Creed III isn’t the only boxing movie in theaters. While Punch uses the often violent sport to illustrate the lead character’s internal struggles, it’s almost completely different than the Michael B. Jordan anime-inspired movie. Set in New Zealand, Punch focuses on the struggles of Jim (played by newcomer Jordan Oosterhof), a young boxer who must navigate a difficult relationship with his father, Stan (played by She-Hulk: Attorney at Law actor Tim Roth), and a burgeoning friendship with a gay Maori teenager, Whetu (Conan Hayes).
Digital Trends talked to Oosterhof about what appealed to him about Punch, how he worked with Roth to develop the complicated and sometimes abusive relationship between father and son, and how he trained mentally and physically to become a believable boxer.
Note: this interview was edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: Punch is a lot of things: it’s a father-son story, a love story, and a coming-of-age story. What is Punch to you? How would you describe the movie?
Jordan Oosterhof: Punch is all those things. I would describe it foremost as a coming-of-age story involving Jim, my character, and his relationships with both his father, Stan, and his friend, Whetu. They’re all good people who are well-meaning, but they’re all clumsy in their own way. None of them really connect with each other perfectly and they all learn from each other because of that.
What prompted you to become involved with Punch?
In New Zealand, when you get a script after an audition, you read them and you’re like, “This is a bit lacking.” Punch was the first script that I read that I was like, “Wow, I can see someone’s vision and I can see the story.” I can feel for Jim as I was reading it. And I just thought that I wanted to do my utmost to be a part of this project.
Punch took 14 years to happen. For me, it was three years from my initial audition to the start of production. After the first lockdown during COVID, I got a phone call informing me that I had to start boxing training in a month and a half, that I had to train for five days a week, and Tim Roth was playing my dad. It was a whirlwind, but after waiting all that time, the experience turned into something more than it ever would have been initially.
Let’s talk about boxing. Your character Jim is training to be a boxer throughout the film. Can you describe what you had to do both physically and mentally to prepare for Punch’s intense boxing scenes?
Well, physically, I’ve always played football (soccer) my whole life, so I’m fairly fit. But I never played a solo sport like boxing. I had to train with Commonwealth Games-level boxers. At first, I sucked. I couldn’t even punch with the right technique. I kept at it and persevered for five days a week for three months.
Mentally, you just learn to take the blows. It’s like acting; you learn to take it moment to moment and place that tension and focus on the other person and try to react as they move.
How did you develop the father/son relationship with Tim Roth?
We didn’t get a lot of time to prepare together because he was in quarantine when he flew over before production started. We spoke over Zoom and got to know each other. We talked about Jim and Stan’s estrangement and how they relate to one another or, in their case, how they fail to do so. We were on the same page about where our characters were coming from.
I’ve always had quite a good relationship with my father, so Jim’s dysfunctional relationship with his dad was something that was quite hard for me emotionally connect with. But by using all the work and preparation I did with Tim, the conversations I had with Welby Ings [the director], and the humanity that was laid out in the script, that’s what made everything work.
What do you want viewers to take away from Punch after they watch it?
I hope they appreciate the beauty and depth of the story, which is something everyone can relate to. We all have these things that we feel make us different and not fit in. Whether it’s thinking we’re born in the wrong town, or the wrong place at the wrong time, or that our family doesn’t love us or appreciate us because of our gender, sexuality, or personality, we all struggle to find our place in the world.
And I think that Punch shows that sometimes you got to fight for that place that makes you happy. If you keep fighting for where you want to be or be around people that love you for who you are, I think you can do that no matter what age you are or where you are in life.
Punch is now playing in select theaters and is available On Demand and on Digital. The film will be on DVD on April 11, 2023.