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While Somebody Up There Likes Me was only Paul Newman's second film role, he was no stranger to working in front of the camera. He had appeared in numerous television dramas and hoped to finally break into the movies, just as his wife, Joanne Woodward, had with The Three Faces of Eve.
However, after the appearing in his first film, The Silver Chalice, he was beginning to feel that might not happen. While the historical drama may have seemed like a good career move at the time, Newman later regretted it, feeling his performance and especially his costume were embarrasing. Thankfully, Somebody came along at the right time and offered a more grounded role to prove he was capable of much more.
Director Robert Wise said, “Paul Newman was marvelous. I thought he was one of the best actors I’ve worked with."
1. Another actor was cast first.
James Dean was originally cast to play the lead. However, after his tragic death, Paul Newman replaced him. Interestingly, Newman and Dean were friends and even went on motorcycle rides together.
2. Newman studied up.
Since the film is based on Rocky Graziano’s autobiography, Newman studied the boxing legend to understand his mannerisms. “I didn’t try to imitate him. I tried to find a balance between him and me… I tried to play a Graziano, not the Graziano.” He also made sure to hit the gym regularly and even spar with other fighters. “Just don’t hit the face, guys,” he’d tell them.
3. It was the second “fight” picture for Wise.
Director Robert Wise had recently finished The Set-Up starring Robert Ryan, when he was offered Somebody Up There Likes Me. Wise chose to film on location in New York -- something which was still rare at the time -- in order to capture the right feel for the movie. He also cut the scenes in such a way so that they mimicked the fast-paced character of Rocky Graziano.
4. It features a young McQueen.
Wise saw Steve McQueen while shooting in New York. While he wasn't known as the king of cool yet, he had the attitude. Wise recalled, “I liked the kind of cocky guy. I was really quite impressed with him. He had that magic for the screen.” Wise and McQueen worked together again for The Sand Pebbles ten years later.