Challenging himself creatively and testing musical boundaries are characteristics that have defined Usher’s career since he was first discovered 20 years ago. One of the best-selling artists in American music history, he has sold over 65 million albums worldwide. For the eight time Grammy Award winner, playing the iconic boxer Sugar Ray Leonard in “Hands of Stone” not only offered a chance to hone his acting skills, but the opportunity to tell the story of one of the greatest boxers of all time. Trendy’s Samantha Ofole-Prince recently caught up with the entertainer to talk about playing the sports figure.
Did you seek Sugar Ray’s permission prior to playing role and what was the conversation you had with him?
I didn’t ask him for permission until I read his book, as I wanted to be prepared. I asked him, Sugar, they asked me to play you and I just want to get it right and asked if I could sit with him and ask questions and he made himself available.
Biopics are some of the most difficult roles in Hollywood, what were some of the pressures you experienced while making this film?
I turned down so much business, I pushed back an album, I turned down tours and turned down going back to ‘The Voice,’ which I really did enjoy. I had all these obligations I had to meet, but I really wanted to do the film as I felt that it was a great story.”
Any specific physical changes?
Sugar Ray asked me to get a really good afro and I started growing it and grew it for a year. I also really wanted to know what type of pressures these types of athletes go through and I did sparring rounds. I loved it and due to that I was probably in the best physical shape of my life.
In making this film, will it change the trajectory of your acting career and If so what sort of roles will fans now see you in? More biopics?
I have played on sitcoms and a horror one off and I played an artist and Usher the artist and soap operas as I wanted to have a 360 view of how people look at acting. You really have so many shots to tell the right story about who you are as a creative person. I am holding for the right role and have been willing to make the sacrifices necessary to play the right role. The last three years have shown me that we have a responsibility to tell stories that are meaningful for our history. We have to use this opportunity to tell our history.
This is an independent movie, which took a few years to get off the ground, why was making a movie like this so hard?
There is risk and it takes discipline. If everyone didn’t look at this movie as a labor of love it wouldn’t have happened. I felt that it that it was a great story. There were so many opportunities to walk away from it but everybody had to make the commitment.
The fact that we have lost several icons over the years, including Ali just a few months ago, do you feel that makes this movie even more significant?
Yes, I am all about making sure we preserve the essence of our icons as our icons are important. It’s great that our icons are able to see their legacy and see their work. Muhammad Ali had that and Ray Charles had a chance to feel that and now Sugar Ray would get a chance to feel that.
“Hands of Stone” is based on the true life story of Panamanian boxer Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran, and explores the infamous rivalry he had with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980, when Duran gave Leonard, a reigning champion, his first defeat. Their notorious rivalry in a rematch became one of the most infamous fights in boxing history. The film is currently playing in U.S theaters,
Samantha Ofole-Prince is an entertainment journalist who covers industry-specific news. Follow her on twitter @SamanthaOfole