AFTER proving a knock-out in the US over the weekend, raking in more than $27m and keeping George Clooney's The Ides of March on the ropes, robot boxing flick Real Steel has landed in Blighty today, ready for a similar box office brawl.
Starring Hugh Jackman, the film is set in the near-future where the sport of boxing has evolved to use robot fighters.
Jackman stars as washed-up boxer Charlie trying to make a living competing with rusty old machines he put together from the scrap heap.
When his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) is put temporarily in his care, he reluctantly agrees to build and train a championship contender.
As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max, against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback.
Hugh Jackman and Shawn Levy were in London last month promoting the film.
Matthew Jenkin went along to the press conference, where producers John Rapke, Susan Montford and Don Murphy were also present.
Hugh, is this the first time you’ve successfully used a film script as a bed time story for your son?
Hugh Jackman: (laughs) Yes. This is not a story I’m particularly proud of, but I’d had the script for a few days, my agent rang me and said Shawn’s in town, and you’re going to meet him in the morning.
So it was eight o’clock, and I was about to read Tintin to my boy when I said ‘hey Oscar, how about I read you some of this script, you’re going to love it.’
So I started reading it to him, and 10 pages in I was getting really into it, and I look up, and he usually draws when I read to him, but he was like ‘go on, go on’.
He made me read it to him every night for the next ten nights. He knows it very well. So yes, bad fathering but a good outcome.
Hugh, you’ve said before about how important the chemistry between you and Dakota Goyo (who plays Max in the film) is. How much did the fact that you’re a dad help you in creating that chemistry? Any parallels between your relationship with your son, Oscar, and Charlie’s relationship with Max?
HJ: I certainly hope I’m a better father than Charlie, I hope everyone is a better father than Charlie.
Shawn and I spoke in the beginning, and we decided that the spine of the movie is really that relationship.
The success of that relationship on film, and their bond over the sport allows us to care about the robots as well.
It was something we really worked hard on. Shawn really mentored Dakota as an actor, which allowed me to just be with him, and play with him.
I have an 11-year-old kid, so I had to keep reminding myself I had to make a completely different relationship, because in the film there’s a bit of role reversal.
He’s more of the parent, I’m more like the kid. I would play little practical jokes, really small things, all the time.
Funnily enough, he doesn’t like dirt, and poor thing is dirty the entire film.
Shawn Levy: Well, we hung him off a mountaintop and dumped a truck of mud on him.
HJ: Just before we go for a take, I would rub my hand in dirt and be like ‘hey man, high five!’ and he’d be ‘aah’, squirming away. So just little things to break the ice. It was more important for us to have that kind of dynamic.
SL: What’s interesting about it is, you’re a super-nice guy, Dakota is a well-mannered, nicely raised boy, and yet you both had to play characters who aren’t particularly well behaved.
On a few occasions I really had to encourage you and Dakota to go harder on each other, because that’s just not how you naturally approach the world.
Also, Dakota would get a thrill over being able to say things he would never be able get away with. I would say cut, and he would immediately check with his mum, because he knew he said something he wouldn’t get away with in real life.
Shawn, the film seems to pay tribute to a lot of boxing movies from the past. Is there any one in particular that has influenced you?
SL: I didn’t go into it particularly thinking of it as a homage to any one movie. I love sports movies, and always have, certainly the Rocky movies.
Not only the first one, which as a filmmaker I’m supposed to revere, and I do, but even the pulpier, slightly crappier ones, like 3 and 4. I love them too.
You can laugh about it, but that rousing, escapist, underdog story, I loved it when I was a young teenager and I love it now.
I re-watched all of them when I was preparing for this movie. It still works for me. In that regard, I really do believe a well-made, engaging, underdog sports movie can be just as compelling at adult age as kid age. The goal was to make a movie that to appeal on both those levels.
Hugh, did you take inspiration from any boxers or boxing movies, and which is your favourite?
HJ: My favourite boxing movie is a documentary called When We Were Kings and I’d put in my top ten of all time.
But I’m exactly like Shawn, I love all the Rocky movies. It’s corny, but I listen to the Rocky theme when I train, when I really need to take it to the next level. And it works.
In terms of actual boxers, my father was a champion boxer, and he would never let us watch boxing at all growing up, because my brother and I were always at it, and he thought wrestling and boxing would make it worse.
I only started to watch it when Mike Tyson was huge. And I was in awe of him. All my mates, and I think all of the boxing world was in awe of him. He was probably the first boxer that I was really taken by.
Why was Hugh, a person so unlike his character Charlie, chosen for the role?
SL: As a director, you always have to be aware what does the actor bring in terms of a history of a relationship with the audience.
The thing with having someone who is so inherently likeable and has that relationship with audiences is, that we could really push the performance into that unsympathetic area.
Had it been an actor, several of whom exist but I won’t name because I want to work in the future, who was a known asshole, you can’t have him play the asshole and still expect the audience to be with you.
Because Hugh is so inherently likeable, it allowed us to play against the grain with the character.
John Rapke: Hugh is an extraordinarily charismatic actor, and person; he has a great deal of depth and experience as a human being.
It’s an extremely complex role, which calls upon a gamut of different complex emotions.
When you think of casting a particular actor, and you look at the inherent qualities of that human being and their work.
Sometimes it’s a very easy decision; sometimes it’s a very difficult decision. In this case, Hugh Jackman was always our first choice.
HJ: Once Brad (Pitt) turned it down.
JR: No, no, no. He was always the first choice, and it all worked out as we thought it was going to work out.
Is this going to be a franchise?
JR: We’re hoping it will be a franchise. The first movie has to work, and be very well received, and then we will worry about sequels to come.
There is a lot of unresolved business, even though this one stands alone and has closure, there is some unfinished business.
SL: We would really frikkin’ hope so. We made the movie we set out to make. There are aspects of Real Steel we just didn’t have time to go into. It would be a privilege to tell the next chapter.
Susan Montford: We would really love to make another one.
Don Murphy: I think the studio wants, we definitely want one, but you’ve got to treat each project individually. Lets make this one work, before moving on to the next one.
Real Steel (12A) is released in cinemas today.