiences to the box office in droves. There's no better way to inspire moviegoers than with unbelievable tales of real people overcoming adversity. But even though real-life heroes may benefit from Hollywood's recognition, they aren't always prepared for the dizzying demands that come along with the spotlight.
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