The Sweet Science of Life
Photos by Karl Ferguson Jr.
Creative Direction by Katie Piper
Written by Datwon Thomas
Whenever you have a photo shoot with Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, you can bet good money that he’ll either arrive on time or be there early. He doesn’t play when it comes to the clock. It’s like everything else in his life that he sees as an obstacle, he wants to conquer it. “I’m only getting younger out here,” 50 boasts as he enters the office space doubling as a studio where the new digital VIBE cover shoot is being held. The team in tow is light for a man who once traveled with a security detail that rivaled Barack Obama’s Secret Service squad. These days Fif’s entourage is a four-deep creative team and his new G-Unit rap recruit, Kidd Kidd. On set, 50 continues to pontificate with his trademark wide smile. “I’m turning 40 in July, then every year after that I’m going down a year like Benjamin Button!” Those words are in jest, but they are also a goal he works towards.
To stay in tip-top shape with a youthful glow that rivals Nas and Pharrell, the man has been an exercise fanatic since recovering from those infamous nine shots. But he also stays up on social media and the blogs. If he’s not on Instagram making inappropriate jokes, promoting his hit Starz cable television show Power, pushing his latest business endeavor (like his own SMS Boxing Promotions) or showing off exclusive kicks and toys, 50’s flexing muscles for likes. Yet, for his newest film Southpaw, he didn’t work out like he normally does. He kept his exercise regimen simple as he plays slick talking boxing promoter Jordan Mains. The role’s not a stretch for the multi-platinum selling rapper who stars opposite A-list thespian Jake Gyllenhaal. Since the Queens native isn’t throwing fists in this flick, he left the heavy bag to his friend, Gyllenhaal, who essentially became a full-fledged professional boxer, complete with a rigorous training program he endured to truly fill the shoes of the troubled, down-on-his-luck pugilist, Billy “The Great” Hope.
Speaking of the 34-year-old Hollywood veteran, who starred in blockbusters like Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Nightcrawler (2014), Jake is punctual as well. A dip into the office with his team of four (groomer, publicists, assistants), and Gyllenhaal greets me with an easy demeanor and all-too-cool style. “I brought Gummy Bears”, he offers with a chuckle, passing his hello gift to the full set of caterers, photo/video team and 50’s crew.
After just leaving 50 about an hour earlier at a previous shoot, Gyllenhaal expresses how relaxed the current set is compared to the last. Music is pumping, everyone is upbeat and 50 is providing comedic relief at every turn. You get a sense that this was what the Southpaw set was like. A free-for-all with some work squeezed in. That work was no doubt handled by one of the best directors in the biz, Antoine Fuqua, of acclaimed cinematic works like the Denzel Washington-led Training Day (2001) and The Equalizer (2014). What Fuqua found in Gyllenhaal was an actor who is committed to the story so much that he stayed in character for much of the taping. Fuqua, allowing for riffs off script and range to let Gyllenhaal and co-stars Rachel McAdams [who plays Maureen Hope, Billy’s wife] and Forest Whitaker [Hope’s trainer] to flow in the moment, captures the tortured life of a once superstar light heavyweight champion whose life comes crashing down around him. The film seems based on the true life story of many boxers who’ve duked it out with bad press in news headlines. Don’t be surprised if you see streaks of Mike Tyson’s family and financial issues, Evander Holyfield’s physical and mental concerns — and Don King’s eerie presence in the form of 50’s thespian performance.
Though the film was supposed to feature Marshall “Eminem” Mathers as the lead role in the early stages of development, he opted out of the running in what could have been Em’s follow-up to the 2002 biopic-ish, 8 Mile. But of course, Mathers didn’t cut ties to the production completely. He’s square in pocket as the executive producer for the film’s soundtrack, which is being released on his Shady Records label. The first single from the project, “Phenomenal,” has been positioned as the unofficial theme for Apple Music’s new foray into the streaming market. It was the main track used to attract the masses to the budding platform. Let’s remember, Mathers has a knack for snagging Oscars for movie soundtrack singles — “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile still crushes workout playlist 13 years later.
