When Carl Marsh sat down with Matt Hookings to talk about his new boxing biopic Prizefighter – co-starring Russell Crowe and Ray Winstone – he thought he was seeing double. That’s because the subject of Hookings’ film is own father, a former pro. No pressure then!
Given your connection to the boxing world, Prizefighter – a movie you wrote, produced and have the lead in – must have been more of a passion project than normal.
I think because my dad was – I don’t know how much you know, but he was a British heavyweight champion boxer from Wales [David ‘Bomber’ Pearce]. So the love from the boxing world has been incredible. I just picked up the phone about 10 minutes ago and spoke to [boxing pundit] Steve Bunce, and he’s getting me on his podcast next week.
I knew who your dad was – it was such a tragedy when he passed away. Way too soon. If you don’t mind me saying, I have seen pics of him in his early boxing pics, and seeing you in Prizefighter it’s like looking at a carbon copy of your dad!
Well, wait there… [Matt opens his phone and shows me the recreation pictures of him and his dad]. Have you seen these pictures?
I’ll show you these quickly if I can find the right ones… I took some recreation pictures [i.e. digital mockups combining people from different photos] just before the filming started. It was a lot of fun. You’ll recognise the one of my dad – he’s aged 21.
[I’m gobsmacked at this point – I had to do a double-take to figure out which person in the image was Matt and which was David].
I’m learning more about my dad now than I did when he was alive. It’s a bit of a weird one. Ray Winstone [cast in the film as trainer to Jem, the prizefighter of the title] knew my dad, which is interesting. The boxing world seems to be really getting behind it and supportive – obviously, it’s a story about the birth of boxing, which brings in the audience, and the link between my dad and me is drawing in some of the hardcore fans. The fact that I play the lead as well has just been the most challenging experience in my life. It’s almost killed me! But here we are.
Let’s talk about the cast. You’ve mentioned Ray Winstone, but you’ve also got Russell Crowe in it, as Jem’s grandfather! Steven Berkoff, Julian Glover, Marton Csokas, Jodhi May… How did you get all of those involved?
I used to do a lot of stunt work. I started out as an extra, and then built on that by getting the right contacts and started going into the stunt world. I worked on something like 35 Hollywood productions in two years. It was 10, 15, 25 days or 50-day contracts. I worked in everything; I worked with everyone. And I’d built up a good contact list. But I just thought – you know what, when the time is right, or I have the right project, I’m going to email and hopefully get support.
With Russell, I had to go through managers and agents and everything. He actually said no – twice, wait, three times! – and COVID was happening. And he was also going through some challenges on his side with travelling and family.
So, I didn’t give up. I’m very aware of the industry, but if you have something, you’ve got to fight if you’ve got something good. And you’ve got to find the right time to get people’s attention to just read [the script]. So that’s what I’ve seen.
Prizefighter is out now via Prime Video. Info: here
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