Boxing stories have been told since cinema was first invented, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a boxing movie told like A Fighting Man, which debuts on DVD June 17. Writer-director Damian Lee takes viewers through an unorthodox narrative, going back and forth between a big fight where aging pugilist Sailor O'Connor (Dominic Purcell) battles with young up and comer King (Izaak Smith), and the dramatic events that unfolded, leading both of these boxers to step in the ring with one another. I recently had the chance to speak with Dominic Purcell over the phone, where he spoke about his boxing training, how parts of the story were taken from his actual life, bringing this amazing cast together which includes James Caan, Louis Gossett Jr., Famke Janssen, Michael Ironside, Adam Beach, Kim Coates and an appearance by boxing legend Freddie Roach, and much more. Here's what he had to say in our exclusive interview.
I really enjoyed how the story was formatted, taking us back and forth between the fight and everything that lead up to it. It really isn't put together like your garden-variety boxing movie. Were you surprised when you read the script, and you saw that the story kept going back and forth?
Dominic Purcell: I was. It was an unusual way to tell a story, especially a boxing story. I thought it was a very smart way of doing it. I had a good friend of mine, Freddie Roach, who was in the movie playing the fight doctor, but he is probably the greatest trainers in the world, and he said it was one of his favorite fight movies. That was a big thumbs up, for me.
Dominic Purcell: Definitely.
Another thing I enjoyed is how Sailor's mother (Sheila McCarthy) might be the toughest person in the whole movie. I loved the scenes between you and Sheila. Was it fun to explore and put together that dynamic?
Dominic Purcell: Yeah, man. It contrasted how, really, at the end of the day, how gentle and how vulnerable Sailor is. It was great to highlight that.
I read that your parents live in Ireland and that you visit them twice a year. This obviously isn't set in Ireland, but that trip plays a big part of the story. Did your trips to Ireland have any influence into how you played those scenes with Sheila?
Dominic Purcell: Yeah, absolutely. Some of the bits of the story were taken from my actual life. The accident in the car, that happened to me as a child, when my dad was drunk and he lost his shit and started attacking my mother. I jumped on him and tried to prevent him from doing more damage to her. In the process, he threw me against the car window. That actually happened, so it was quite the flashback, if you will.
Oh, wow. I didn't know that. I was also curious about the boxing training you had to go through. The fight scenes themselves were rather realistic, and you really got a sense of how brutal this fight was. How much training did you have to undergo, and was Freddie always there, supervising the training?
Dominic Purcell: You know, I've been boxing on and off my whole life, but I hadn't boxed in close to 20 years. We shot this in Canada, but I spent a lot of time training in L.A., just getting ready for it. I was training with the former Canadian Olympic coach, and once I got under his tutelage, I realized how little I knew about boxing. It was certainly a process. Basically, I spent close to nine months, learning how to box. Part of the dilemma for me is, the character I was playing, he was not the most skilled fighter, and kept his hands low all the time, so when I got in the ring and sparred with these guys, I had to facilitate that in the sparring. I took a couple of shots to the head.
I suppose you had to forget some of the training, just because of the skill level that Sailor had?
Dominic Purcell: Yeah, basically, but we worked with that in mind. My training was basically all about a guy who was just a brawler. At times, I was pretty reticent to get in the ring with guys and keep my hands low. As I said, I kept getting hit in the head.
It was always inferred that Sailor never had the best record in the world, but I was always intrigued that he was never knocked down. Did you develop any sort of a background of his fighting career, to get into his mindset?
Dominic Purcell: The Sailor character is loosely based on some boxer who did have a record similar to Sailor's, and his famous quote was, "I was never a great fighter, but I never got knocked down." He held on to that, and it became a bit of a mantra for him. He was obviously a very tough and resilient boxer in the ring, without a whole lot of skill.
Can you talk about working with (writer-director) Damian Lee? He has had such a diverse career over the years, and he has such a distinct style. Can you talk about what sets him apart from other directors you've worked with?
Dominic Purcell: Yeah, Damian is a deeply intelligent guy, and he's also very spiritual. He brings a lot of spirituality. I don't mean that in a God-like sense, I mean that in a profound, knowing sense. I worked with him on a thing called Breakout a few years back, and he had A Fighting Man percolating in his head for 10 years. When I got on set and started working with him, he realized I was perfect for the role, and he more or less wrote it in a month. A month after that, it was greenlit by Sony, and we went into production really, really quickly. Damian has since become a close friend, and the process was very simple because he knew exactly what he wanted, where he was going, and we have a great respect for one another as collaborators, and that often brings the best out in both people.
The cast around you is just amazing. I imagine you were attached pretty early, but can you talk about the process of everyone else coming on board?
Dominic Purcell: Yeah, I was the first one attached. I had worked with Adam Beach on a movie called Ice Soldiers, and I thought he would be perfect for the boxing promoter. He came on, and things just started happening. James Woods signed on, Famke Janssen signed on, Kim Coates signed on. Izaak Smith was this young kid from Canada who had never really acted before. I thought his performance was exceptional. He was great. He was really strong.
Is there anything you have in development that you can talk about?
Dominic Purcell: Yeah, I'm about to do a movie in Toronto called Gridlocked with myself, Danny Glover, Jason Patric. It's a very intense cop drama. It's a great story, great script, and there's a lot of depth to it, which is great. I've been collaborating with the director on that. I have a movie called Turkey Shoot Reloaded, which was an Australian film made many years ago, which happened to be one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite Australian films. He was involved, in terms of financing, and that's coming out sometime this year. Yeah, man. I have another film called Abraham coming out. Things are busy.
Dominic Purcell: There's always talk about it, possibly making a film about it, but I'm not sure if Wentworth (Miller) will be involved, and if he's not involved, it probably won't get made. Wentworth is happily retired from acting and he's become quite a sensation in the writing world.
What would you like to say to anyone who might be curious about A Fighting Man about why they should pick it up on DVD this week?
Dominic Purcell: It's storytelling in its true essence. It's not all about boxing. It's about two men who have unsolved issues in their lives who come together in the boxing ring. Through the journey of the fight, they start to get a deeper meaning of what life is, and, at the end of the fight, there's a real catharsis. People will really get immersed in the story of the film, and I think that's one of the proudest things about this film. It's just great storytelling.
That's my time. Thanks so much, Dominic.
Dominic Purcell: You too, man. Thank you.