The Journey Behind Southpaw

I had worked with the Shady Records people on a couple projects for Eminem before. I believe it was during my hiatus of season four for Sons of Anarchy when they came to me with the idea of doing a boxing movie for Marshall. They wanted to do a remake of The Champ. I'm not a big fan of remakes, nor am I the guy to go to for an adaptation or reinvention. That said, I pitched them the idea of telling the next chapter of Marshall's story through the analogy of boxing. After 8 Mile, the hardship, the death of Proof, his struggle with addiction and suicide... well, it felt like a worthy enterprise.

They sparked to the idea and we pitched it around town. Stacy Snyder at DreamWorks, who had done 8 Mile when she was at Universal, loved it, and so I started writing. I had worked with Antoine Fuqua on a project at Warner Brothers. I loved his shooting style and had a lot of respect for him as a man. So when we started meeting with directors, we brought him in. Antoine was by far the most passionate about the story and the most plugged into the character and world. Boxing was a big part of his life.

Then, as it happens, the timing did not work out for Marshall. He was immersed in the music and needed to focus on his next album.

When Southpaw slipped into the development ethos, that's when Harvey Weinstein came into the picture. He loved the script and liked it as a vehicle for Jake Gyllenhaal. This was a difficult leap for me. I liked Jake as an actor and knew him personally, but I had written what I considered a very personal biographical allegory and I couldn't see it as anything else.

Antoine, who at that point had become the passionate glue that held the project together, convinced me to meet with Jake. So we met. Jake is a really smart cat; insightful, thoughtful and very selective about his roles. By the end of that meeting I was reinvigorated. I realized that Southpaw was more than just one man's shadow story. It was an Everyman story of redemption.

I generated a couple more drafts with Jake in mind, but ultimately because of my commitment on Sons of Anarchy, I had to turn the reins over to the producers, director and star. This can often be a terrifying prospect for a writer. Throw in my volatile control issues, and you pretty much have a "final draft panic attack" template.

But I realized something during the pre-production of Southpaw that was as freeing as it was humbling: Antoine and Jake knew Billy Hope better than I did. They had lived with this character -- the shifts in story, the new emotional nuances -- longer than I had. They had a more specific vision of this new direction of Southpaw with Jake in the role than I did.

What ultimately ended up on screen, although not what I had originally envisioned, is a beautiful story of redemption. Billy Hope is man who literally has fought his whole life to stay one step ahead of his demons. In that marginal space he has carved out a life where he has found love and comfort as a husband and father.

Jake's performance is as heartbreaking as it is brutal. It's a career-changer. Rachel is beautiful and amazing. And Antoine shot the fuck out of the boxing sequences. He has made a film that is as moving as it is visually compelling.