EXCLUSIVE: Jake Gyllenhaal won fans for his dedication and commitment in losing 25 pounds to play the sociopathic nocturnal adrenaline junkie and camera man Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler. He’s remade himself in a whole different physical fashion to play a championship prize fighter next year in Southpaw, and I’m betting it will have Gyllenhaal in the conversation with past actors who’ve trained to turn in memorable ring performances, a list that includes Raging Bull’s Robert De Niro, The Boxer‘s Daniel Day-Lewis, The Fighter‘s Mark Wahlberg and The Hurricane’s Denzel Washington.
Here, Deadline exclusively reveals the first image of Gyllenhaal from the Antoine Fuqua-directed Kurt Sutter-scripted Southpaw; it is clear Gyllenhaal has turned himself into a jacked, ripped beast, gaining 15 pounds of pure muscle. Gyllenhaal plays Junior Middleweight Champion Billy “The Great” Hope, a lefty champ who loses everything in a personal tragedy and is forced to fight his way to redemption.
There is a proud tradition of actors putting themselves through grueling preparation for their roles.
Gyllenhaal’s back-to-back shape-shifting in Nightcrawler and Southpaw seems the most radical since the weight shed that Matthew McConaughey went through going from Magic Mike to his Oscar-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club and Emmy-nominated role in True Detective.
When I interviewed Fuqua about his work with Denzel Washington in The Equalizer, he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm for how much he feels Gyllenhaal will change perception of himself as leading man (they’ve since agreed to re-team on The Man Who Made It Snow).
“I’m so pumped, man,” Fuqua said. “Jake is going to change how people see him. I had him training twice a day in the boxing ring, he did two-a-days seven days a week. I pretty much had him with me and my trainer every day. I took him to almost every fight. I had him train at Floyd Mayweather’s gym in Vegas and we watched Floyd’s fights, and the Manny Pacquiao fight. He trained in New York at Church Gym with real fighters. We literally turned him into a beast… Jake, my god, he’s a very electric, powerful fighter in this movie, and a guy who fights for his daughter. I’m confident that this will change how people see Jake, as a leading man.
“He sure has grown up. I love this guy. I met Jake years ago before he did End of Watch, and I saw something in him. I told him he needed to do more masculine films because I could see he had this power in him, and good size, and great expressive eyes. When I met him I said, ‘You’ve got to start doing that.’ And I watched him start. Working with him was a great experience because he’s so committed and gives his heart. You’re going to see in this movie, how far he has come. I asked this guy from day one, ‘I need you in the gym every day. I need you to train every day.’ And I said, ‘The word is sacrifice.’
“Literally. I think he broke up with his girlfriend because he was just in the gym every day,” Fuqua said. “He was training like a fighter. I had him sparring, really getting hit. I put him in situations where I wanted to see what he was made of. No one but fighters understand the sacrifice it takes to be a fighter.”
Looks from the first image like Gyllenhaal understands.