Now comes the supreme test. Can a film where Gyllenhaal acts his heart out and shredded his body by doing 1,000 situps, 100 pullups and running eight miles a day for five months, be enough to make him an Academy Award nominee? 50 Cent sure thinks so. Step inside the kicks of an underdog who gains everything just to lose it all and still comes up swinging.
VIBE: 50, you were saying you brought VIBE Robert De Niro for our Hollywood Issue cover back in 2008, now you are bringing us the young De Niro for this cover…
50 Cent: We go through generations of this shit, man. [Screams] How many generations do I have to give you? [Laughs]
Jake Gyllenhaal. Young De Niro. Speaking of which, there’s Oscar talk for him on this one.
50: I mean he deserves that conversation. When you get a chance to see the performance in the film, you’ll understand the discipline is connected to Jake’s performance in this joint. We just talked about it briefly on the side. It’s not just the physical portion of it, people identify with that because they know how difficult it is to get ready for the summertime. They’ve got personal goals of losing five or ten pounds and it’s difficult for them to make the physical change. When they see that transformation, then they’re all attracted to him. They’re talkin’ about it so much ‘cause he’s able to commit himself to the point where he’s eight months ahead of the project. You started working on it [To Jake]?
Jake Gyllenhaal: Five months intensely. Before that, it was like a year talking about it. Then getting into it how we wanted to do it and then how we did it. It was like five months.
We met in the back room and he just started talking to me like he was my manager. From that moment, I was like, ‘He’s amazing.’
But it was also one of those things where you had to kind of wait and see because Eminem was attached to it.
50: In the very beginning, yeah. I actually spoke to Em about the project and this was like two days ago. I talked to him and he was like, ‘Yo, Jake looks fuckin’ crazy in that movie. I’m glad it worked out the right way. It went the right way.’ When you’re around something, you’re reading it and you’re comfortable with the material. And then you actually see it on the screen and you go, ‘Damn. Look at this.’ You see all of the creative choices from the talent, from the actors….it’s connected to it. There are points where there’s a lot of improvisation in the actual script at the same time, so it’s not exactly what was on the page. When you watch it, it’s like, ‘Yo!’ It’s a whole ‘nother experience even if you’ve read the script.
Like when Billy had to come see you…
50: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jake: We did. I came in, I actually did it. He was really good at firing me. [To 50] Why were you so good at firing me? It comes natural. [Laughs]
50: Well, I’m a little pissed off about the situation because I’ve been through this shit several times since we talked about it. I mean it wasn’t something we could get out of. When one person is thinking with a complete business cap and the other person has everything in his life connected to it, there are decisions. So he’s going, ‘No, I can’t make the decision.’ Even after Maureen has passed, he’s like, ‘No, ‘cause she wouldn’t want me to do that.’ And I’m like, ‘Whatchu mean? You gotta do it now.’
But for Jake, in all the research that you did outside of the physical stuff, did you see Don King in 50’s performance?
50: There were a few Don King moments. [Jake laughs]
Jake: Definitely. I mean from the moment I met him…I was training at Church Street gym downtown and Antoine [Fuqua] had 50 come and just talk. We met up and the second we met, I literally got out of the ring. I was done with training, we met in the back room and he just started talking to me like he was my manager. From that moment, I was like, ‘He’s amazing.’
50: I’ve had these communications with professional fighters, so it was easy for me to get into that little pocket and you know I had my [famous boxing promoter] Al Haymon references.
Jake: Yeah, he used Al Haymon more. [Laughs]
50: Add a little bit of Don King there. When you see the…
It’s something in a human being that you wish to know about yourself, but you never wish to know, do you know what I mean?
And a little bit of 50.
50: Yeah, a little bit of that, but you know what? Check this out, my character is not such a nice guy, so there was no 50 in there. There was no 50 in there, no. So a little Don, a little Al, a little bit of sporting nature of boxing.
Jake: I think it comes naturally. A little bit of the hustle.
