Exclusive: Director Antoine Fuqua Talks SouthpawPosted by Wilson Morales
July 20, 2015
Coming out this week is the emotional, intense boxing film, ‘Southpaw,’ directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Oona Laurence, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris, Beau Knapp, and Skylan Brooks.
Billy “The Great” Hope (Gyllenhaal) is the reigning Junior Middleweight Champion whose unorthodox stance, the so-called “Southpaw,” consists of an ineloquent, though brutal, display of offensive fighting… one fueled by his own feelings of inadequacy and a desperate need for love, money and fame. With a beautiful family, home and financial security, Billy is on top both in and out of the ring until a tragic accident leaves his wife dead and sends him into a downward spiral.
His days now an endless haze of alcohol and prescription drugs, his daughter taken by Child Services and his home repossessed by the bank, Billy’s fate is all but sealed until a washed up former boxer named Tick (Forest Whitaker) agrees to take the bereaved pugilist under his wing so long as he agrees to his strict ethos. Relentless and utterly committed to a fighter that thinks as much as he throws punches, Tick rebuilds Billy into a new man: one that is agile, fearsome and uncompromising in the ring while thoughtful, loving and disciplined outside of it. Now, as he works to regain custody of his daughter and mounts a professional comeback, Billy must face his demons head-on as he learns that, sometimes, your greatest opponent can be yourself.
For Fuqua, having practiced boxing as a sports and continues to do so, he now gets to make a film about and add some emotional layers to the good and bad of it. The film was originally was supposed to star rapper Eminem, but with Gyllenhaal, Fuqua’s found someone who gave his all to sink into the role and make the audience he was Billy Hope.
Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Fuqua about the making of the film and injecting some realism on the sport from the ring to behind-the-scenes.
What did you want to do that’s different from other boxing films?
Antoine Fuqua: I wanted to make the film more authentic than a lot of the stuff I have seen. I wanted it to be more emotional. Learning how to mourn and learning how to be a father when in tough situations.
What made Jake the right choice to play Billy?
AF: Jake is a great actor and he’s fully committed to the role.I wanted someone that you can care about. They can transform in the role but you have to root for them. He was ideal in that way.
From Rocky and other similar films, this film seems to have more intensity in the fight scenes. Was that your intention? To show how gritty the sport can be?
AF: I did. I wanted to be honest and show how brutal the sport really is and even behind the scenes it is, like the 50 Cent character and how he manipulates Billy to take a fight he’s not ready for. It’s a pay for bad business and it’s dangerous if you are uneducated or don’t have great social skills or business minded. You can find yourself at the bottom even if you’re on top with millions of dollars. You can fall quickly.
Were you looking 50 Cent’s character like Don King?
AF: Not so much Don King. There are a couple of other guys that I know that I felt he was emulating a little bit; not directly but with some traits. I think we created what we thought was a modern day promoter.
How was working with the real life boxers?
AF: You know what, it was great. A trick I learned is not to make fighters into actors. It was better to let Jake flow into their world more than them getting into ours. It was easy to communicate with them more on the boxing world than try to make them actors. I let them be themselves. That was the key way to deal with it. They were great. They helped Jake through a lot of stuff. They pulled punches but at times they reminded him that this is a fight game and if you slip up, with one move, you may go home early.
Were these boxers that helped you with your research on the sport?
AF: I spoke to a lot of different people. I went to my trainer, Terry Claybon, who was also a fighter. I spoke with other trainers and fighters from the valley. I also spoke with Sugar Ray Leonard and he was quite helpful.
Can you talk about getting Eminem to contribute a song for the film?
AF: Well, Eminem was going to play the lead role, but he was honest with me and told me he couldn’t do it and wanted to concentrate on his music. When he saw it, he said, “Jake killed it! That’s some acting.” He was really proud of it and wanted to write the music and so, he wrote a couple of songs.
What were some of your favorite boxing movies before you made this film?
AF: ‘Raging Bull’ is one film I definitely love and ‘Rocky,’ when I was young, was inspiring. I watched that with my dad. I watched a lot of films like ‘The Set-Up’ and ‘The Harder They Fall’ with Humphrey Bogart where you get to see the behind the scenes of the boxing world. I wanted to make boxing part of the film and not just a prop.
You talked about consulting with your trainer on this film. When did you start boxing and how often do you practice?
AF: I’ve been boxing since I was 14. I’ve been working with Terry for about 14 years. I met him through Denzel. He trained Denzel on the ‘Hurricane’ film.
When was the last time you were at a boxing fight?
AF: I was at the Pacquiao vs Mayweather fight. I go to fights all the time.
As you mentioned Denzel, you guys are working again along with Ethan Hawke on ‘The Magnificent Seven.’ How’s the reunion been?
AF: It’s a dream. It’s like being back home with family again. Seeing them again felt like we never parted. We have a great time. We work really hard.