Photo courtesy of Story Talks
Robb Skyler plays Howard Cosell in the Roberto Duran biopic, Hands of Stone, which hits theaters August 26, 2016.
Robb Skyler is a veteran actor, known for roles in movies such as Along Came Polly, The Animal and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.
This summer, Skyler jumps into possibly the most profound and gratifying role of his career, portraying legendary sports journalist and broadcaster, Howard Cosell in the Roberto Duran biopic, Hands of Stone, which hits theaters August 26, 2016.
“It’s a prototypical biopic about Roberto Duran, who is widely regarded as one of the top five pound-for-pound boxers of all time. It deals with his impoverished beginnings in Panama, all the way up to his career when he meets up with his trainer, Ray Arcel,” said Skyler during a recent telephone interview with Round By Round Boxing.
While the film will obviously appeal to boxing fans who know so much about the legendary fighter, the relationship between Duran and Arcel–being from two different worlds–will certainly appeal to a broad audience.
“It’s a rags-to-riches story that really centers on Duran’s relationship with his hall-of-fame trainer, Arcel, who was a Brooklyn-Jewish fellow who saw in Duran the raw talent. Arcel mentored Duran and they had a real father-son type relationship. It’s a boxing movie, but it’s also a humanistic one.”
Skyler is candid about his lifelong desire to play Cosell and how much this opportunity means to him.
“I think I was put on this earth for a multitude of reasons and one of them was to play Howard Cosell,” said Skyler.
Cosell, who provided blow-by-blow commentary for ABC in the 1970s and early 1980s, had a unique personality that made him an icon. His knack for telling it like it is gained him both praise from fans and criticism from detractors.
But, whether or not you liked Cosell, you knew who he was and what he brought to the table as a sports commentator.
“Howard Cosell, in some respects, transcended the sport of boxing. In some respects he’s even a more iconic figure than Roberto Duran. Cosell is very identifiable in the sense that everybody knows him. You either loved him, hated him, found him entertaining, found him annoying or whatever, but he did not go unnoticed.”
Although Skyler talks about his familiarity with Cosell, having done impressions of the sports commentator, he stresses the fact that he had to go beyond an impersonation for the film.
“I knew the character very well, I didn’t have to research him. I had previously, in different incarnations of my show business career, done impressions of Cosell. But I had to be very careful when I portrayed him in Hands of Stone that I didn’t make him a caricature and that I didn’t do an impersonation. As an actor, it’s my job to find the inner voice and inner light. We all have methods as actors or actresses to get where we need to get to to understand the character,” said Skyler.
Hands of Stone also sheds light on Duran’s storied rivalry with fellow all-time great, Sugar Ray Leonard, who is played by Usher Raymond.
The rematch between Duran and Leonard, famously dubbed “Stone vs. Sugar,” includes a classic call from Cosell as Duran quits to the surprise of every spectator.
“You’ll hear me utter the infamous ‘no mas’ reference,” said Skyler enthusiastically.
Skyler’s appreciation and understanding of Cosell’s magic behind the microphone certainly lends credence to the notion that perhaps no other actor was as qualified to play the renowned sportscaster in this film.
“There was a duality to Cosell’s voice. Before the fight, he would set the stage with broad strokes. He would let the audience know, ‘here’s what’s gonna happen, this is what you’re about to witness, don’t leave the room or you’ll regret it.’ He was very blustery, boisterous, bombastic, overstated some may say, certainly dramatic and maybe even a little mellow dramatic–but he was undeniably painting very broad strokes,” said Skyler.
Hands of Stone, which was written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, stars Edgar Ramirez as Duran and Robert De Niro as his legendary trainer, Ray Arcel. Skyler had nothing but positive things to say about Ramirez and his favorite actor, De Niro.
“Edgar Ramirez does an amazing job portraying Roberto Duran,” said Skyler.
“As far as what I learned from Mr. De Niro, I’ve never seen someone work so hard at his craft on set–never taking a play off as they say in sports jargon–and to say that he works hard is an understatement.”
Catch Robb Skyler alongside Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, Ana de Armas and John Turturro in Hands of Stone, which hits theaters on August 26, 2016.
Alejandro "Alex" Burgos is a former Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Round By Round Boxing. He is a professional blogger, SEO Consultant and Marketing Director at Capital Practice Consulting in Washington, DC. Alex can be reached at Alex@RoundByRoundBoxing.com.