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Somebody Up There Likes Me offered Paul Newman his second film role. According to director Robert Wise, Newman was embarrassed after starring in The Silver Chalice due to the costume, so Somebody offered the chance at a more grounded role.
“Paul Newman was marvelous. I thought he was one of the best actors I’ve worked with,” said director Robert Wise.
1. Another actor was cast first.
James Dean was originally to play the lead in the film. However, after his death, Paul Newman replaced him. Interestingly, Newman also allegedly replaced Dean in The Battler. Newman had been friends with Dean and even went on motorcycle rides with the iconic rebel.
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 spare 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 got offered the chance to look at the script for Somebody Up There Likes Me. It was important for Wise to shoot on location in New York to capture the feel of the movie. He also worked to have the certain scenes move quickly so that the pace matched the energy of the story.
4. It features a young McQueen.
Before he was known as the king of cool, Wise saw Steve McQueen while shooting in New York. He said, “I liked the kind of cocky guy. I was really quite impressed with him. He had that magic for the screen.” Wise and McQueen teamed up again for The Sand Pebbles ten years later.