The real challenge in telling the story of John E. du Pont III , the ultra-rich, wildly eccentric wrestling enthusiast and Olympic sponsor at the center of director Bennett Miller’s new film, “Foxcatcher,” is what not to tell.
“There were so many crazy stories about that time,” says Dan Futterman, who shares the movie’s screenwriting credit with E. Max Frye. “What do you put into the movie and what do you not put in?”
In the end, Futterman put in an awful lot, but it never feels like too much. Indeed, the movie, about the bizarre heir to the du Pont fortune and his unsettling relationship with Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz, is winning praise from citics for its restraint.
Futterman, who spent Thanksgiving in Brookline with his in-laws (he’s married to Anya Epstein, sister of former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein), said it would have been easy to caricature du Pont, played (with a prosthetic nose) by Steve Carell, and the Schultz brothers, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo.
“I came to look at each of the scenes as mini wrestling matches,” he told us. “I was sort of feeling out the characters’s weaknesses. I like writing like that.”
He has some experience doing it. The muted tone of “Foxcatcher” is reminiscent of “Capote,” the 2005 film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman that earned Futterman an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
While writing “Foxcatcher,” Futterman said he spent time with Mark Schultz, who’s played by Channing. Though the former gold medalist is still filled with anger and shame about the time he spent at du Pont’s Foxcatcher Farm training facility, he was not reluctant to talk.
“I think Mark was worried a little bit how it would turn out,” says Futterman. “But he showed up at [the Cannes Film Festival] with a shirt that said, ‘Channing Tatum is playing me in a movie. Who’s playing you?’ So I guess he’s OK.”
Futterman, who started out in Hollywood as an actor, with roles in “The Birdcage” and the series “Judging Amy,” he’s focused on writing now. He and Epstein are currently writing and producing “Gracepoint,” the FOX crime drama based on the UK series “Broadchurch.”
“We share everything on the show. We outline scenes, we write, we rewrite, we fight, and then move on,” he said. “The hardest thing is when you get in bed at night and you’re still talking about work. It’d nice to ask, ‘How was your day?’ and not already know the answer to the question.”
Finally, we wondered if Futterman ever feels insecure because his wife’s grandfather and great uncle, Julius and Philip Epstein, won the Academy Award for “Casablanca.”
“No, I leave that to the Epstein descendants,” he said. “I have my own psychological issues.”