De Niro re­turns to box­ing ring mi­nus gloves

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By ASSOCIATED PRESS in Cannes, France

The gloves have fi­nally come off Robert De Niro.

The great heavy­weight of the box­ing film has at last moved to the trainer’s cor­ner, that sweat-drenched home of griz­zled vet­eran ac­tors and manly pep talks. In Hands of Stone, Jonathan Jakubow­icz’s biopic of the light­weight cham­pion Roberto Du­ran, De Niro plays the famed trainer Ray Ar­cel. Edgar Ramirez, the Car­los and Point Break star, plays the Pana­ma­nian fighter in the film.

Sit­ting on a rooftop in Cannes shortly af­ter Hands of Stone de­buted at the French Riviera film fes­ti­val, De Niro says he was happy to leave the rig­ors of play­ing a boxer to the 39-year-old Ramirez.

“I saw him work­ing so hard and so dis­ci­plined. I was glad it wasn’t me,’’ says De Niro, let­ting out a belly laugh and pat­ting Ramirez on the back. “Great job!”

Ramirez, who trained ex­ten­sively for the part, shook his head. “He was hit­ting the best restau­rants in Panama when­ever we had a day off. I just stayed in my apart­ment.”

Hands of Stone, which the We­in­stein Co plans to re­lease later this year, ar­rives more than 35 years af­ter De Niro fa­mously played boxer Jake LaMotta in Rag­ing Bull, a movie that De Niro pushed for a then­strug­gling Martin Scors­ese to di­rect. The film re­mains the belt-holder of box­ing films, revered for its monochromic cin­e­matog­ra­phy and dark, dis­turbed mys­tery.

De Niro met Ar­cel, the trainer of 18 world cham­pi­ons, while mak­ing Rag­ing Bull.

“I got a sense that he had a real el­e­gance and an aura about him that’s not typ­i­cal of train­ers I’ve met,” says De Niro.

Hands of Stone, a rags-toriches tale with the ri­valry be­tween Du­ran and Su­gar Ray Leonard (a fleet-of-foot Usher) thrown in, is a more meat-and-pota­toes box­ing drama, with the ben­e­fit of lo­cal Panama at­mos­phere (it was partly shot there.) Va­ri­ety says it “punches ahead in a con­ven­tional, ag­gres­sive, no-frills way”.

“I didn’t have to do it, I just wanted to do it,” saysDe Niro. “I wanted to make sure that they went in the right di­rec­tion.”

De Niro, 72, may have been ex­pected to leave the box­ing ring long ago, but he re­turned to it in the 2013 com­edy Grudge Match. He and Sylvester Stal­lone played aged ri­vals coaxed back into a fight.

Few ac­tors, though, are more ap­pro­pri­ate for the role of sage men­tor. De Niro isn’t one to lec­ture on act­ing, but he does preach min­i­mal­ism in per­for­mance.

“Ac­tors some­times tend to think ‘I’mnot do­ing enough’. The fact is you don’t have to do any­thing in some cases. Do­ing noth­ing is all that you need to do,” says De Niro. “That’s a hard thing to do: not do­ing any­thing.”

At the pre­miere of Hands of Stone, the fes­ti­val hosted a quick trib­ute to De Niro, which left him teary-eyed. The fes­ti­val has long wel­comed the ac­tor, who in 2011 was pres­i­dent of the jury.

Forty years ago, Taxi Driver won the Palme d’Or. And be­fore that, Mean Streets played in the Di­rec­tors’ Fort­night sec­tion. But De Niro’s mem­ory is foggy.

“I for­get how we got there,” he says. “But I know I was there.”

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