'Southpaw' Premiere: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams Talk Immersing Themselves in Boxing World

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams at the 'Southpaw' premiere

The stars of the Antoine Fuqua film detail the preparation they put in to create a realistic fighting movie.

It was fitting that Monday night's Southpaw premiere in New York was crawling with real boxers, since stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams and Miguel Gomez, who plays Gyllenhaal's character's adversary, all immersed themselves in the fighting community to create an authentic fictional film.

"The word 'authentic' was a word used every day all day," producer Peter Riche said of the objective during production. "And it had to look different and it had to elevate boxing movies, so that was the intent — to show boxing in a way that you've never seen it."

Gyllenhaal underwent rigorous physical training to get into fighting shape, as has been extensively detailed, but he also worked to get into the mindset of an athlete like his character, light heavyweight champ, Billy Hope.

"I spent five months training and also going to so many fights [including two Mayweather bouts and two Pacquiao matches] and watching so much fight footage," Gyllenhaal told The Hollywood Reporter, adding that he spent time with amateur and pro fighters.

Gyllenhaal's Southpaw co-star, real boxer Victor Ortiz, says the actor transformed himself into the real thing.

"He became a boxer for the role," Ortiz told THR. "He was a boxer; he is a boxer."

And, Ortiz added, the boxing matches look real.

"They're as authentic as can be," he said. "Beautiful fights."

Rachel McAdams, who plays Billy's wife, Maureen, also immersed herself in the boxing world.

"I talked to a few boxers' wives. We went to a fight at Madison Square Garden … I spent some time in the ring myself and spent some time with Jake's trainer," McAdams told THR. "There's not a ton online about boxers' wives, it's mostly about boxing and the boxers themselves, but I dug around online a little bit for some stuff. But it's a little scarce, so it was nice to uncover it."

Miguel Gomez, who plays rival fighter Miguel Escobar, explained that he and some of the other actors "went to training camp like we were real fighters."

"We were with real fighters and living the clean lifestyle just like fighters do," Gomez said. "We just dedicated ourselves to becoming pro fighters as best we could."

Escobar starts out the film as a thorn in Billy's side, taunting him at press conferences and, as shown in the trailer, in a hotel lobby, where his remarks lead to a devastating physical altercation.

As for where this attitude comes from, Gomez says of his character, "He just wants to make it. He wants to be somebody and in the sport of boxing, closed mouths don't get fed. If you don't make noise, no one pays attention to you or cares about you. So I think it just really comes from him wanting to be like Billy and admiring Billy and sort of not understanding why Billy's not even acknowledging him or giving him the time of day because he feels like if he was in his position, he'd do the same thing."

Gyllenhaal, meanwhile told THR that at the beginning of the film, Billy is fueled by rage.

"He's somebody who survived purely and succeeded purely because of his own rage. He was raging at the system. He was an orphan. He was brought up by the foster care system, didn't really have family of his own. And really the one feeling he knows and understands — and it's brought him great success — is rage," Gyllenhaal said, noting that Billy's rage becomes destructive. "Over the course of the movie, he has to come to terms with that and learn how to fight — not without anger — but without rage."

Producer Peter Riche, who, along with his father Alan Riche, has been involved with Southpaw since the beginning, when it was conceived as a vehicle for Eminem, said they also had to fight their way back after the rapper decided not to star in the movie. 

"Synchronistic to the movie's theme, [we had to] get back up off the canvas and get back in the ring and stay in the ring and fight to get it made because thematically we felt that it was a worthy quest and we had a good script and we had the right director and we knew that we had something special," Peter Riche said.

Still Eminem remained involved with Southpaw, executive producing and contributing to the film's soundtrack, which features his track "Phenomenal." The hip-hop star was on hand for the film's premiere at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, where he was joined by fellow rapper 50 Cent, who co-stars in Southpaw with Naomie Harris, Oona Laurence and Skylan Brooks, who also made the scene in Manhattan. Other guests included Weinstein Company co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, New York Giants co-owner and Southpaw producer Steve Tisch and fervent boxing fan Rosie Perez.

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