Q. Tell us about the father-son relationship in Real Steel.
A. Well it's about a guy who hasn't seen his kid in years and they have a complicated dynamic. So while I couldn't personally relate in that sense, I was working with a 10-year-old (newcomer Dakota Goyo) and I had my own 10-year-old. That was very real to me. There are also a few scenes in which my character apologizes for not being a great dad. It made me think that when I'm older I'll probably have a few things to say sorry about, even though I'm doing the best I can.
Q. How does your family impact the roles you choose?
A. When I read this script I thought, finally—a movie I can show my kids! I haven't let them see Wolverine because it would undermine any authority I have at home: "Please don't hit your brother or sister...." And then they see me slashing someone? Slightly problematic! Yet taking on this film was absolutely my kids' influence. Parents are always looking for movies they can watch with their kids without nodding off. And indeed, my son Oscar loved it. He was on set all the time. He asked me to read the script to him night after night instead of his usual Tintin comics.
Q. Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard was an advisor on the film. What did you learn from him?
A. He was a huge part of the experience and choreographed all of the fights with humans before they became robots through computer imaging. But the thing I remember most is how honest he was about what it's like for a boxer to really miss boxing. At the heart of the movie is someone who can no longer do what he loves to do. Sugar Ray taught me that even when you're the champion of the world it can be a lonely place.
Q. Sounds like he was a role model during filming. Who did you look up to when you were a teen?
A. I was pretty obsessed with rugby player Jean-Pierre Rives. A small guy on the field, he finished every game with blood on face. He was like a little terrier. I had to use the same ferocity and anger when playing rugby back then because I was so skinny.
Q. Did other kids tease you for that?
A. Oh yeah! I was called "Sticks" and "Worm." I also remember one particular phase when I got acne in the shape of a V right in middle of my forehead. Talk about bad timing—it was when the alien TV miniseries "V" was on! So my name was "V" for the duration of the show, actually, for the next year and a half. Even when my pimples went away I was still called "V."
Q. You're known for your philanthropic work. Which causes are you most passionate about right now?
A. Earlier this year we wrapped up a campaign for the Global Poverty Project where people pledged to "Live Below the Line" of extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as $1.50 per day). And this fall I'm launching a business I've been working on for two years: Laughing Man Coffee & Tea. I'm a huge coffee drinker and so excited to develop a line of fair trade and organic products. All profits will help the growers' families and go to education causes around the world.
Originally published in the October 17, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.