The Southpaw star talks about preparing for his new role

By Alexandra Hurtado
Updated May 27, 2015 06:50 PM
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Chris Floyd

Sitting in his room at the Hotel Majestic Barriere in Cannes, Jake Gyllenhaal hardly looks like the ripped fighter he plays in the upcoming film Southpaw.

Wearing a perfectly-fitted black tuxedo, this year’s member of the Cannes Film Festival jury is waiting to leave for the glitzy amfAR gala at the glamorous Hotel du Cap, a far cry from the gym Gyllenhaal spent five months training to play boxer Billy Hope.

“I knew very little about the science, the techniques of boxing before we started,” he says. “My thought was, if I trained twice a day, I can make five months, 10 months [of training]. That’s what we did. I spent all my time surrounded by Antoine [Fuqua, the director], my trainer and [the fighters] I was boxing with.”

He continues, “Antoine and I both knew that many people had made boxing films, some extraordinarily successful over the years. So there’s a standard that had been set.”

Fuqua enlisted the help of trainer Terry Claybon, who outlined a strict regimen for the 34-year-old star, including 1,000 sit-ups a day, 100 pull-ups, 100 dips, 2 sets of 100 squats, jumping rope, and running eight miles a day, not to mention footwork drills, punching, and sparring. “He gained 15 lbs. of muscle,” says Claybon. “But when you see the fight scenes in the movie you’re going to say, ‘Wow he transformed! He looks just like a boxer, he boxes like a boxer.’ We trained Jake just like a boxer and his body developed that way.”

“That’s what I like to do – immerse myself in the world and soak up the molecules in the space that I train in, practice in,” says Gyllenhaal. “I feel in general people’s fascination is on the physical, which I understand, but I also feel like it’s not why I do what I do.”

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Almost two months before its July 24 release, the movie is generating a lot of buzz, especially at Cannes, where Harvey Weinstein revealed the movie was actually accepted by the prestigious film festival for competition, but couldn’t be included with the star serving on the jury.

Gyllenhaal says both experiences are ones he won’t forget. “It’s been an honor, all of the clichés I can say without saying anything about it. It’s been amazing to see all of the movies. I have no desire to do this job except to have it teach me something or change me.”

He adds, “I’ve been totally changed by this film, definitely,” he added. “And if I weren’t, I wouldn’t be proud of it.”

For more of PEOPLE behind-the-scenes at Cannes, pick up the latest issue, on newsstands Friday