Hip hop royalty Eminem, Jay-Z and 50 Cent turned up for the New York premiere of “Southpaw” starring Jake Gyllenhaal Monday evening at the AMC Lincoln Square in Manhattan.
In an Oscar-worthy performance, Gyllenhaal plays Billy “The Great” Hope, the light heavyweight champion of the world whose universe is shattered after his wife’s (Rachel McAdams) accidental death. (This is no spoiler since it happens early in the film.) After he hits rock bottom, losing custody of his daughter (Oona Laurence), his home, his career and his health, the fighter makes a slow climb back under the guidance of a new trainer, played by Forest Whitaker. (50 Cent plays his no-good previous business manager who dumps him when it looks like Billy’s career is finished.
The movie has all the boxing movie tropes – a finished boxer who tries to claw his way back to the top with the help of a highly skeptical trainer and a final violent boxing grudge match against a nasty rival (Miguel Gomez) with bloody and violent close-ups – but it’s Gyllenhaal’s performance that makes this a riveting story.
The actor’s physique, all six packs and muscle, is downright scary. He told me he spent five months training, twice a day for five-hour sessions, for more than five months. The boxing scenes are for real. As to what motivated him to get so fit and cut, “We’d shoot like a real fight, so out of fear I trained for five months and learned to box.”
Director Antoine Fuqua joined Gyllenhaal for the morning sessions, he told me. The director has been boxing for exercise for a long time. Fuqua is currently shooting “The Magnificant Seven” with Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington,” so he was unable to make the premiere. Before the screening, Harvey Weinstein introduced a video with the director thanking his cast and crew, noting the contributions of musical director James Horner, who died tragically in a recent private plane crash.
From the film, A-listers who attended the premiere included Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson (who didn’t look like he was hurting from the bankruptcy suit), Oona Laurence, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Asia Fuqua, Beau Knapp and Sylan Brooks. Eminem, who executive produced the film and made a musical contribution to the score, flew past us on the red carpet, as did Jay-Z, who slipped into the theater stealthily.
The afterparty took place at Jay Z’s 40/40 Club, with the stars of the film hanging out with guests and crew, including Jake’s sister Maggie and her husband actor Peter Sarsgaard. The food was not for boxers in training and included mini pizzas, sliders, chicken fingers and spinach quiche. The drinks were red bull infused for an extra kick in the ring. Decorations included boxing gloves scattered around the photo booth and music by DJ MOS.
Next up for Fuqua and Gyllenhaal, “The Man Who Made It Snow.” The actor told me. “We’re developing it now. It’s about a man named Max Mermelstein who was alive who basically – it’s a very loose description of the movie – but indirectly brought the Colombia cartel into America in the 80’s.” He called it much more interesting and layered than a typical mobster film.
“Southpaw” arrives in theaters this week.