After suffering a broken jaw during a fight in 2012, former world champion professional boxer Victor Ortiz refused to “sit around for another year and do nothing and feel sorry for [himself].” A natural entertainer, Ortiz joined the cast of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” in 2013. Soon after, Ortiz was getting a call from his agent asking if he’d be interested in making a movie. In “The Expendables 3,” Ortiz plays Mars, a young weapons specialist recruited by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) to become one of the newest members of his elite squad.
During an interview with me about the film, Ortiz, 27, also talked about his decision to take acting classes for the role, the intimidation factor that came with starring in a film alongside some major stars, and his next movie, “Southpaw,” with actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
Looks like you’ve been keeping busy this last year. You’ve gone from a boxer to a movie star. That experience must feel pretty different from what you’re used to.
Well, I wasn’t about to get back into the ring when my jaw was broken. Then, just recently, my management broke up with Golden Boy Oscar de la Hoya Promotions. So, what am I going to do? I decided to go ahead and take on some movie projects and just go for it. So, I took some acting classes and I ran with it. I had an amazing time doing “The Expendables 3.” I’m very happy and content as to where I am in my career right now as an actor. But let’s not forget I have to get back into the ring soon and fight for some world championship titles again.
I think a lot of athletes who have done film work would just go into a project and not worry about honing those skills. Why did you decide to take acting classes?
I did that because I wanted to be in the same caliber as a lot of these actors. I didn’t want to go in and make myself look like a fool.
Yeah, I’m sure you wanted Sylvester Stallone and others to know you were working hard to get the role right and weren’t just coming in and doing it halfheartedly.
Absolutely. I didn’t want Sylvester Stallone to say something like, “Man, I really regret hiring this kid.” So, just like I prepare for a world championship fight, I prepared for this particular role.
So, how did you get involved in “The Expendables 3” in the first place?
Well, I spent two years with that broken jaw. In those two years I did “Dancing with the Stars.” During that time, Sylvester Stallone’s wife, who watched the show, saw me. I’m not quite sure what happened, but my agency called me and said, “Victor, you’re not going to be back in the ring for a while. Would you be interested in shooting a movie?” I said, “Absolutely. What kind of movie?” They said, “Expendables 3.” I just started laughing. I was like, “Yeah, right. Expendables 3? Please. Like I really belong in that.”
You’re a tough guy in the ring, but I’m assuming getting on the set with some of those big dudes like Stallone and Schwarzenegger was a little intimidating.
Hell, yeah! It was really intimidating! It was one of the craziest experiences ever!
Who would you say is the most intimidating?
I would have to say it’s between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford. But once you break the ice, they’re all amazing, beautiful people. They’re all down to earth and actual human beings. Everyone had some kind of intimidating factor until I got to know them all.
Who do you think would give you the best fight in the ring?
(Laughs) Randy Couture, I’m sure.
Speaking of Randy, you have a scene with him where you get to make fun of his age and call him “grandpa.” I’m not sure anyone has ever said anything disparaging to Randy and lived to tell about it, so you must feel pretty lucky.
(Laughs) Right! “Who you calling asshole, grandpa?” They had me do that scene about six different times. I think the people on the set were just enjoying watching me say it over and over again. I was like, “I know this might be funny to you guys, but what if [Randy] gets serious on me and snaps?”
Someone who I think did a great job in his role was Mel Gibson. I know he’s still a very controversial actor to cast in a movie, but I wish someone would take a bigger chance on him and get him back to the movie star status he used to command.
I think he’s one of the great legends. He’s one of the greatest of all time. I don’t really know why they haven’t given him more credit. In my eyes, he’s the man.
In the movie, your character is a weapons specialist. Tell me about some of those weapons. Does it make you feel manlier when you’re holding some of those guns?
It’s definitely interesting to sit back and unload and load a shotgun or a corner-shot assault rifle. I knew nothing about loading and unloading guns or shooting them. We did some training on how to load and unload a 9mm and a 38-special. We trained with real guns and real ammo. I thought to myself, “Am I really working?” Nah, I was just playing make-believe.
Did the physicality you’re used to in the ring help you out in this film?
Oh, absolutely. Even when we were on the set, [co-star and MMA fighter] Ronda Rousey and myself were always at the boxing gym and MMA gym. There wasn’t one day where we just sat around. So, the physicality we both have was maintained by just training every day on set.
You’re also going to be in another film called “Southpaw” with Jake Gyllenhaal. Is there anything you were able to teach him that he worked into his performance as a boxer?
Jake Gyllenhaal was trained by his boxing coach. I actually did give my two cents, but I thought any time I did that I was kind of stepping over the boundaries. What I’ve learned as a boxer is that anytime there is a coach telling his boxer what to do, you never want to interfere with that.
Now that you’re starting to think about getting back into the ring soon, what type of competition are you looking for? Who do you want to fight?
I would like to start with my rematches – all my defeats. So, I’d like to start with [Marcos] Maidana and then fight Floyd [Mayweather, Jr.] and then [Josesito] Lopez and then [Luis] Collazo. I’m on a road for redemption, for sure.