In the world of performing arts, they say the "triple threat" is singing, dancing and acting.
R&B superstar Usher has certainly mastered the first two. But now he's going for the full trifecta, and he's receiving some help from a sports legend to get there.
Usher, whose previous acting pedigree mostly consists of musical performances and cameos as himself, is taking a much more serious role, starring as boxing hero Sugar Ray Leonard in the upcoming drama "Hands of Stone."
Although the protagonist is Panamanian fighter Roberto Duran, Leonard still plays a significant role in the movie as Duran's chief rival. Consequently, Usher will be seeing his first serious acting action in more than a decade, as detailed in this feature by the Los Angeles Times' Amy Kaufman.
Considering Usher's lack of experience both in the worlds of sports and acting, the choice to cast him as Leonard may have seemed somewhat arbitrary to some. But director Jonathan Jakubowicz believed that Usher's dancing prowess would translate well to Leonard's quick boxing style, and the real-life Leonard – after a bit of hesitation – was fully on board.
"I started laughing and said 'Wow, Usher?'" Leonard told Kaufman of the director's call. "But then I spoke to Usher and he told me how he really wanted to make me proud and wanted my assistance. So I said, 'Yeah, I can make you be me. I'm pretty good at that.'"
The process didn't happen overnight for Usher, who worked tirelessly to perfect Leonard's physical appearance, boxing technique and general mannerisms. But Usher said the opportunity to portray one of the world's most iconic black athletes was too great to pass up, making every minute of watching Leonard's fights and speaking with him on the phone worthwhile.
"After all of that, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to show the difference between macho and masculine," Usher told the Times. "And though Sugar Ray Leonard was very poised -- as any Olympic medalist would be -- there's a certain manner and way that he presented himself in front of the camera. There's a different side to him, a very masculine side, that no one ever got to know."
"Hands of Stone," which features Robert De Niro as Duran's legendary trainer Ray Arcel, opens in theaters August 26. For more insight, check out Kaufman's story at LATimes.com.
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