Were you consciously looking for a movie like this – a film that is really for everyone?
No, I wasn’t. It came to me as a film script and I read it and really loved it. However, when [director and producer] Shawn Levy came on board, that just strengthened it even more. I knew it was a big movie, but it wasn’t relying on me for action. It was almost the opposite. I get beaten up in one scene, but apart from that, there’s no people-action for me.
What was it like getting in the ring with former boxing star Sugar Ray Leonard?
It was interesting. The first day we were working together, they had a crew filming behind-the-scenes footage. He’s a former champion of the world, so he was just sparring with me, pretending to punch my stomach… which kind of hurt! Because the camera was there, he just wanted to play around. He’s a great guy; we’ve hung out a lot, and I really like him.
Was there an important lesson you learned from your experience with him?
He really talked to me about the corner man – that’s my character in the film, not the boxer. I own and control these robots and promote them, so I’m the guy in the corner. Sugar Ray got very intent with me. He said he didn’t think I realised how important the corner man is. He used to hire famed boxing corner man Angelo Dundee for the last two or three weeks leading up to a fight, precisely because Angelo knew exactly how to talk to him.
How did you create your character, Charlie Kenton?
The first step was getting in touch with the idea of someone who thinks he’s a failure, with a low opinion of himself. And also what makes someone act in that way – what makes someone deliberately try to be almost unlikeable. He doesn’t want someone to get close. That was the emotional side of him that I really worked on first.
What aspect of your character’s personality appealed to you as an actor?
I love the idea of someone who has decided to take a view that the world is unfair to him; that in so many corners he’s disappointed in himself. He feels that he’s failed at everything and now he’s trying to eke out a living in this thing that he hates. That is so humiliating, as well as disappointing. And right up to that point, he’s become hardened to the world around him. I thought the desperation he’s in was a really powerful thing to play; somebody who’s desperate to get out and feeling trapped on all sides. But to be honest, the most powerful thing is the opportunity to redeem himself.
Is this movie a new take on what we think of as a sports movie?
Absolutely, in terms of being one of those rousing, get-out- of-your-seat movies. But it’s a drama too. It’s a lot about the characters, and that’s what Shawn was going for.
Real Steel is out now in cinemas across Dubai.