50: You know what happens? We had a scene where he came out of the actual dressing room and I’m trying to tell him which fighter is the right fighter for him to fight. A lot of times, fighters, he got that real dog blood in him, he don’t care who he’s fighting. He doesn’t feel like there’s any one who could actually beat him. Period. That confidence, when it’s really like that, they can perform at the highest level and it’s almost like their motor skills kick in when they’re hurt or when they’re exhausted and have to keep going. Even when the boxer is completely exhausted because they’re already psychologically in that ‘This person cannot stop me, there’s no way he can beat me,’ mode.
Have you had any of those types of conversations with Floyd [Mayweather], like that happened in the film?
50: Well, funny enough, Victor Ortiz was in the film with us. In the Victor Ortiz fight leading up to it, it was so comfortable. Victor is a nice guy, and he usually smiles a lot. He was so comfortable that I was uncomfortable because of what was on the line. So before I got out the ring, I told Floyd, I said, ‘Yo this motherfucker trying to make sure you can’t feed your kids.’ He said, ‘What you say?’ I said, ‘He tryna make sure you can’t feed your kids.’ In the first available opportunity, he knocked Victor Ortiz out and it just happened to be one of those situations where his guard was down. After the fight was over, we was in a van, riding from the fight and [Floyd] was like, ‘ be sayin some shit.’ He was still thinking about it. And then we had a scene like that, in the film, where we’re in the locker room and I tell Jake’s characters to drag him into deep waters and drown him. [Jake: Yeah, I loved that.] That wasn’t on the page.
The movie is based on a lot of revenge because of what happened to your wife in the movie. Did you actually look at any revenge fights, like those famous rematches? What kind of fights were you looking at and did any stick out that you used for the film?
Jake: Well, that Ward [vs.] Gatti  fight was a big one for us. I mean that was a fight that we referenced in the last fight of the film because that’s a fight of will, will, pure will. I don’t even know what that is at that point, but it’s something in a human being that you wish to know about yourself, but you never wish to know, do you know what I mean?
That was a big reference but at the same time, the last fight in particular is a fight about using anger but not using rage. Early in the movie, he’s a character who functions only on his rage–anger with violence–and throughout the movie, what he learns is how to use his anger, but without violence meaning he knows how to fight. He learns the techniques of fighting, how to box for real. With that knowledge, he can then when needed, like what 50 said when we talked to Floyd, he can then bring out that rage at times but not in a way that destroys his life.
What bugged me out was that during certain scenes there isn’t the normal ruckus of fight commentary but the HBO angle keeps it true to form.
Jake: Yeah, there was that Cotto-Martinez fight. I remember I was sitting with Antoine Fuqua. We were sitting right at Martinez’s corner at Madison Square Garden. We were watching the fight and I remember his brother coming up to him right before he called it. Two rounds before and he kept saying, ‘Alright, alright’ and he was talking quietly. You know his brother wears sunglasses, the whole thing and he was talking quietly to him. He wasn’t screaming, screaming, screaming like movie stuff. He was going, ‘I’m talking to you, I’m only talking to you and you can hear me even if you can’t hear me. And so that made a big impression on both me and Antoine, and that was a big thing for me in the last fight, you know my character comes out to no music. That was based on, in that fight in particular, Cotto came out to no music and he came out ‘cause he’s like, ‘I’m here to fight. I’m not here to do anything else. No showboating. That’s it.’ And he came and he won. So there were a lot of influences all over from watching fights live, watching tape, all that, it was nonstop.
We all have a beast inside of us.
Forest Whitaker character is poised. I think a lot of people will resonate with what he’s able to teach Billy.
Jake: When Forest’s character teaches Billy new techniques in the movie, he starts to tell him how to move his feet, use his feet, and slide. There’s a line where Billy says to him, ‘My wife would’ve liked you.’
