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Howard: I would have been a high school coach and an English teacher. I coached basketball in Burbank [in a parks department league] for six seasons starting when I was 14. My dad managed the team and had the official responsibility, but he let me do all the coaching.
SI: As a former child actor, do you feel anything in common with athletes who become pros as teens?
Howard: Yes and no. For me there's always been "take two." Athletes are living and dying moment to moment. I have so much respect for professional athletes because of the kind of pressure they endure.
SI: What made the story of Jim Braddock so compelling to you?
Howard: Because I didn't feel Braddock was being driven by ego. It was all about survival during a period that has always fascinated me--the Depression. I decided it was this family survival story. The struggle to keep warm and feed the kids was as brutal as what we were depicting in the ring.
SI: Cinderella Man is your first film in which sports plays a central role. What challenges did you encounter?
Howard: Boxing has been utilized so effectively in so many films that I couldn't count on that being enough to excite an audience. I approached it a little more like combat than a sport. I kept saying it's like this guy gets dropped behind enemy lines and has to fight his way home each time.