Back in the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was very common for two mighty forces to clash, whether it was in the gladiator arenas or the fields of combat. Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior, opening this Friday, September 9, is about just such a clash between two brothers, Tommy and Brendan, separated as teenagers when their family dissolved due to alcoholism and domestic abuse, reunited almost a decade later as they both make their way through different paths to an epic Mixed Martial Arts tournament in Atlantic City. The one thing keeping these two forces apart is their recovering alcoholic father Paddy, played by Nick Nolte, who agrees to come on as Tommy’s coach.
Playing the silent and brooding Tommy is England’s Tom Hardy, an actor who has exploded in recent years after his portrayal of convict Charlie Bronson in Nicolas Refn’s Bronson. That led to a memorable role Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-nominated Inception, which in turn led to him being cast as Bane in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy also will be taking over the role of Mad Max, made famous by Mel Gibson, in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. His brother Brendan is played by Joel Edgerton, an Australian actor who has been making waves for his dramatic roles in films like the brilliant crime dramas Animal Kingdom and The Square (which he co-wrote), and he’ll star in Universal’s upcoming prequel The Thing.
Way back in July, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton were paired for a roundtable interview at Comic-Con International in San Diego, which was somewhat ironic since they spend all of ten minutes of Warrior on screen together. Regardless, ComingSoon.net was there and we got to hear them say a couple words about the movie and their roles.
Hardy told us how he came upon his recent run of very physical roles, which began with Bronson and continues through Bane. “It just happened to be that way,” he admitted. “I set out to be a character actor. As a young man I went to drama school and went in on characters. It was very difficult to break into the game if you haven’t proven yourself as a character actor, it’s hard to sell yourself as a character actor before you got a job. Because there was something quirky or geeky about me where people couldn’t place me as a straight American or British lead, I took a wild turn to play characters but nobody paid attention and I almost gave up acting by the time we did ‘Bronson.’ The long and short of it is that I had a tremendous amount of support from the people in the UK. They’d seen me as a character actor and trusted me so ‘Bronson’ wasn’t much of a stretch but it kind of opened up doors here in America and that manifested itself in ‘Warrior’ and ‘Inception,’ which opened up doors for Mad Max and Bane. No one paid attention until I started hitting people and putting on moustaches.” Hardy laughed at that thought.
“Then I’d read a script and there’d be a part for a 13-year-old girl, and they’re like, ‘We’re going to get Tom Hardy to do it,” Edgerton quickly quipped.
Hardy denied the two of them did any collaborating when it came to coming up with a shared accent between their characters. “We had a sound we needed to reach and there’s a very strong Pittsburghese accent, which were on standby to have a crack at that because the director wanted to be really realistic and natural about everything. It wasn’t turfed out to Pittsburgh, but we wanted the film to appeal to a wider spectrum, so we went for a neutral East Coast accent and we tried our hand at it really.”
“With a Blue Collar edge to it,” Edgerton added. “We had a dialogue coach named Don Wadsworth. We wanted to get in that space. Look, when you take on any character you gotta get the accent right.”
They were asked about working with Nick Nolte, which Hardy said was one of his reasons for him doing the movie. “We are always aware that it was a family drama and for want of a better word, it was kind of a Greek drama in a naturalistic setting of an old school American film from the ’70s. I was a big fan of ‘Mean Streets’ and the 70s blue collar movies that’s not just retro, but there’s a huge desire to be just as cool as that nowadays, but it’s difficult to create that. A huge draw for it was Nick Nolte because he’s from that era. I grew up watching Nick Nolte movies including ’48 Hrs.’ Nick Nolte looks like his face has been carved from the rock of method acting in many ways and he’s a character actor and there’s a very specific energy, nature and characteristic that comes with Nick Nolte and a brand. In this world, he is obviously battling alcoholism and addiction, which is an incredibly strong subject matter for me, for Nick and for the director, it was important territory to deal with and it was dealt with artistically. So to have Nick, fundamentally on a human story level using the genre we’re trying to work towards, it was brilliant and he taught me an awful lot.”
