Articles: Usher Raymond: "I made so many sacrifices to play the role of Sugar Ray Leonard"




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By Samantha Ofole-Prince/Photos by Rico Torres

Edgar Ramirez and Usher Raymond

Playing the sports icon Sugar Ray Leonard in the boxing biopic “Hands of Stone” was no easy feat for Usher Raymond IV. There were grueling workouts, dietary restrictions, daily sparring sessions and several sacrifices, but looking back, the Grammy Award winning artist would do it all over again if he had to.

“I turned down so much business,” says Usher, who we caught up with at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “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.”

For the eight time Grammy Award winner, the role 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.
“I am all about making sure we preserve the essence of our icons. 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,” adds Usher, who says he immediately sought the boxer’s blessing once he was offered the part.

Usher as Sugar Ray Leonard

“I was mindful and did want to get his blessing before I took it on and I wanted to be prepared. I asked if I could sit with him and ask questions and he made himself available.”
Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, "Hands of Stone”  is based on the true life story of Panamanian boxer Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran, and although the film’s primary focus is Duran’s rags-to-riches story, it 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 movie is not necessarily just about Sugar Ray Leonard, it’s Duran's movie, but Sugar Ray has a big part in the story,” continues Usher.  “I loved every aspect of preparation from getting to know the character and standing toe to toe with amateur boxers in preparation. In doing that, I was probably in the best physical shape of my life and reaped the benefits of it.”

Usher Raymond and Jurnee Smollett-Bell

With notable performances from its leads, Robert De Niro stars as the legendary trainer Ray Arcel, who was the first boxing trainer to be elected into the Boxing Hall of Fame, while the role of Duran is brilliantly played by Edgar Ramirez.

“You really have so many shots to tell the right story about who you are as a creative person,” Usher adds. “I am willing to make the sacrifices necessary to play the right role.”

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