“A total badass” is how Keisha Castles-Hughes describes her character Jess in the new bold, sexy and gritty Australian drama series On the Ropes. Playing a solo mother, lesbian and amateur boxer keen to turn pro, Hughes gives this roll her all, and the result is a career highlight.
On the Ropes tells the story of Amirah (played by Nicole Chamoun) whose migrant father runs a boxing gym. Determined to work in the family business and become a professional boxing trainer, Amirah must fight the misogynistic boxing world and her family to follow her dream.
Her first client, and best friend is Jess (Castle-Hughes), and together they work tirelessly to get their first professional fight.
Hughes enjoyed working in Australia, where the crew shared a similar sense of humour, but it was the character and physicality of the role that really appealed.
“I love that this a female led and female told series. Our show runner, Courtney Wise, and director, Shannon Murphy, were great at staying true to the essence of the boxing world and keeping it all from Amirah’s point of view.”
Murphy wanted the cast to understand what it takes to prepare for a fight, so Hughes was put on a training plan that included boxing and strict meal plans. “It was certainly outside my comfort zone but I welcomed the challenge” says Castle-Hughes, “I found boxing to be a great sport for me personally, to clear the mind and practice discipline.”
Hughes was drawn to Jess as her life is simply about providing for her son and surviving. “I enjoyed playing around with the fact she doesn’t possess the same arrogance or confidence a lot of boxers have. They enjoy the performance aspect of the sport - and that’s something she really struggles with.”
It’s great to see Castle-Hughes broadening her horizons off screen too, and venturing into film producing.
“It’s been super liberating to take all the skills I’ve learnt from many wonderful people by osmosis over the course of my career and channel that energy into making and telling my own stories.”
Tackling new roles and embracing new challenges feels like the next chapter for Castle-Hughes - and anything is possible.
ON THE ROPES premieres exclusively in New Zealand on Rialto Channel, Tuesdays from 7 May 8.30pm.