Jake Gyllenhaal punches above his weight in Southpaw
Indie darling Jake Gyllenhaal proves naysayers wrong by beefing up for gritty boxing role
He has starred in high-profile movies, received an Oscar nomination and dated Hollywood babes, but Jake Gyllenhaal comes across as an average guy next door.
Sporting a beard for his next role, the 34-year-old US actor showed up at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills in a suit and tie and confessed to actually liking interviews.
In the boxing movie Southpaw, which opens here tomorrow, Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a middleweight champion who hits rock bottom when a tragedy involving his wife (Rachel McAdams) strikes.
He embarks on a mission to win back everything that is important to him, including the love of his little girl Leila (Oona Laurence).
Gyllenhaal is certainly not the first name that comes to mind for the role of a boxer.
He told M with a laugh: "I had met (director) Antoine (Fuqua) maybe six years before and he said to me in a meeting something that felt very Hollywood. He said, 'I see something in you that other people don't see'. And I was, like, 'all right, okay'.
"And then six years later, I had a meeting with Antoine and he said, 'I told you six years ago I see something in you that other people don't see. And I think you can play this part and I want to bring it out'.
"And I was, like, 'I thought you were full of s***.' He was, like, 'I can be, but I am not. I see it in you.' And that was that."
Gyllenhaal has a reputation for throwing himself into each role, whether it is beefing up to play an action hero in Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time (2010) or losing weight to play a sociopath in Nightcrawler (2014).
Southpaw was no different.
He said it was the fear of looking like an idiot that drove him.
Intensive boxing training and extensive research into a sport he knew nothing about gave him a ripped physique to play a part that was literally brutal - no body doubles, very few special effects and no nifty editing cheats in the boxing scenes.
He was hit so often in the face, he said his jaw still hurts.
"I trained for five months, twice a day. I figured if I trained twice a day, that would make five months, 10 months. Antoine said to me early on, 'There's one word for this process and it is sacrifice'.
"He put me in the ring with professional coaches and fighters, so you kind of take yourself to a place where you stop thinking you are doing this for a movie and you start thinking, okay, I actually have to learn how to do this."
He recalled his meeting with former pro boxer Sugar Ray Leonard at the Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather Jr fight in May, where they discussed what makes a great fighter.
"He was talking about the moment where you are sitting on that bench and everything in your brain is telling you that you can't get up, and everything is telling your body that you can't get up, and everything in your soul is telling you to get up, and you get up.
"And that is I think what makes a great boxer. I also think that's why the metaphor of boxing is so relatable to so many people in the world."
Fuqua, who is famed for helming actioners like Training Day, The Equalizer and King Arthur, had his main cast spend a lot of time together before shooting began.
Gyllenhaal said: "I believe in the imagination of acting, but I also believe in real connection, so I spent a month with Rachel beforehand and tons of time with Oona.
"I fell in love with Oona as soon as I met her in the reading. She walked in and she was wearing these glasses and she had her long hair in a ponytail...
"She started to cry talking about her mother in the scenes and I couldn't hold back how moved I was and we were there crying together in this reading."
If that doesn't make you go "aww", Gyllenhaal also gushed about his two nieces, the daughters of his older sister and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal.
"My three-year-old niece and I have a particular bond and I don't know where it comes from, but we must have had known each other in another life.
"And my nine-year-old niece is just extraordinary... She is stronger, smarter and more brilliant than my sister and I don't know if that is possible, but she's a true force.
"I love them deeply. I would do anything for them. I would give my life for them."
Other actors who transformed themselves into heavyweight champions
Sylvester Stallone Rocky anthology
Robert De Niro
Raging Bull (1980)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Cinderella Man (2005)
The Fighter (2010)
Michael B Jordan
50 Cent still gives it 100 per cent
If there's a personality whose life is larger than any project he's associated with, it has to be Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent.
The 40-year-old rapper's biography reads like a laundry list of cliched labels - drug dealer at 12, unknown father, brought up by his grandparents after the murder of his mother, arrested many times, shot nine times at close range.
Yet, in a truly rags-to-riches ending, he has become a successful rapper, record company executive, actor and entrepreneur.
Interestingly, the day before this interview, he had filed for bankruptcy after being ordered to pay US$5 million (S$6.8 million) to a woman who alleged he had released her sex tape online.
Any other person would have cancelled the press tour, so it speaks volumes that Jackson showed up to face the media.
Asked about his legal problems, he said: "Like everyone that's in the public eye and publicly successful, they get a little bull's eye painted on their back... I can't really go into detail about it, but I am fine."
MENTOR: In Southpaw, Curtis Jackson plays Jake Gyllenhaal’s manager and long-time friend. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
When asked about his current financial situation, he said: "If I said to you that I was comfortable at the present moment... it would probably disappoint the majority of the people because they love tragedy."
But he is candid about what money means to him. After all, this is the man whose 2003 album is titled Get Rich Or Die Tryin'.
"I didn't have very much (growing up). And because I didn't, it will make you feel like the answers to all your problems are financial and then as soon as you get them, you realise that there are always new problems," he said with a laugh.
"I like really nice things. But it took some time to learn... that I can own an estate that is 55,000 sq ft, with 18 bedrooms and 37 bathrooms and six kitchens, and I am still going to sleep on one bed."
In Southpaw, Jackson plays Jordan Mains, the manager of boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Jackson got the role partly because of his connections to the boxing world - he counts boxers such as Floyd Mayweather Jr as his friends.
He said: "My passion for boxing started when I was 12. My connection to it came from me having relationships with the top fighters in the sport. Originally I would live vicariously through them... And it's just being friends with them and my relationship with Floyd was even why I was involved in the sport of boxing.
"And the way it has paid off for me is the information it gave me that I could use for this character."
Jackson, who has starred in more than 20 movies, said he realises the audience for a film is much wider than the audience for his music.
He said: "I am not done, there is so much more for me to do and I really love what I am doing."