Jake Gyllenhaal, who gives a heroic performance in boxing film ‘Southpaw’, reveals he has fallen in love with the sport, the brutality of it doesn’t bother him, and he finds fighters operating at championship level to have a “sensitivity of the highest level”.
Jake, who plays down-on-his-luck former champion Billy Hope, trained for five months to get into shape for the role, and tells HuffPostUK of his fresh appreciation for the sport and its proponents:
“I find boxers to be really sensitive. I think the sport of boxing and the guys who do it have intuition at the highest level.
“When you see the egos and all that bling they do, I see that as them just walking into battle, but you can’t dismiss the sensitivity. This is a science, boxing. You’re not just going in there with whatever you can get, trying to tear each other up. It’s a science of angles.”
Jake speaks calmly and quietly, his manner belying his strong opinions and clear passion for this kind of physical contest.
“I’m not bothered by the physical brutality of it,” he admits. “There are serious side effects and I can understand how that is disturbing. But there’s a science, and it’s an expression.
“I was at the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, yes, there was a lot of money exchanged, and at a certain point, there’s a lot of skepticism. And yes, it’s never said that it’s an honest sport, I don’t think that’s been said once.
“But for me, it’s all about the technique, the science and the metaphor. You walk in with your skill, and the amount of time that you’ve practised, and you walk in really facing yourself.”
The film’s appeal depends entirely on the commitment of Jake to the role of ravaged Billy, a former champion who loses everything – his money, his family, his home and status – and must work to get it all back, with the aid of amateur trainer Tick Wills, played sagely by Forest Whitaker.
For Jake, this meant two workouts a day for five months, with his director Antoine Fuqua even building a training ring for him at the production office in Pittsburgh. “I knew, because of the way Antoine wanted to film it, I wouldn’t be able to get away with any shortcuts,” is Jake’s modest appraisal of his stunning performance.
Just as moving are the scenes between Billy Hope and his daughter. Jake isn’t a father himself, but describes there being children in his life he would do anything for. He adds:
“I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent, but I love them and I would do anything for them. Plus, any child I see at this point in my life, I feel like I would do anything for. When I was younger, I could dismiss a kid easily because I was a kid myself, but at a certain point in your life, you look around and see how extraordinary they are, and I really feel that.”
The film has already performed well at the US box office and will surely garner attention come Awards Season, but I wonder, after such a long-drawn-out and intense contribution, is commercial and critical acclaim more or less important?
He gives the smile afforded to an actor who we both know has pick of projects.
“Definitely less,” he nods. “Chris Cooper once told me, ‘Never have any regrets’ And I don’t. Ok, I have a few, but ultimately I’ve always worked as hard as I could at the time and that’s my job.
“I want people to see the movie, but I think the business has overwhelmed the artistry, and that business creates a sense of fear, a sense of muting ones instinct.
“We live in a time when it’s all about the instantaneous thing, you read an article and then it’s on to the next one, but I live with this for the rest of my life.”
Viewers of ‘Southpaw’ will see Billy’s fate spin out of control very quickly, from the man with everything to someone with less than nothing. For Jake, despite his privileged position, this kind of lesson is nothing new.
“There is a womb-like bubble that you can find yourself in, which is the absurdity of the movie business,” he starts. “But no matter what, whether it’s age or just life, and the blows that inevitably come, there is reality that exists and it does for everyone.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been aware of that, and it’s why I have a hard time when people talk about preparation for a role, complaing ‘it’s hard’ or ‘difficult’, and I think you can’t use those words in the entertainment industry. It’s not an option when you look out at the real world.”
'Southpaw' is in UK cinemas from Friday 24 July. Watch the trailer below...