Anthony Mackie-Sugar Ray Leonard bromance blooms

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A big Hollywood production can make for strange bedfellows. ‘Real Steel,’ the Hugh Jackman fighting-robot movie that opens this weekend, made a truly odd one: it cemented a bond between Sugar Ray Leonard and Jackman co-star Anthony Mackie.

How did the classically trained actor and world-champion boxer come to meet? Leonard was training ‘Steel’ star Hugh Jackman and choreographing the film’s robot fights when the two struck up a relationship.

“After talking to him, he’s kind of one of the nicest guys that you would think about punching you in the face over and over again,” Mackie told 24 Frames at the “Real Steel” premiere on Sunday. (You can watch video of the interview below.)

The actor also read Leonard’s memoir, “The Big Fight,’ and it made him realize that the boxer’s life would make ‘an amazing movie’ in which he’d like to star.

Leonard, who has had a bit of an on-screen career himself (he appeared as himself in “The Fighter” last year, for instance), returned the favor by endorsing a Mackie portrayal. “That would be awesome,’ he said.

Mackie has spent the past five years developing a film about another iconic black athlete, Jesse Owens. Though the project may not be making its way to the big screen at the speed of an Olympic sprinter, Mackie still has hopes for the project, calling Jonathan Demme his ‘dream’ director.

Mackie, who has expressed frustration before about the scarcity of roles for black actors in Hollywood, is hoping an independent film like the Owens biopic could allow him greater freedom than a conventional Hollywood production. Known for indie roles in films such as ‘Half Nelson’ and ‘The Hurt Locker,’ Mackie is taking a step into a studio realm: in addition to ‘Steel,’ he has roles in upcoming big-budget pictures such as “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “Gangster Squad.”


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— Emily Rome