TBT: Jake Gyllenhaal Opens Up About Life Onset of Bubble Boy in 2001—Watch Now!

24 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘I miss him': Jake Gyllenhaal looks drained after leaving emotional interview where he talked about the death of his former co-star Heath Ledger.

While it may have appeared that Gyllenhaal, 34, transformed into a mountain of muscles overnight to play fictional boxer Billy Hope, the actor underwent intense training to gain the body and mindset of a fighter. “My concern was to look like a boxer,” the actor tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “The fear of looking like I didn’t know how to box [on screen]” drove Gyllenhaal to dedicate the next months of his life to training twice a day, fully immersing himself in the life of a professional boxer. If you know one thing about Southpaw, which tells the story of a champion boxer who loses everything and fights to get most of it back, it’s that its star, Jake Gyllenhaal, went through a crazy training regimen to prepare for the role.On Wednesday the 34-year-old actor looked drained after being asked by NPR about whether he is still mourning the loss of his Brokeback Mountain co-star Heath Ledger, who died in 2008 at the age of 28.

In order to accomplish that goal, Gyllenhaal teamed up with trainer Terry Claybon, who tells PEOPLE he had to start from the bottom with the actor, who had no previous boxing experience. “We started from the ground level, which is the perfect boxing stance,” Claybon says. “We started him off with great footwork, great defense, and then we went into sharp, direct punches.” Throughout the eight months of training, Claybon gradually increased Gyllenhaal’s workout regimen, focusing on his boxing skills and strength training: “We would go into heavy bag drills with him hitting the bag strap, which is designed to guide you to perfect punches. Not weeks after Hope – rich, happy, successful – has defended his belt and unblemished record, a fatal altercation strips him of his family, his mansion and his career. The acting vet replied, ‘I miss him as a human being and I miss working with him and what an unfortunate thing it is that we won’t be able to see the beauty of his expression.’ The Prisoners actor added, ‘I’m trying to have relationships that are as real as they possibly can be on a movie set, be close to people because I know that it’s precious.’ ‘[Director] Antoine Fuqua always said to me that he wanted this movie to be for the young men out there who never necessarily had a father figure,’ he said.

For The New Yorker, Gyllenhaal went back to the gym where he trained, talking about his preparations for becoming the bruising Billy Hope, a mumbling, ferocious Hell’s Kitchen orphan who willed himself to greatness. The outspoken host got right to the point, addressing Gyllenhaal’s latest appearance on Good Morning America and how they played his ex’s song Bad Blood when he walked out to greet fans. ‘When I’m doing an interview when you’re up at 5 a.m. and you can’t really make sense of words, you’re not thinking about the background music that’s playing behind you.’ They both agreed she’s a ‘beautiful girl,’ but Jake revealed why he hasn’t tied the knot with any of his exes as of yet, saying: ‘I just got scared.’ It’s the sport of metaphors, of internal battles made external, and it takes a deft hand (and pen) not to pummel the audience with that tidy correlation like so many jabs to the ribs. Director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “Olympus Has Fallen”) is not that deft hand and writer Kurt Sutter (TV’s “Sons of Anarchy”) is not that deft pen, which is how you end up with a main character with a name as obvious as Billy Hope. “Obvious” is a good descriptor for “Southpaw,” a riches-to-rags-to-riches story whose narrative beats have all the subtlety of an uppercut. Fuqua’s kinetic — one might say restless — style makes for some lively boxing sequences; even when a match’s outcome is telegraphed from a million miles away, one is still moved to watch timidly through latticed fingers.

When Gyllenhaal bulks up and learns to become a world-class fighter, he’s not just committed to a role—he’s giving himself over to a primal kind of masculinity, embracing an old-school notion of knuckle-busting machismo. Let Redmayne struggle with the delicate nuances of Hawking’s disease—this is about becoming a killing machine, a Real Man, right in front of our eyes. That’s what Hope is at the start of the film: a champion, albeit a battered one who, in an act of tortured symbolism, only fights as hard as he gets hit.

Our first real view of Gyllenhaal is of him streaming toward the camera, emerging from a hazy blur a snarling, bloody spit of rage, rampaging across the ring. Just about everything in this so-so drama is set to Ultra Macho, most every piece of character development and line of dialogue wrapped up in guy codes of behavior. He goes home with his title to his stunning wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams, who’s given little more to do than fill out a dress nicely), and their bright young daughter. Despite their palatial digs and casual acts of conspicuous consumption — Cartier watches are bandied about like party favors — they’re a remarkably grounded family. He’s the undefeated light-heavyweight champion, with a Bentley and a big estate in the suburbs, but at heart he’s a family man and won’t let precocious daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) attend his inevitably bloody matches.

