Sugar Ray Leonard gets to play the hero robot, Atom, in the new movie “Real Steel,” which opens Friday nationwide.
Actually, the real-life, flesh and blood Leonard never makes an appearance as himself in the film, it’s just that the hero has all of the Hall of Fame fighter’s moves.
“One of the main robots is Atom, and he reminds me of myself. So you will see my little signature punches here and there,” said Leonard. “This was my first film, so it was on-the-job training.”
You simply can’t blame the 55-year-old Leonard for being a little bit selfish, this being the first time in his life that he was hired as a consultant on a film having to do with the sport in which he became a star.
Leonard’s presence delighted actor Hugh Jackman, an Australian-born actor who has idolized Leonard as a fighter.
“Sugar Ray choreographed every one of those robots,” said Jackman. “Some of them, he was even more kind of robotic with. He would do it with some having more style. He sort of really just nailed it, I have to say.”
Leonard was responsible for teaching jabs, hooks, uppercuts and defense — in other words, for choreographing the entire flick’s boxing technique.
“What I did depended on the design of that robot. I kind of took a piece here and there from various fighters, and I gave it to the robots,” said Leonard.
“A big, muscular huge robot was like a big George Foreman. Thank God for the technology and some of those stunt men who were in those motion-capturing outfits. They had a little bit of boxing experience.”
Leonard admitted that Jackman was a work in progress.
The actor would initially throw punches and forget about defense, manifested by his “dropping his left hand, or his right hand, or whatever,” said Leonard.
“I would tell him that if you throw one punch, you have to protect yourself from the counter punch. I’m sure that he went home and looked in the mirror and worked on it. I kept stressing that to him.”
Eventually, like Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, or Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, “Hugh came back, and he pulled it off,” said Leonard.
Known for his role as Wolverine in the inaugural X-Men series, it also helped that the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Jackman “had the goods, physically,” said Leonard.
“I worked really hard with Hugh, not just in throwing his punches, but we kind of tightened things up. I wanted him to not just look like a fighter, but also, to feel the emotions of a fighter, and, to also, know what it feels like to be a trainer,” said Leonard.
“So my main goal, when we were done, was to make sure that what Hugh was doing with his hands was reflected on his face. I wanted him to show that in his expression. But Hugh is not only a great actor, but a great athlete. He’s a perfectionist and a great student.”
Jackman’s role in the film is as a trainer of combative robots who have replaced human beings as fighting’s futuristic form of fisticuffs entertainment, doing so along side his genius son.
“I was a little intimidated to be honest. I play what Angelo Dundee was to Ray Leonard, you know? I play the corner man,” said Jackman.
“So Sugar Ray talked to me a lot about that as well as the life of a boxer inside and outside of the ring. He taught me that connection between you as the trainer and your boxer.”
Jackman’s role in the movie is to program his ideas into Atom, whose moves, in response, reflected those of his trainer.
Jackman does the rest as a down-on-his luck former professional prizefighter who compiled a modest record of 24-19, with every one of his fights, win or lose, ending in a knockout.
Jackman is so bad off that he literally sells his son for money and spends the rest of the film trying to mend their relationship.
After some ups and downs, father and son come together in the final scene, where Atom engages in with the antagonist, Zeus, in a brutal, Rocky-versus-Clubber Lang type of clash.
“Zeus was George Foreman, and Atom was me. I was just blown away by the finished product,” said Leonard. “In the end, I was just blown away by the flexibility of the robots. They were fluid, and they made my job a lot easier. I mean, this movie is not Rock-em, Sock-em Robots by any means. “
While it’s not Rocky, The Harder They Fall or The Fighter, Real Steel, said Leonard, “is like Avatar on steroids.”
“My first day on the set, I couldn’t see these robots being as believable as they turned out to be. This movie is so different. And it’s a family movie, a guy movie, a woman movie because of the shift in elements and emotions,” said Leonard.
“I took my young kids, and my wife and my mother-in-law. My wife and my mother-in-law were crying, and my kids were going crazy because the action was off the hook.”