Seth Numrich learns to box for 'Golden Boy'

Tony Shalhoub (from left), Seth Numrich and Danny Tony Shalhoub (from left), Seth Numrich and Danny Burstein in "Golden Boy." Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

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You don't have to hit Seth Numrich twice. To teach him a lesson, that is. Four or five times, maybe. Right in the head. But not twice.

The former "War Horse" star is now playing the title role in Lincoln Center's revival of "Golden Boy," Clifford Odets' classic drama about fathers, sons and boxers, which recently opened at the Belasco Theatre.

The play follows the troubled path of Joe Bonaparte (Numrich), a talented young violinist who ditches music for potential fame and fortune in the boxing ring. Tony Shalhoub plays his immigrant dad; Yvonne Strahovski ("Chuck," "Dexter"), his gal pal.

Numrich began learning the basics of boxing this summer. He trained at various gyms, including Gleason's in Brooklyn (where Hilary Swank learned moves for "Million Dollar Baby").

"Boxing is a lot like acting," says Numrich, sitting in his modest dressing room before a show. "Every teacher teaches it differently."

One trainer "barely spoke," Numrich recalls. "I was standing there and out of nowhere he hits me in the head, and just says 'No.' That's all. Then he hits me again," he says, chuckling.

"This happened four or five times, and each time he'd say, 'No.' Finally, he went to hit me again, and I went like this ...," and Numrich ducks to one side as if avoiding a blow. "He missed me. Then he said ... 'Yes.' That's how I learned so much of boxing is impulse, instinct -- seeing something and knowing how to move around it."

Boxing experts (including famed trainer Tommy Gallagher and ref Joe Cortez) also met with the cast.

"We learned how to stay light on our feet but move forward with power," recalls Danny Burstein, who plays Numrich's coach. Burstein gives a quick demonstration center stage, then shrugs. "It's like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time."

Odets' play first hit Broadway in 1937 -- at the Belasco -- and was a smash. Now, 75 years later, it's back at the same theater, this time with a punching bag hanging outside in the alley.

"Hitting the bag is very, very satisfying,' says Numrich, whose workout routine also includes jumping rope, running and weightlifting. "To know you can hit something as hard as you can for as long as you can -- it's a great way to tune out all the stuff in your head and focus on something simple and physical."

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