The following interview contains spoilers for Southpaw.
Rachel McAdams has had one of the most diverse careers of any modern actress. The London, Ontario-born McAdams scored her breakout role in 2004 with Mean Girls, and since then has played a succession of parts striking in their difference from each other. She’s done romance (The Notebook), comedy (Wedding Crashers), thrillers (Red Eye), action/adventure (Sherlock Holmes), political drama (A Most Wanted Man) and now the sports movie with director Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw.
In Southpaw, McAdams plays Maureen Hope, wife of light heavyweight champion boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal). A dedicated wife and mother, Maureen has the looks of a bombshell but the savvy and street smarts to fiercely protect her husband and guide his career. But when sudden tragedy rips their relationship apart, a self-destructive and despairing Billy must rebuild their family, his life and his career on his own.
McAdams took some time recently to talk with Den Of Geek and others about Southpaw, her current role as a troubled yet dedicated cop on the second season of True Detective and those rumors about her and Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
What drew you to Southpaw?
Rachel McAdams: I was really drawn to the boxing. I didn’t know anything about boxing when I started this and it was a world that I knew nothing about. I was drawn to that. And Antoine was passionate about both the boxing and the love story, not the romantic story between Maureen and Billy, but the family love story — which I thought was really inspiring. He wanted to explore that deeply. That combination was really appealing.
Did you talk to any boxer’s wives?
A few. There’s not a lot out there about the wives or the families of boxers. It’s usually more focused on the boxers themselves. It was an amazing education just learning what sacrifices they make and the fear and anxiety underneath it, but also the respect for the sport. I gained an incredible respect for it.
I had no idea how difficult it was, really, especially when I tried boxing myself (laughs). It was a great challenge and I loved it. I still do it to this day. It’s such a great workout. It’s just so incredibly difficult. I don’t know how Jake got as proficient as he got in three months. It’s really miraculous. He’s a wildly talented guy, but it just doesn’t happen overnight.
Were you caught off guard with his transformation?
I saw him when he first started training and he had long hair and a big, bushy beard and he didn’t really look like a boxer. Then three months later, I showed up on set and there he was… a boxer, a really transformed person. It caught me off guard for a moment. It was so impressive. He was giving it everything he had every day. I didn’t know how long he could last. I didn’t know how a person could keep that up — if you think about it, a boxer trains however many months, years to maybe go 12 rounds. He was going 35, 40 rounds every time — having to do it over and over and over again, every day, five days a week.
I still don’t know how he did it. I still marvel at it.
In the fight scenes, you’re actually watching him get hit. Can you talk about getting into those scenes?
He didn’t get hit very much. It was rare that they missed a punch — which he said was harder because he’s hyper-extending and not hitting. That was almost harder on the body than if he had made contact.
I had to put away my own feelings and the feeling that I would have been cringing, which I was doing at the first fight we went to. We saw Cotto-Martinez at MadisonSquareGarden as part of the preparation and I reacted very differently than Maureen would have. It’s interesting to get into that part where she doesn’t flinch. Well, she’s flinching a little bit because he’s not fighting the fight he normally fights. He’s taking too many punches. You see a different Maureen.
I think normally she’s got a pretty tough skin. She’s been watching him fight for 20 years. She knows her way around a boxing gym for sure. It was fun to play that toughness. You have to have a thick skin to be married to a boxer.
She’s the business person of the family. She calls a lot of the shots. He fights and she works with the manager/promoter (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) to pick the fights. You said there wasn’t a lot out there about the wives, but was there anyone who came close to doing that kind of thing?
Yeah, there’s definitely some. Some women are more involved and some are a real team effort like it is with Maureen and Billy. I think Maureen doesn’t trust anybody with her husband, even his closest friends. She knows when there’s that much money involved, she’s looking over her shoulder all the time. She grew up that way. She’s feisty and didn’t have anyone protecting her or Billy. She makes it her business and I think that she loves it.
As much as there’s fear involved, you know there could be one wrong move and it could be the end of it. But, I think that something about the boxing brings them together. I think she finds it kind of hot. He literally goes out and fights for his family and fights to provide for them. There’s something very primal about that.
How was it working with 50 Cent?
He’s such a sweetheart. This is actually the second time I’ve worked with 50, which is surreal. He’s a lovely actor. He’s really playful. He was recording while we were working. It was great to watch him bring both of his worlds together.
I think he’s getting involved in boxing too. We would talk boxing a lot. He had a good understanding of the world and he was a great resource as well. I think he’s great in the movie. He does a great job and he’s very believable. He doesn’t play a straight ahead villain.
When you got the script, did they tell you ahead of time that you would be killed off early on?
Yeah, I was shocked when it happened. I didn’t know it was coming when I read it. It was shocking.
The marketing seems to be tipping the fact that you do die.
That was a hell of a shoot-out on True Detective recently, can you tell us about that?
That was exciting to shoot. It was a real thrill ride. That took a little bit longer than the shooting in this movie — that only took seven hours. But, dying for seven hours is long! Both were great.
What’s it been like being on True Detective and being a part of a show that is so hyped, especially after the first season?
You have to turn the noise off a little bit. Fortunately, I’m not really on social media. I’ve been able to live in a bit of a black hole. But, you know you have something that has an incredible following, which is incredibly exciting — to know that people watch and care.
I think it’s fortunate that the two seasons are so different. I kept that in mind. It’s almost like pressing the reset button.
Was it out of your comfort level?
I loved playing her. It was weirdly comfortable, but weirdly different for me, for sure. But so creatively stimulating and satisfying. Characters like that don’t come along every day. You don’t see women like that very often, which is unfortunate. I feel blessed I got to play her.
Could you talk a little bit about the reports about you possibly getting involved with Marvel on Doctor Strange?
I don’t have much to say about it right now. There’s not really anything to comment on. But, if there is, I’ll let you know.