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How Hugh Jackman trained to become a man of steel |

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How Hugh Jackman trained to become a man of steel

WELL-BEING - Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit -

DreamWorks Pictures has this new movie titled Real Steel where Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a professional boxer of the future who lost his chance at a title when 2,000-pound, eight-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring.  He became a small-time promoter, who earns just enough money putting together low-end robots from scrap metal to join underground boxing events. Time came when he reluctantly teamed up with his estranged 10-year-old son Max to build and train a championship contender. Little did he know, it was the start of a comeback.

To be credible as a fighter, Hugh was trained by Sugar Ray Leonard who is considered one of the all-time greatest boxers. Sugar Ray won titles in five different weight divisions, enough experience to serve as the film’s boxing consultant and to train Hugh for his appearance in the ring.   

Producer Don Murphy explains, “One of the first things we did in order to make robot boxing not only realistic but relatable was hire Sugar Ray Leonard to come in and do the fight choreography, not only to show the actors in motion capture suits how to do it, but also the director and the stunt guys just how blows should be landed. He’s really provided a similitude to the matches — they don’t just look like robots clunking each other.”

 Hugh got so excited when Sugar Ray was brought on board, since his father had been a boxer himself and an army champion, fighting until he was in his early 20s. Hugh admits his attraction to the project. He says, “What I loved first and foremost about the script is the father/son relationship and the idea that people who have made mistakes, who have regrets, can get a second chance, and they can become better people.”

 Jackman was also intrigued by the world in which the story is set. “I loved the idea of the time period being not too far in the future. It’s a future that is seemingly accessible to us,” the actor says. “Also, I’m a big sports fan, so the robot boxing idea fascinated me. And of course it’s a real underdog story, with the person who has the most heart fighting to win in the end. It’s definitely a feel-good movie. And for me, it was something different from what I’ve done before.”

In fighting form: “I’ve watched Hugh for many years, and he has the right intensity and the right body to be a boxer,” says Sugar Ray Leonard, Hugh Jackman’s boxing consultant for DreamWorks Pictures’ action drama Real Steel.

 Jackman relates, “When I told my dad I was doing this film and was working with Sugar Ray Leonard, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more amped or more jazzed in my life. He’s an Englishman, so he’s quite reserved. He told me that of all the people who have boxed, Sugar Ray Leonard is a true champion. There have been other champions, but there’s probably no one more respected than Sugar Ray. And when you meet him, you see that. He’s so generous and giving. He’s got a great, positive, effervescent way about him. He’s very respectful to people.”

 He concludes, “It seems almost impossible to believe this guy was in the maelstrom of a boxing match, in some of the most vicious and tough situations anyone can imagine, because he’s just so congenial and nice. I mean just to meet him was cool, but to actually be taught by him was great. He invented punches that no one had ever done before. To have Sugar Ray teaching me, that’s about as good as it gets.”

Curiously, despite the often-vicious nature of the sport, experts agree that boxing is equal parts mental and physical fitness. Leonard concurs. “If you’re able to get into your opponent’s head, you’re up a round or two,” he says. “It’s the mental stability that for the most part sends you to the championship. I look at the sport as an art form. Before any fight, I would choreograph a scenario in my head and nine times out of 10 the fight turned out the way I imagined it.”

Leonard adds that he believes boxers are born, not made. However, he was able to teach Hugh Jackman to look completely convincing as a boxer. “I’ve watched Hugh for many years, and he has the right intensity and the right body to be a boxer. He was a great student. He listened well, took in what I said, digested it, and then brought it to life.”

Although Jackman has boxed in real life, he was interested to learn the subtleties of boxing from one of the all-time greats. From Leonard, he learned the proper way to protect himself, how to throw a hook with the right hand, and that when he throws a punch to an opponent’s body, his free hand has to be up for protection. “There were just little adjustments here and there for Hugh,” Leonard says. “He is, after all, an athlete and in incredible shape. He caught on so quickly.”

Perhaps the most important element that Leonard brought to the film is authenticity. In the film, Jackman becomes the corner man to the underdog robot-boxer Atom, so Leonard talked to Hugh Jackman extensively about the connection between the corner man and his fighter and the intensity of what it means to be the ringside corner man.

In this corner: From Leonard, Hugh learned the proper way to protect himself, how to throw a hook with the right hand, and that when he throws a punch to an opponent’s body, his free hand has to be up for protection.

“My character in the film is the corner man,” Jackman explains. “He’s not the boxer. I own and control these robots and promote them, so I’m the guy in the corner. Sugar Ray really got very intense with me. He said that he didn’t think I realized how important the corner man is in boxing.

“And, even though there are robots in there, what you need to convey is that you’re the rock; you’re the strength. Sugar Ray said he used to hire Angelo Dundee for the last two or three weeks leading up to a fight, precisely because Angelo knew exactly how to talk to him during a fight. He said that if you get a corner man who doesn’t know how to talk to you, there’s nothing worse. I need to know when to pick my fighter up, when to shut up, when to say the right thing. The connection between the fighter and that corner man cannot be broken at any point. That was something I hadn’t really focused on, so it was terrific.”

Director Shawn Levy adds, “It may sound a little weird talking about how Hugh relates to the robot, but Sugar Ray really influenced the way Hugh played the scenes in the corner. The ways that Leonard contributed to the film are both overt and subtle and really valuable.”

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“Real Steel” opens across the country tomorrow, Oct. 12 in IMAX, 2D, and regular theaters. It is a DreamWorks Picture to be distributed locally by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International.

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