In an extraordinary film premiering this week, Hands of Stone tells the story of how the legendary boxer Roberto Durán and his celebrated trainer Ray Arcel changed each other’s lives.
From 1964 through 1983, in the heart of the golden era of boxing, the film explores the true life tale of Duran’s infamous rivalry with Sugar Ray Leonard. Two-time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro stars as legendary trainer Ray Arcel, a Jew from Harlem who became the first boxing trainer to be elected into the Boxing Hall of Fame. He trained more than 2,000 fighters in his 70-year career, and none of them were ever seriously hurt. The movie captures his comeback after a retirement forced by the Mafia. Arcel agrees to train Durán for free, risking his own life, and beginning a journey that will change him forever.
Golden Globe Best Actor Nominee Edgar Ramírez stars as Roberto “Manos de Piedra/Hands of Stone” Durán. The son of an American Marine who has an affair with a local girl while occupying Panama, Durán grows up with the will to avenge his nation’s pride. He fights the top American boxers in the most important arenas in North America. Next to him, Ray Arcel, an American, gives intelligence and strength to his rage, teaching him technique and strategy ultimately leading Durán from rise and fall to redemption.
Eight time Grammy Award Winner, Usher Raymond IV stars as the sports icon Sugar Ray Leonard. He was the first boxer to earn more than $100 million in purses, and is widely considered one of the best boxers of all time. Roberto Durán gave him his first defeat, and in his words taught him that “boxing is a psychological sport.” Both Durán and Leonard have a karmic effect on each other’s journey. They come of age as only the best opponents can in what many experts consider the biggest rivalry in the history of sports.
Durán, is considered a national treasure in Panama where he resides with his wife, Felicidad, of 40 years; they have nine children.
The film takes place from 1964 to 1983, and was shot in Panama City and New York over a period of 65 days. With a 300-person crew and 15,000 extras, Hands of Stone is not only the biggest film ever created in Panama but also the Latino movie with the widest US release in history. This all became possible when the film was approved in the national congress of Panama as a National Interest Project. A special fund was then created to support the film and the entire nation helped in making it possible to shoot. Every department head is Latino except for the Fight Choreographer and Wardrobe Designer.
All of the boxing fights in the film were choreographed to be identical reenactments of the originals. Sugar Ray Leonard was among the people who trained Usher for the role while Roberto Durán and two of his son’s helped in training Edgar Ramírez. Robert De Niro and Usher spent a month and a half living in Panama for the film.
Robert De Niro came on board early in the process and worked closely with Jakubowicz on the screenplay. They first met because De Niro liked Secuestro Express, Jakubowicz’s first film. He also liked the screenplay for Hands of Stone but he wasn’t sure he wanted to do it because “he couldn’t hear Ray Arcel’s voice. Jakubowicz and De Niro then met multiple times with Stephanie Arcel, the widow of Ray Arcel, and were able to capture the essence and the voice of the legendary character. De Niro had met Arcel and Durán many decades before when Durán was the world champ and De Niro was preparing for Raging Bull. Ray Arcel made a big impression on De Niro because “he spoke like a Harvard Professor, not like a typical boxing trainer”. He also liked Durán a lot and they played a softball game together, USA vs Panama, in Central Park.
The entire Durán family acts in the film. Robin Durán (Roberto Duran’s son), who is also an Executive Producer of the film, plays his uncle Pototo. The real Felicidad Durán plays the nurse who delivers Felicidad’s babies in the ER (Felicidad is played by Ana de Armas).
David Arosemena, the boy who plays young Roberto Durán, was cast through the Nuevas Generaciones Foundation from El Chorillo, which helps get kids off the streets. David’s mother had abandoned him 5 years prior and his dad is a construction worker who works 12 hours on night shifts while supporting 6 kids. The day he was chosen, it was discovered that not only does he live on the same street in El Chorrilo that Roberto Durán lived on, but he was also born on the same day, June 16. His mother and father reunited after he started working on the film and are trying to become a family again. The filmmakers have helped in creating a better lifestyle for David and his family. Prior to him being cast, his family didn’t have any furniture and their entire family of 6 had no choice but to sleep on the floor. The filmmakers worked to furnish his whole apartment and enroll him in school as well as help him get a scholarship to continue to provide opportunities for education in the future. He will continue to get a check for his payment for the film every month until he is 18 years old.
Israel ¨Bumaye¨ Duffus, the boxer who plays Davey Moore, was discovered in a Panamanian Boxing Gym by the Director. He got picked up by the boxing choreographer and became a professional boxer in the USA after the film.
Ruben Blades and Usher worked together with Raphael Saadic to write and perform the original song “Champions” in which they sing about Roberto Duran and many of the themes of the movie. The song became the theme song of the movie and plays twice during the film.