Considering it is his first full length feature film, actor Jordan Oosterhof packs in quite a powerful punch in a complex role of a small town, boxing teen hero trying to live up to the expectations of an alcoholic father and coach. Life outside the ring gets complicated as the actor confronts the truth about his sexuality.
Directed by Welby Ings, professor of Design at AUT, the film Punch was recently screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival. Jordan who grew up in east Auckland talks to EastLife about working with Oscar nominee Tim Roth and preparing for the role of a lifetime.
Tell us a little about your first, full length feature film Punch and the role you play in it?
Punch is Welby’s feature film debut. It is a touching and hopeful story following small-town boy Jim Richardson during some of the most important and developmental weeks in his life. As he gets closer to the fight that could elevate him to pre-professional status, the relationship between Jim and his quietly alcoholic father Stan gets increasingly complex.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Jim and local Takatapui boy Whetu begins to simmer after multiple twists of fate bring them together.
I play the role of Jim, a boy at the quintessential crossroads that lead to becoming a man. Jim is the popular golden boy of the town. He has dedicated his entire life to boxing, under the demanding tutelage of his father, Stan. However, Jim dreams of capturing the beauty of the wild beaches of Pirau and making music videos is what truly brings him happiness.
The burgeoning connection between himself and Whetu makes him begin to rethink everything he has thought about attraction, strength and sexuality.
For a movie that was almost 14 years in the making how did you bag the challenging role of Jim, a teen boxing prodigy being coached by his alcoholic father?
It started with a normal audition where I was sent two excerpts from the script. Then, for the call back, I was sent the full script and that is where I truly fell in love with what Welby had written. I made an outline of Jim’s emotional journey through the film as well as pages upon pages of musings on who Jim ‘was’. When I got the call that I had secured the role, I was overjoyed!
This was about five years ago now. After receiving that call, nothing happened on my end for three years, at which point I had all but given up hope. June 2020, mid-pandemic, I got the call that I was to begin full-time boxing training in a month and a half. The years of patience had turned this opportunity into something more than it ever could’ve been initially.
How did you prepare/train for the role that explores difficult issues of sexuality, prejudice, identity crisis, addiction, and mental health?
Well, I had a great deal of time to consider and ruminate on it all. As `shoot day one’ drew closer, it was a lot about meticulous preparation as well as talking it through with close people in my life and all the wonderfully intelligent people involved with Punch. Being around Welby, Conan and our intimacy coordinator, Tandi, aided and inspired me to understand Jim and the forces impacting him on a deeper level. Once we began there is no option but to let go and dive headfirst into each moment in these characters lives.
How did the character resonate with you?
Jim resonated with me in a number of ways. I empathised with that point of a young man’s life where you aren’t entirely sure of the man you’ll grow into, the mysterious and often confusing landscape of relationships and attraction, as well as the dogged training in pursuit of sporting excellence.
Although my experience was based in football, which is quite a bit different than boxing. Mostly, though, I felt so strongly connected to Jim’s yearning for nature and the freedom of mind looking out at the infinite brings.
What was the experience of working with an internationally renowned BAFTA winning actor and Academy Award nominee, Tim Roth?
It was a dream. Tim was such a cool dude, not to mention a phenomenal actor. I treasure the scenes of Stan and Jim together at various points in the movie. I couldn’t help but do my best every second we got to film together. Getting to sit on the hillside above Anawhata, as the sun shone over us, talking about life and experiences in between takes was something I shall never forget.
Did he share any acting tips with you?
He shared a lot with me. He was incredibly generous, both in words and demonstration. I’m lucky enough that now I’ve been signed by his agent in England, something that would not have been possible without Tim.
How did he make you feel comfortable?
He kept it very light-hearted on set and we always had a laugh. Every time we were about to start filming take one of a scene he would make sure to jokingly tell me: ‘Don’t f**k it up, Jordan!’ Here’s hoping I didn’t!
As an actor, what was the most challenging part of shooting for Punch?
I feel like Punch was a collection of small challenges that had be tackled one by one in order to bring it to fruition.
There was the boxing training, the stunt training, the emotionally demanding nature of the material, the night shoots, the sex scenes, the fact that it was my first role in a film ever…the list goes on. A collection of beautiful objectives to work towards, and I’m someone who loves doing hard things, so I found the entire experience incredibly stimulating and learnt so much from it.
Did you have to train as a boxer?
Five times a week for three months. I absolutely loved it. But, I must say, the first week or two was truly hell. Being on the verge of vomiting about 30 minutes into the session whilst all the other boxers are just warming up wasn’t much fun. But what an experience, I got to learn boxing from Cam Todd, a true expert in the craft.
Training next to (and being punched in the face by) Commonwealth games level athletes. I was a sponge and just tried to soak up as much as I could. Although, Cam will still tell you that I have no rhythm.
How did your close family and friends react when they saw the screening of the movie?
They absolutely loved it. It was an indescribable feeling for them to able to see all the hard work we put into it and to recognise the haunting beauty in what Welby has created. One of the best moments of my life.
What are the other upcoming projects you are working on?
Have a few things in the pipeline – a role in a film my friend is making that is being funded by the NZ film commission, as well as a few other potential opportunities. Exciting times!