DB Sweeney had a wealth of experience across film and television in his nearly 40-year career. With over 100 credits to his name, the actor found something special in Nick Sasso's passion project film in Haymaker, which he also wrote and starred in. I spoke to the star about working with the first-time director, what attracted him to the project, and how the COVID pandemic hurt the independent film industry. "There are only so many stories in the world," Sweeney said. "I felt like I hadn't heard this story: The idea of a working-class guy in the fight game, who falls in love with a transgender singer. I never heard of that before and I thought it was interesting and it got me to read it. When I read it, the script was very well written. I met with Nick Sasso, who is this terrific guy. I thought, 'Yeah, I want to try this one.'"
Haymaker follows a retired Muay Thai fighter Nicky 'Mitts' Malloy (Sasso), who works as a bouncer and finds himself bonding with a transgender performer (Nomi Ruiz) eventually becoming her bodyguard, protector, and confidant. Their relationship leads to Mitts returning to the ring and risks putting everything on the line including his life. Sweeney plays Mack Malloy. "I always try to figure out where the guy is coming from and what is his background," he said. "When I arrive on set, it's like 'No battle plan ever survived the first gunshot.' When you get to the set, there are all these other personalities. I didn't know Nomi or Nick. You don't know the crew. Everybody felt like this is a great story to tell."
Sweeney believes the film tackles issues that need to continue to be addressed. "I think it's timely in the fact that a lot of people are talking about transgender issues now," he said. "If that's the reason why it drives interest in the film, then come right over. I think on a more basic level. It's a story about love and a story about brothers. I think there's a lot there for different kinds of audiences. I know it took Nick years and years to complete. I'm happy that he was able to see this all the way through." The actor credits Sasso's humility in his approach to Haymaker and believes the director's down-to-earth nature helps drive the film. "Nick is very honest and upfront in production," he said. "He lays out what's there. A lot of first-time directors act like they're Cecil B. Demille. They might not have a literal bullhorn, but they have a figurative one. They try to boss people around. Nick didn't do any of that. I think deserves a lot of respect. As a first-time director, you get a sense that Nick got more confident as production rolled around and the same thing applies to Nomi. It was fun seeing both grow into their roles."
Sweeney remains hopeful that audiences are able to be in a position to appreciate a film like Haymaker given the difficult times of the pandemic. "I'm sad how the pandemic affected cinema all way around from regular theatres to the art house," he said. "This movie would have been like in 13-15 cities with 1-2 theatres per city. There's something about this kind of movie that audiences discover these kinds of films and they're the most fervent in spreading via word of mouth. When there are movies dumped on the entire world the same day, I don't think it ever really has a chance to get spread via word of mouth as much organically. There used to be something special about the networking involved." Haymaker, which comes from Kamikaze Dogfight and Gravitas Ventures, also stars John Ventimiglia, Veronica Falcón, Udo Kier, and Zoë Bell. It's currently in theatres, on-demand, and digital.