Getting punched in the face really hurts. Doing it for a living is brutal and difficult. Yet both are easier than taking a no-name boxer to the championship, especially as a woman.
In Against the Ropes, chick flick diva Meg Ryan breaks out of her stereotypical role to play boxing's most prolific female coach, Jackie Kallen. At the Four Seasons Hotel in Center City Philadelphia, Street sat down to talk to the real Jackie Kallen about the film.
As light piano plays softly in the background, the fetching middle-aged Kallen cordially greets the roundtable. A former publicist with Thomas Hearns and Detroit's Kronk Boxing Team, Kallen has the public relations game down all too well. Predictably, she's one step ahead of every question. If this story had come out of anyone else's mouth, it might have been difficult to believe. However, this hard-nosed woman has the scars to prove that she can handle adversity, and her motivational language is no put-on.
A consultant and co-producer on the film, Kallen feels that the Against the Ropes story is more interesting than an accurate blow-by-blow account of her life would be. "If it had been a story about this woman who found a fighter, turned him into a champion, did it again three more times, has had four champions, [is] very successful in her field -- you know, okay, so what's the story here?"
Achievement does not make for the most original story: "You could do that about any CEO of any company, you could do that about anybody that's been successful." She explains, "I wanted a dramatization. I wanted a story about this woman who has a dream, wants to make it in a man's world and has to really go up against whatever is out there."
She sees the message of Against the Ropes as, "it's not how badly you screw up, it's what you do about that." Kallen doesn't want to mislead people; she has made mistakes herself. The last thing she wants is some young girl going to the movie and thinking, "God, I could never be like that lady; everything she ever did was right."
Therefore, Meg Ryan's version of Jackie Kallen is a flawed individual, one who lets success go to her head and becomes rather unlikeable near the movie's end. She makes mistakes and eventually becomes introspective about her own egoism. About the performance, Kallen says: "I thought Meg Ryan was wonderful in the movie, because it was such a stretch for her."
Tony Shalhoub plays a despicable boxing manager who symbolizes all the men who rooted for Jackie Kallen to fail. His character is, according to Kallen, patterned after the men who went around stealing people's fighters. Being a woman in a man's world was, at first, "uncomfortable, but I would never let on that it was uncomfortable." It's obvious from her composure that she embodies everything she says. "Never let 'em see you sweat. Just go ahead with what you're doing, and if they wonder if you're nervous or not, let 'em worry about it. That's their problem, let them think about it." Every time she walks in a room, she owns it, and that has "become a self-fulfilling prophecy." She describes the sensation as comparable to breaking in a tight pair of jeans: "Once you break them in, they're so comfortable." Likewise, maneuvering through difficult situations has become second nature.
When it comes down to it, the story may be fictional, but it is Jackie Kallen's story: "So many of those lines in the movie are my own lines, so many of those situations are my own situations. That's why even if some of the facts aren't exactly right, I don't care -- because it's so me." After one of the fights, Ryan says: "Okay, now, don't anybody act surprised that we won." That's Jackie Kallen.