MATT HOOKINGS is – in his own words – “completely fried”. The 32-year-old from Newport is sitting in a rental car in Malta, talking via Zoom, and although his natural ebullience shines through, it’s undercut by evident exhaustion.
We’re joined online by Julius Francis, the former British heavyweight champion who appears in the cast of Hookings’ film Prizefighter, released via Amazon Prime this month. Although directed by Daniel Graham, Prizefighter is very much Hookings’ baby; he’s the producer and writer and also plays the lead role of Jem Belcher, the bare-knuckle boxer who reigned as champion of England from 1800 until 1805.
Hookings’ existence has centred around the project for 10 years. Rejected by the British Film Institute “about ten times” as he scoured the film world for finance, Hookings kept pushing when many would have thrown in the towel. At one point, when no sales agents would touch a movie about a long forgotten bare-knuckle boxer, Hookings went straight to distributors himself and secured millions of pounds of pre-sales deals.
Everything in Hookings’ career has been achieved from a standing start. “I didn’t have any contacts in the industry,” he says. “I had to build my network from scratch. But that meant I had nothing to lose. And that made me want it more.”
Suddenly, Hookings’ phone battery dies and he disappears from Zoom. While I wait in vain for a reconnection, Julius Francis tells me: “I’ve never met anyone as dedicated as Matt. I’ve often told him to slow down, but still he works almost 24 hours a day. In the fight game you have to be all in and Matt is all in.”