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First-Look At Usher As Sugar Ray Leonard In Roberto Durán Biopic 'Hands of Stone'

by Tambay A. Obenson
December 3, 2013 5:13 PM
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Usher - Leonard

"I train like an athlete very day, believe it or not," says the singer. (We believe it.) "My commitment to this character demands that I not only physically get ready, but also become him," he says. "The hair, the personality, the manner he conducts himself in — all that. He's an incredible man."

Usher, in a Mens Health profile 2 months ago, showing off his newly-minted bod, and sharing his workout routine, after dropping several pounds to play boxer Sugar Ray Leonard in Hands of Stone, starring opposite Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramirez (replacing Gael García Bernal) in a story that will center primarily on Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (played by Ramirez).

De Niro will play Duran's Hall of Fame trainer, Ray Arcel

The biopic, written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, includes the "Brawl in Montreal," the first fight between Durán and Leonard, and the "no mas" fight, which took place in New Orleans. 

In the eighth round of that fight, Duran inexplicably quit, saying in Spanish "no mas." They fought one more time, and Leonard won again.

Speaking about the project and his casting in the films, Usher had this to say:

"It was proper casting [...] I was selected. They approached me to do it. And all I had to do was consider it."

On his "proper casting" compared to the abilities of De Niro and Ramirez ("proper actors"), and whether he is at all intimidated at getting in the ring with them, so to speak...

"Not at all [...] not at all. There's a respect for both parties. I've seen Oscar winners come out of left field."

On Oscar winners coming out of left field, and what he believes his chances are with this particular role...

"I'm just saying Jennifer Hudson [...] I'm not even saying... You asked me, is it OK to assume that an actor who doesn't have as much skill can't out-act an actor who is well-decorated? And what I'm saying is, if you take a moment to just analyse... No... I'm not intimidated in any way. Because there's a shared passion and respect among all of us, and it's the type of script that will allow all of us to shine."

He added further...

"I don't know if this is the one that would win me an Oscar or not. I'm going into it offering my interpretation and my hard work and my dedication to be the best Sugar Ray ever. Or as good as the man can be. I've spoken to him, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to live up to him. But I'll try to be better than him."

He also said that he believes his dancing skills will help him in the role, for which he'll be shedding even more pounds.

"You couldn't find a more stylized boxer than Sugar Ray Leonard [...] 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."

This will be the 8-time Grammy-winner's first leading role in a feature film.

"I'm up for the challenge, and I'm looking forward to it [...] 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."

Hands of Stone is being shot entirely in Panama this fall.

From the set, a few photos of Usher as Leonard have surfaced online, and are embedded within this post (above and below):

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  • Mike Smith | December 4, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    Usher? Child please. I won't catch this flick for sure.

  • Marie | December 4, 2013 3:01 PMReply

    More evidence of my "black actors and non-actors itching to do biopics as fast track to Oscar" theory. Even mentioning the word "Oscar" when you're appearing in your first film is reason enough to not support you. Usher displays a total lack of appreciation for the skills involved in BECOMING a character (many professional actors don't even do that well, let alone amateurs like him). Working out at the gym isn't enough to give a great acting performance (reminds me of Beyonce running on her treadmill with a picture of an Oscar in front of her face.) I believe in having confidence but it should be tempered with humility. Moreover, I've never been a Smollett fan (I think she projects too much) so this one's going to be a Netflix for me.

  • Melissa | April 30, 2014 8:57 AM

    Well, he's kind of an a**... I heard Robert De Niro say in an interview Usher wrote a letter to Jonathan Jakubowitz (the director) explaining why he was perfect for the role, so it seems like he auditioned and worked HARD to get it, which is just fine, but it doesn't strike me as a "proper casting" story, it doesn't seem like the role was "offered" to him, but that he went over backward to get it, wich only it proves he's passionated about the project and that's always a good thing... on th other hand, I wouldn't miss this movie for the world, first of all the TITLE roles are played by PROPER actors De Niro and Ramírez, after all, the movie is about Duran, not about Sugar Ray Leonard and secondly it tells the story of my grandma favorite boxer...

