Q&A with Miguel Gomez

The 'Southpaw' scene-stealer on training to become a boxer and punching Jake Gyllenhaal.

As you watch Miguel Gomez play the showboating rival in the just-released film Southpaw, you’d think he was a boxer his whole life. But the up-and-coming actor [pictured, far left] went through a lot of training to get into fighting shape. “Boxing is an incredible workout,” he says. “It’s one of the best workouts that you’ll ever have.” He also says he was surprised about a bonus perk from his boxing workouts: The confidence boosting. “It gives you such great confidence,” he says. “To know you can throw a punch.” We chatted with Gomez, who can also be seen on FX's buzzed-about TV drama The Strain, about his training, what it was like to punch the movie’s star, Jake Gyllenhaal, and the possibility of a Southpaw 2.

Everyone has been making a big deal about the shape Jake got into for his role. Did you have to change your body for this movie, too?
When I got to the gym, Jake was already in that kind of shape and that sort of pushes you to try to at least get somewhere near it. We really had to train like pro fighters. We trained for like seven hours a day, and really tried to live that lifestyle. We ate as clean as possible, did rounds and rounds of sparring…It was a really interesting experience.

Some fitness tips you learned while getting ready for this role?
The eating clean—food is energy, and really seeing it that way. Knowing what types of foods to eat when you felt a certain way.

What was one of your favorite clean meals?
I don’t know that any of them were my favorite. If it’s too good, you know you couldn’t eat it. Just the usual suspects: grilled chicken, egg whites, salads...balsamic vinegar was like a treat.

Something with flavor!
Yeah! But you really do start to feel your body changing and you start to feel this mental clarity that I really learned a lot from.

Did you do much boxing before this movie?
I trained a little when I was a kid, but never to the level of being a pro fighter. But I’ve always been a fan of it. It was intense, definitely. I’m actually a southpaw—a leftie—so I had to learn how to fight right handed.

Have you kept up with the sport?
Yeah, every once in a while I go in and try to stay sharp. But as far as staying in boxing shape, that’s really, really difficult to maintain.

It’s a full time job.
Yeah, absolutely.

Your character’s a troublemaker; he seems eager to prove himself. Do you think that’s a typical mindset for boxers?
I think, deeper than that, he’s someone that comes from a rough environment. I think that, more than being a troublemaker, he just wants a chance, and an opportunity at having a title shot. And the only way you get that is if you make a lot of noise and market yourself in a certain way. Otherwise, nobody cares about you.

What was it like punching Jake Gyllenhaal? Have you ever punched someone before?
Yeah, I’ve been in a few scuffles. But, yeah, when you’re in those moments and you’re really feeling those emotions, you’re in the ring and you really feel the crowd around you, and you’ve done all this preparation, it’s one of those things that once you’re in that moment, accidents happen. But I think that me and Jake built up such a love and a trust for each other that we knew that we were both fighting for the same goal and we both knew that if I needed a moment or he needed a moment that we’d be there for each other. And that’s how [Antoine] Fuqua, the director, created a safe space for us to work under some very dangerous circumstances.

It felt very realistic to the viewer. It’s like we’re right in that ring with you guys.
Yeah, and that was sort of the goal. When I first talked to Antoine, the first thing he told me is, we want do this for real—we don’t want pretend, we want see two fighters in the ring. And that’s what we tried to give him. We all sort of roll with the punches and get up when we get knocked down.

What do you have coming up next?
Well, right now we’re working on Southpaw 2.

No, not really, I wish. But that would be a great one. That’s your scoop right there, let’s make it happen.

Southpaw XXL
[Laughs] There you go!