One of the oldest ways actors have illustrated their dedication to roles is by drastically changing their appearance. Christian Bale is one of the more popular actors to do this, having lost a lot of weight for The Machinist before bulking up to play Batman before losing a lot of weight for The Fighter before gaining a lot of weight for American Hustle.
He's obviously not the only one (Matthew McConaughey got skinny for his Dallas Buyers Club performance) and he'll be far from the last. Just this year, Jake Gyllenhaal dropped 25 pounds in order to play sociopath Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler, a role for which he earned critical acclaim. Based on the first image from his new film Southpaw, Gyllenhaal has outdone himself and will wow moviegoers with his chameleon abilities yet again.
For those not in the know, Southpaw is a boxing drama from director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer) about Billy "The Great" Hope, a junior middleweight champion fighter who is forced to fight his way to redemption after suffering a personal tragedy. It was at one point supposed to star rapper Eminem in the lead role. The premise may not exactly be the most original in the world, but it's acquired a noteworthy cast (Rachel McAdams and Forest Whitaker will co-star) and one look at Gyllenhaal will probably entice a film buff or two to put it on their radar.
Deadline unveiled the image, and it's safe to say that the actor is barely recognizable through the 15 pounds of muscle he's gained. It's quite an alteration from the figure audiences are accustomed to seeing from him:
Gyllenhaal trained twice a day for seven days a week in preparation for his role. Fuqua stated that the actor spent time at Church Gym in New York, working with real-life boxers, as well as Floyd Mayweather's gym in Las Vegas in order to acquire his physique. All that hard work has definitely paid off, and the director is beyond thrilled at the results.
Read his quote:
"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."
Over the past couple of years, Gyllenhaal has started to carve out a nice career for himself as a talented character actor thanks to roles in well-received dramas like End of Watch, Prisoners, and the aforementioned Nightcrawler. One could argue that those works have already helped change how moviegoers view him, but going the extra mile and achieving the physical form of a world-renowned boxer will only help the perception that he is definitely leading man material.
Whenever actors go through these types of transformations, the Oscar talk almost always starts up. In the case of boxing films, it tends to work more often than not (Robert De Niro won for Raging Bull, while Denzel Washington and Will Smith were nominated for The Hurricane and Ali), but not everyone manages to earn a nomination or win. Mark Wahlberg was, rather ironically, the only principle cast member in The Fighter to go unrecognized at the Academy Awards. In that instance, the voters' preference was the most likely culprit, but film content is typically the greater indicator when it comes to award prospects.
With backing by Harvey Weinstein, Southpaw should be able to find traction on the Oscar circuit if Kurt Sutter's (Sons of Anarchy) screenplay and Fuqua's direction can provide audiences with some compelling drama to supplement the "electric" fight scenes that will no doubt be the meat of the film. Fuqua was able to lead one of his stars to the Oscar stage before (Denzel in Training Day), so he's got some experience in that department. Given Gyllenhaal's abilities, the quality of the performance should be standout. As for the overall product, we'll just have to wait and see.
Southpaw will be released in theaters at some point in 2015.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.