Grammy-winning singer Usher has been cast as Sugar Ray Leonard in the upcoming film, Roberto Duran bio-pic, Hands of Stone.
Training for the past year in preparation to play Leonard, Usher says he still needs to lose nearly 25 pounds before shooting begins in October.
The story is based on Duran, a world champion in four weight divisions over a career that spanned five decades. Nicknamed the “Hands of Stone,” Duran rose from the slums of Panama to defeat an unbeaten Leonard in 1980 and claim the WBC welterweight title, only to lose the rematch several months later in the infamous “no mas” fight.
Usher said he was honored to play Leonard in the film.
“You couldn’t find a more stylized boxer than Sugar Ray Leonard,” Usher said by telephone. “He was an incredible motion guy, the way he moved around the ring, and I think my dancing will make it easier for me to pick up his moves. I’ve been working on familiarizing myself with the ring, sparring and just understanding how to move in the ring.”
The cast also includes Robert De Niro as Duran’s Hall of Fame trainer, Ray Arcel. Edgar Ramirez, who was recently in Zero Dark Thirty, will play Duran.
Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, the biopic is a love story and sports drama that includes the “Brawl in Montreal” — better known as the “no mas” fight. In the eighth round of the fight, Duran inexplicably quit, saying in Spanish “no mas,” which means “no more.” They fought one more time, with Leonard winning again.
Usher said the rivalry between Leonard and Duran was one of the most exciting and unforgettable in sports. “It’s an incredible story to be told,” he said. “The metaphor of determination and struggle is one we can all relate to.”
Usher said he has had long conversations with Leonard and will meet him in person in coming weeks. “He had such incredible discipline, and he was flashy and classy at the same time,” said Usher, who’s been studying videos from Leonard’s boxing days. “I want to be as passionate and dedicated in preparing for this role as he was every time he stepped into the ring.”
An eight-time Grammy-winner with more than 50 million records sold worldwide, Usher also serves as a celebrity mentor on the reality TV show The Voice.
While his will be his first leading role in a feature film, Usher is appears ready to step to the plate. “I’m up for the challenge, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I think my overall feeling is one of anticipation. It seems like this is a real passion project. It’s a film that everybody is so invested in, and I have the good fortune of having the character I’m playing still around.”
Usher said he was thrilled to collaborate with De Niro, who will play Arcel, the first trainer to be elected to Hall of Fame. Arcel handled more than 2,000 fighters during his 70-year career. It will be De Niro’s third boxing film. He played Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull and stars in Grudge Match opposite Sylvester Stallone. That film, an action-comedy, is about two aging boxers and is due for release in early 2014.
Hands of Stone will be shot entirely in Panama.