A pair of orphans from Hell’s Kitchen, Hope and Maureen pay tribute to their good fortune and their ability to provide a good life for their daughter. His maturation as an intense, all-in shape-shifter has become especially clear of late in films like “Nightcrawler” and “Prisoners.” “Southpaw” is him romping in his new weight class. But when Escobar taunts Billy in public, fists fly, guns fire and a beloved member of Billy’s entourage dies. (Fuqua films the hectic death at such close range that we’re not sure who is responsible, and solving the crime is a virtual afterthought for the rest of the movie.) In full grief mode, Billy slides into a self-destructive, drunken depression. Gyllenhaal has been an underrated actor for years, some of his best roles in recent times coming from roles in which he’s either the sensitive or ineffectual guy in the ensemble. (I’m thinking his obsessive Robert Graysmith in Zodiac or the adoring Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain.) Even when he goes darker, like in his dual role in Enemy or as the good cop in End of Watch, he projects an empathetic soulfulness, a quiet humanity that never feels orchestrated. Though he was unquestionably committed to the role of a conniving sociopath—speaking of actorly preparations, he lost a ton of weight to play Louis Bloom—it was a rare example of Gyllenhaal “performing” rather than letting his natural charm and intelligence shine through.

He was good, but it was the first time I ever noticed him actively trying; as a result, Louis Bloom as a character never transcended the intensity of the actor playing him. The director (“Training Day,” “The Equalizer”) prefers a visceral directness (he has made a comeback movie about a boxer named Hope, after all) and he’s favored a far more straightforward, accurate view inside the ring than, say, the impressionistic poetry of Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.” Instead, Fuqua and cinematographer Mauro Fiore have shot their fight scenes like broadcast television, copying its camera angles and piping in the commentary of announcers Jim Lampley and Roy Jones Jr. It’s a transformation all the more radical for Gyllenhaal’s performance in last year’s “Nightcrawler,” where the actor appeared gaunt and spectral.

Whitaker, of course, is an Oscar winner (for “The Last King of Scotland”), and Gyllenhaal is a nominee (for “Brokeback Mountain”), so the acting in the movie is very good. Whether it’s the profiles of Gyllenhaal in the lead-up to the movie’s release or just the movie itself, you can’t escape all the work that went into Billy Hope.

We’re not meant to sit back and be absorbed by this film; instead, we’re supposed to take careful notice and be awed by the filmmakers’ dedication. Like Gyllenhaal, Whitaker does his damnedest to freshen up the decidedly stale material; there is no dearth of inspirational boxing coaches in Hollywood. “It’s not about this,” he says, pointing to his clenched fist. But the music-saturated scenes involving the media, the law and a turncoat friend played by Curtis (“50 Cent”) Jackson are trying to appeal to fans of “Empire,” not “Raging Bull.” There’s even a training montage set to an Eminem rap. First, his beloved, street-smart wife (Rachel McAdams), who serves as a voice of reason and worries that he’s getting too beaten-up to keep boxing, is accidentally killed during a melee with his main rival (Miguel Gomez).

His promoter-manager (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) is little help as Hope wallows, adding the inevitable suffix of his second act: “less.” Once rock bottom is sufficiently reached for maximum eventual payoff, Hope begins righting himself in that fountain of redemption: the rundown boxing gym. He turns to an unglamorous trainer named Tick Willis (the reliably excellent Forest Whitaker), who spouts all the wisdom of boxing and life that a corner man should. In movies like Training Day and Brooklyn’s Finest, Fuqua managed to examine outmoded forms of masculinity with a semi-critical eye, but here, he buys in. Billy is just one more male movie character whose path to redemption requires him to suck it up, tough it out, rub some dirt on it, and get back into the ring to regain his glory.

This journey, naturally, is aided by an older, wiser ex-boxer (Forest Whitaker) who reluctantly retrains the kid, teaching him a different, more sophisticated fighting style that—wouldn’t you know it?—doubles as a nifty metaphor for Billy’s personal growth. (Rather than just barreling forward during his bouts and getting pummeled in the process, Billy will learn to bob and weave, coming to understand the importance of fighting smarter, not harder.) Because Gyllenhaal and Whitaker are fine actors, their interactions have a gritty believability to them. It’s the opposite of naturalness, which runs counter to our experience with exceptional athletes: They have a star power that makes their magnificence seem effortless.

For that 1980 film, Robert De Niro famously trained with real-life counterpart Jake La Motta for a year, even taking part in three actual boxing matches, to bring a sense of authenticity to the part. (The actor, who won his second Oscar for his portrayal, also gained 60 pounds to play La Motta after his retirement.) An actor’s actor, De Niro embodied the the sort of commitment that has become a fetish for performers (especially in boxing films) ever since. You feel the connection to De Niro in Gyllenhaal’s performance, but more broadly, you see the way that younger actors, especially male actors, worship transformations of the sort that De Niro executed in Raging Bull. Viewers aren’t immune, either: We’ve been conditioned to be wowed by people who play characters with diseases and disabilities, or who play someone fundamentally different than themselves. Both the actor’s and the character’s rigorous training is glorified, the physical and mental ordeal a proving ground that paves the way to victory at the end. (For the actor, victory comes via rave reviews and awards.) Done well, a boxing movie can hit familiar notes but still be incredibly affecting.

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