Take a ringside seat, place your bet, because Omar Epps does an exceptional job of making you feel ringside in the biographical boxing drama "Against The Ropes."
Epps stars as Luther Shaw, a former thug whos trained to box by Jackie Kallen (Meg Ryan), professional boxings first woman manager.
Kallens love for boxing came from growing up around the ring and watching her father coach boxers. She works as an administrative assistant at Cleveland Coliseum believing it to be her chance to be close to the ring and watch the fights.
But eventually, Kallen becomes fed up with just watching, and makes a comment to a big-time boxing promoter who challenges her and gives her a boxers contract for a dollar betting that she cant do any better.
While visiting the boxer, Kallen also sees a guy named Luther Shaw in a fight and is so impressed by his skills, that she proposes he give her a chance as his boxing promoter. With no previous training Shaw gives in and gives boxing a try.
"The boxing was my favorite and the hardest part to do," Epps says. "It was my favorite cause every guy wants to be able to kick ass and take names."
Epps explains that he only had a month and a half to train for this role and he put in up to six hours a day to prepare.
"I took some bruises, but I had to be available. Director Charles S. Dutton really wanted to up the ante specifically with the boxing," he said. "He wanted to really do something new that weve never seen."
Dutton wanted people to feel like they were apart of the ring and in order to do that, Epps said he had to take some punches as well as give some.
Epps was up for the challenge, because it gave him a chance to work with Dutton once again and Ryan for the first time. Before this role came along, Epps was adamant about not playing in another physical character, because he didnt want to be typecast.
"Plus Im not the biggest dude in the world, so I dont know how I end up in these situations, but each project offers something different. It was a great opportunity," he said despite his previous reluctance.
While Epps has been a long- time fan of boxing, he said he had no idea that some of the boxers he knew about, like Thomas Hearns and James Toney, were managed by women. He feels that this movie is empowering to women for that reason.
Epps character portrays a stereotype of a lower class African-American, but he said while reading the script something stood out.
"He didnt blame the world for circumstances," Epps said. "He didnt have that chip on his shoulder which we always see from guys from that world."
Epps feels like the roles are changing for African-American actors and more opportunities are coming about.
"Its the little small steps that really start adding up in terms of us being portrayed in more than one light," he said. "We have to create our own vehicle at the end of the day."
Epps has been busy of late co-producing films that are slated to be out later this year, but he says that after producing films, it was time to get back into one.
Epps also enjoys writing. "Thats what makes me happy," he said.