You’ve done a lot of fight scenes in your day, but in Real Steel it seems like the boxing robots take most of the punishment.
My character is living on the edge and has quite a few enemies, so there are a few times where I get beaten up. But for the most part I’m the cornerman, the guy owning and operating these robots, instead of being the guy in the ring. It’s a nice change.
Most of the boxing sequences are motion-capture animation. How much of your one-on-one acting was done opposite real ‘bots?
A lot of the things you see on screen are real robots, because we built them for all the close-ups. That was actually advice from [executive producer] Steven Spielberg to Shawn [Levy, the director]. He said he learned that from Jurassic Park. The more you can have the real thing, not only for actors but even for the audience, it really helps. Also, it’s a lot easier to make a real robot than a real dinosaur.
There is an actual Robot Fighting League in the U.S. where small, crude machines attack each other in makeshift arenas with saws and hammers. Is Real Steel presaging a future where this becomes much more elaborate and sophisticated?
[Laughs] Technology is evolving very rapidly, and I could imagine in 10 years that a sport like this could exist. I can see how it would fulfill that desire for things that are more violent and gruesome. Even boxing is giving ground to mixed martial arts, which is more violent.
From Transformers to the fighting machine Atom in Real Steel to Spielberg’s upcoming Robopocalypse, what’s behind Hollywood’s robo-obsession?
We can be unreliable. We can be unpredictable. There’s something safe and efficient about robots. There’s a hint of something special about [Atom]. We fall in love because he is somehow the most human of them all. He even looks a little human, built like an adolescent boy. [Laughs] He’s got a bit of a Rocky quality.
Are you going to take a swing at me if I ask what’s up with The Wolverine?
It starts shooting in mid-October. You know James Mangold [Walk the Line] is directing it. You know it’s set in Japan. We have not really cast it yet, so there’s not a lot to tell you. Any other elements of the script, if I tell ya, I’d have to kill ya.