50: At that point, it’s dawning on him. He’s telling me to slide my feet so I don’t get hit as much. It’s simplifying things. My grandfather, I made this reference earlier, he simplified his life. He said: ‘I’ma go to work and come home.’ They had so many kids. They’re from Aiken, South Carolina, had nine kids, and then he gave my grandmother the money. He just gave her a check. She took care of the bills. She took care of everything that was necessary for the kids and then come Monday, she’d give him money so he could go back and forth to work — and do what he needed to do. So it’s just simplifying things. It’s the same way Jake’s character is saying, ‘Let Maureen do it. That way I don’t mess it up.’ And then Maureen’s already training [Billy’s daughter], saying, ‘You know we have to look after your daddy,’ from the beginning.
50, you’ve had similar situations as Billy when it comes to custody of your kids. How hard was it to go through that on set knowing the reality of the matter.
50: Well, I mean just the process of rebuilding yourself, using those similar parallels between that. I understood the vulnerability at that point, the confusion that’s going on. The ‘Wait so…You can’t take my kid’ feeling. And then you realize they’re actually going try and do it, so you’re gonna fight. That’s when they gotta hold him. That’s the way everything worked out for him in his life. It’s like taking something negative and turning it into something positive. Let’s say the hand he was dealt was just the wrong hand, a bad hand, period. Now, it makes him angry and he becomes violent. He’s aggressive, he’s in foster care, now he takes all that aggression and puts it in the right place. The relationship that he builds and develops with the female turns into a family.
Jake: And you know what he knows? That he’s living. That’s the thing. It’s like we talked about this with Antoine — the story of a man becoming a father. And the only way to do that is to know yourself and the Universe teaches him to know himself, so he can then know his child. That’s ultimately the story. The story that is universal in that way. That’s the hardest thing for him to do in the movie because he’s a child at the beginning of the movie. At the beginning of the movie, he’s a child, struggling with, pretending like he’s grown-up ‘cause he’s got it all. He got the big house, he got the wife, he’s got the child, but then everything gets taken away and he really has to grow up.
50: That’s gonna be a surprise in the film because people look when they see boxers, they think it’s just gonna be action-packed, like a Rocky film or one of those other things that they’ve seen in the past…
Did you watch all those films as well?
50: Yeah, I saw all of those. The difference is the depth to the character’s journey. Once you get past the boxing, we keep talking about the discipline involved in it because he had to really do this shit.
Jake: Yeah, another thing is that you call it a boxing movie but what I knew, what Antoine knew, what 50 knew, was that the only way this thing could be original is if it came from us. Because that’s what happened with Rocky, that’s what happened with Raging Bull. Those are the two great ones, but there are a lot of other ones that are great, too, that came out in the midst of those movies. That’s what happens when you bring your own self to something and I knew… I didn’t really know how to box before I started this movie. If I learn how to box…
50: You hear what he said? He didn’t know how to box before he started the movie and he’s a flatout welterweight fighter in this film.
Like you could go ahead and go pro.
50: Nah, this is where you make the mistake of fucking with somebody on the train. [Jake laughs] You messin’ with him and then “BAP.” [Jake: So true. ‘Oh he looks small. Fuck you!’ *makes punching noise*] You ever seen a person fall like they’re dead? That’s where you get one of those moments where you didn’t see it was coming. You didn’t even think it was possible.
Jake: See, that’s the thing, it’s like we all have that inside of us. That’s the thing about the character I love. We all have a beast inside of us.
Southpaw hits theaters Friday, July 24.
Video Production: Azzie Scott | Dream Dept Media, Inc.
Styling for Jake Gyllenhaal: Fashion Editor, Daniel Williams
Formal Look: Suit/Shoes – Tom Ford, Shirt – Ferragamo
Casual Look: Sweater/Jeans – Maison Margiela, Sneakers – Jordan
Styling for 50 Cent: Erin McSherry
Formal Look: Blazer/Pant – Versace Collection, Shirt – Calvin Klein, Shoes: Carven
Casual Look: Jacket – Givenchy, Shirt – Paul Smith, Jeans – PRPS, Shoes – Giuseppe Zanotti, Hat – Mitchell & Ness