Published: July 17, 2015
Audiences are buzzing about Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation—both physical and emotional—into heavyweight champion Billy Hope in the upcoming film Southpaw. The actor put on 15 pounds of muscle, as well as a dozen tattoos and a serious snarl, but he wasn’t the only one to hop into the ring while prepping for his role. Rachel McAdams, who plays Hope’s loyal wife, Maureen, took plenty of turns sparring with professional boxing trainer, Terry Claybon. She liked boxing so much, in fact, that The Notebook actress walked away from the set with her own pink boxing gloves, and has used the sport to prep for future projects, such as her current role of angsty police woman Ani Bezzerides in HBO’s True Detective.
Yahoo Style caught up with McAdams while she rolled through Los Angeles to promote Southpaw, which hits theaters on July 24. She told us all about the secret to rolling around in fake blood on screen, being shocked by Gyllenhaal’s hot body transformation, and how after months of training, she can now last three minutes in the boxing ring, which she assures us is very a long time.
Yahoo Style: To prepare for the role in Southpaw, you actually spent some time with real professional boxer wives. How did those conversations go?
Rachel McAdams: Some of the wives that I talked to said, “You know when you are on top of the world, everybody is your best friend. And then the minute you lose a fight, it’s like crickets.” There’s a real kind of fragility to the world and yet at the same time, when you’re on top of the world, everybody is giving you everything and you feel like you can’t lose. So it was a struggle for Maureen to try and stay levelheaded. Billy and her child are her own world so she’s kind of making it up as she goes along. And I love that she’s vulnerable, but only to Billy, the rest of the world gets to see a woman who is sweet and will play the game—but don’t cross her. I loved playing her. I loved her on the page and she was a great character to explore.
YS: Were you blown away by Jake Gyllenhaal’s physical transformation?
RM: I really wasn’t surprised just based on what kind of an actor he is and the work we’ve seen from him before, but when I first signed onto the project, it was when Jake was first starting to box, and I went and met him and our director, Antoine [Fuqua], at the gym where Jake was training and he had a big bushy beard and a ponytail. I think he was wearing a sweatshirt and jogging pants. Then, when I first showed up on set [weeks later] on day one, he was in the middle of shooting that first fight in the stadium. Antoine sent me up there, he said, “OK. Go up there as Maureen,” and I wasn’t expecting it. I was just showing up for a costume fitting. I wasn’t dressed up at all. I didn’t have my extensions in. I didn’t have my nails done. No spray tan. Nothing. I was so unprepared and it was just amazing to walk from the back of that stadium towards and get closer and closer to that ring and see him emerge and see up close just what he had done – not just the physical transformation but even his emotional shift was so palpable. He had become this person on a cellular level. So really extraordinary. Very awe-inspiring.
YS: Did you get to box with Jake or train with him at all?
RM: I did get to do boxing to prep, which was amazing. It was such a great workout. We never boxed each other. I think that would have been against the insurance rules! But I watched him box a lot, which I felt like Maureen would have done, especially in their earlier days. So watched him train a lot and then I’d get in the ring. I could go about three rounds and then I was like, “OK. I’m good.” I mean three minutes doesn’t sound like a long time but it feels like forever!
YS: Were you actually boxing against someone or just hitting a bag?
RM: Yeah. I was working with his trainer, Terry Claybon, who is in the film. He was just incredible, really such a great guy. And I know he didn’t really have a ton of spare time and he totally took me under his wing and he pushed me really hard. And I kind of fell in love with the sport…as a form of exercise. I actually carried it over into True Detective. I thought it would be a good mode of exercise for that character too.
YS: In what ways did Terry have to tone down the training for you versus when he was working with Jake?
RM: I did get my own gloves and I guess they were smaller than Jake’s. They were pretty tough looking. My managers actually sent me some pink gloves and I was so excited about them secretly, but I was like, “I know I can’t bring these into the gym with all the guys.” We’d do one hundred sit-ups and a lot of push-ups.
YS: Did you cry when you watched Southpaw? Everyone in the press screening was just bawling.
RM: I did and I knew it was coming and I cried. But I hadn’t seen Jake and Oona’s [Laurence] scenes because I wasn’t involved in those. So they really hit me hard. Their relationship together is so powerful. They are very very convincing as father and daughter. It’s incredibly believable and soulful.
YS: We’re not giving anything away here because it’s in the trailer, but your character Maureen gets shot pretty early on in the film. The rest of the story then becomes about Billy having to cope with the aftermath of that. What’s the secret to pulling off a good on screen death?
RM: It was all a bit of a blur. I died for about seven hours. It was a very long drawn out death. Antoine talked me through it a little bit. I watched way too many gory things online, which I’ll never ever get out of my head, which prepared me for True Detective. So it’s all linked in. It was tough. We just kind of experimented in it and the different phases she would have gone through and really physiologically what’s happening and the shock. The blood is pretty gross too. It’s like this red corn syrupy stuff.
YS: Do you start laughing after a certain point of having to film a screen like that over and over again?
RM: Yeah. I did feel a little ridiculous at times. I was like, “Is anybody buying this?” It’s hard to gauge.
YS: Speaking of True Detective, you are always so glamorous on screen. But in this show, you play an overworked cop and they actually let you look like one a little bit – minimal makeup, you can see the roots of your hair…
RM: I talked to quite a few female cops and they really are all very different. Some wear a lot of makeup, some don’t at all. They all had a certain femininity to them but were also very tough. But yes just as an actor, it was refreshing. I had just come off Southpaw and it took me like two and a half hours to get ready as Maureen every day and then every weekend it was a spray tan and getting the nails done and the hair extensions, all that sort of stuff. It was definitely refreshing to just kind of roll out of bed. We used my own bed head every morning! It was nice to not wear very much makeup and it certainly allowed me to sleep in later!
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