Edgerton spoke about how they prepared for the film’s realistic fight sequences. “I had a bit of a martial arts background from when I was a teenager, I did a bit of karate. Tom didn’t have any. Gavin really took a gamble on us but I think the two reasons he picked guys like us is that we didn’t come with a lot of baggage for audiences. We weren’t really familiar to a lot of audiences and also because we could turn up two months early and train. We got to Pittsburgh a couple months early and trained at the Pittsburgh Fight Club and we trained from seven in the morning until the afternoon in a combination of Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu and boxing and lifting weights and eating lots of food, guided through by an amazing stunt team who all have fighting backgrounds. We shadowed our stunt doubles and we were surrounded by incredible athletes who were very gently guiding us through the process of making us look like we belonged in the cage.”
Hardy contributed that thought by speaking on his character’s fighting style. “There’s a silence in Tommy when he’s in action and there’s a noise in Tommy when he’s still, so the fighting style reflects the tempo and psychology of Tommy and that’s a very willful fighter so that manifested itself in boxing, Muay Thai and ground and pound for Tommy.”
“Brendan, as you see in the fights, can really really take a beating,” Edgerton chuckles, “but then capitalize in the right moment. A lot of the training that I did was Jiu Jitsu, and Brendan, in his mind is the least favored of the two brothers which reflects in his lack of confidence as a fighter as well, which he needs (in order) to fight. We looked at a lot of fighters and we had a lot of influence just by the guys who were training us, and they were a guiding fight through all of that stuff but there wasn’t a particular fighter I was looking to mimic.”
“They modeled a lot of the fighting on fights they’d seen as well, so there was a lot of Rampage Jackson work in there, Mike Tyson for Tommy…” Hardy agreed.
“They’d do these pre-vis things for the fights, so ‘This happened in this fight between these two fighters,’ but in terms of depicting the sport, there was a lot of big crushing moves in the choreography that was more akin to WWF and everybody got together and banged heads and said ‘This might look good in a movie but we want to stay true to the sport.’ There are a couple throws you’ll be able to reference in other fights. They might look a bit big, like the Russian fighter in the movie does this big slam which is straight out of a ‘Rampage’ Jackson fight, but they took out anything that was too flashy and just reduced it to what the sport is quite often like to watch.”
As a sports drama, Warrior is quite distinct because you have these two great lead characters and you’re never really rooting for one over the other as it becomes obvious they will eventually have to fight. “That was always the plan, Gavin trying to get that balance right of having these two protagonists marching towards the same battlefield, so you didn’t know who was going to win or who you wanted to win, where your sympathies lie,” Edgerton said. “I think that should be a really good lesson to any movie that has a hero or a villain, that a good drama is between two people you can understand both of them very well. If one of them happens to be a hero and the other happens to be someone you want to get foiled, that’s fine, but you should understand their feeling as well. It’s kind of cool to have a movie where you take the villain away and you put two protagonists, two people you kind of understand and you’re rooting for them independently.”
While Hardy was hesitant to say anything about his portrayal of Bane–literally! He only would repeat “I cannot talk about Bane” over and over until he was asked another question that wasn’t about Bane–he did talk about his desire to play Al Capone in the David Yates-directed Cicero, currently in development:
“It’s a case file that I’m really excited to open up on many levels like with ‘Bronson.’ Al Capone is dead while Charlie Bronson is alive, but it’s the same assignment I have for that to do a character study of a human being who existed. That’s the draw is opening up an investigation on the man and then show and tell that as I’m doing that in real time. I’ve got to get to a place where I feel comfortable show and telling the study and I’m excited about that. Realistically, the kind of work I want to do on Al Capone, I wouldn’t want to rush something like that, it’s special. It’s a great script and he’s such an important iconic American character, like Mad Max is to Australia. It’s a tremendous honor to be given an opportunity to open an investigation on these guys, so I take it very seriously, and that’s the draw. It’s a very serious thing to do.”
In turn, Edgerton has just started shooting Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby in Australia, and when we spoke to him, he was excited to be working in his own country with one of its top filmmakers.
We’re sure to be seeing a lot of both these actors in the next couple of years, and in Warrior, opening today, September 9, you can see them doing some great work together both in the cage and out.