  • D.C. Kirkwood | December 4, 2013 2:38 PMReply

    Originally, Columbus Short auditioned and was a contender for this role but they passed on him for Usher. This was before Scandal. I think this project has been in the works for atleast two years. Ill keep an open mind, since I saw him and Sugar Ray in a couple of photos together. Sugar Ray gave Usher his blessing and seems pleased with his performance. Plus Jurnee Smollet is playing his wife. I look forward to seeing it.

  • Alias | December 5, 2013 3:56 PM

    So because Sugar Ray gave Usher his blessing audiences should support this film? I didn't know Sugar Ray was a well-respected producer, writer, or director with experience in casting movies.

    That's a well-thought out line of thinking ... NOT!!

  • NO BRAINER | December 4, 2013 2:23 AMReply

    I'm on team DARKAN as well. Thank you saving me the time because I wss gonna say the same thing you said. Usher? I can't.

  • CareyCarey | December 3, 2013 11:44 PMReply

    STOP IT! I'm with Darkan, no mas man, stop the madness. There's no way in hell any boxing fan would buying into Usher being Sugar Ray Leonard!

    But of special note, Sugar Ray Robinson, one of the best middle-weights of ALL time, was an excellent dancer. But on the flip side, being a life long boxing fan, I've never seen a boxer become a great actor. Well, if one considers Ken Norton's performance in Mandingo and Mike Tyson's do-what-he-do in Hangover I & II as great acting, then yeah, it's all good.

    But seriously, Usher does not exhibit any characteristics of a boxer - NONE! And as Darkan noted, his ego is on par with Puffy's... we all know, and have seen how that translates on film.

  • Yo | December 7, 2013 11:15 AM

    Shut your imposter ass up.

  • CareyCarey | December 7, 2013 8:43 AM

    My bad Mr. Truth, I made my move too soon so thanks for the correction. I mean, everyone should know you can take a hoodsman out of the back woods but you can't take the Neo-Nazi organization out of the hoodsman.

    And No-Brainer, why are you mad? I'm serious, I didn't mean any harm. Would you have preferred a smiley face :-(

  • truth | December 4, 2013 9:59 PM

    Bitch I never left now go take your medication.

  • CareyCarey | December 4, 2013 8:05 PM

    Look at what has slithered back in the fold. What wrong Mr. Truth, did you get excommunicated from Stormfront? :-(

  • truth | December 4, 2013 7:19 PM


    That's because Carey is an instigating jackass on meth. Don't try to make sense of his attention whoring nonsense.

  • NO BRAINER | December 4, 2013 11:33 AM

    What move??? I wasn't exactly clear on what you were saying. So, I simply mentioned what said in the article, hoping you would clarify, which you did. Nothing more, nothing less. All the other nonsense about some move I was trying to make and the sad face are unnecessary. You're taking this way too personal.

  • CareyCarey | December 4, 2013 3:23 AM

    I know No-Brainer. I did say "no way in hell any boxing fan would buy into Usher being Sugar Ray Leonard!". I mentioned S.R. Robinson only to highlight a boxer who was also a dancer. And if you noticed, I mentioned him in the past tense "was", Sugar Ray Leonard IS still living.

    And... S.R. "Leonard" fought as a "Welterweight", not Middleweight. So my man, I appreciate you having my back, but... you may have made your move too soon :-(

  • NO BRAINER | December 4, 2013 2:26 AM

    It says he is playing Leonard, not Robinson.

  • Darkan | December 3, 2013 8:37 PMReply

    Please, no mas Usher. The arrogance dripping from your lips gives off a stench. Also please note that being a great dancer doesn't make one a great boxer and damn sure doesn't make one a great actor. SMDH.

  • Carolyn | December 3, 2013 5:28 PMReply


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