This weekend’s MMA fight film Warrior has been generating a lot of buzz. The massively popular sport is still looking for a movie to represent it the way Rocky did for boxing. Perhaps this story of two estranged brothers competing in the same tournament will be the one.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton play brothers Tommy and Brendan respectively. Tommy is the returning war veteran, an animal in the ring. Brendan is fighting to make ends meet for his family. The pair remained together as they promoted the film, bantering about their fight experience.
Q: You’re two Brits playing Pittsburgh boys. Did you both have the same dialogue coach?
Joel Edgerton: We spent time with the same guy, a guy called Don Wadsworth, who’s from Carnegie Melon. What’s the name of the college there?
Tom Hardy: It’s the second to Julliard finest acting establishment in the United States. You forgot what it’s called?
Q: Were you trying to get a similar voice?
TH: I was trying to sound Mexican. That was my own personal struggle. Every time I speak, I try to find a character, an extra twang. Or Scottish. That kind of limits the character so I used the dialect coach and yeah, we ruled out Pittsburgh style, literally the true specific Pittsburgh accent because I don’t think they thought that we could handle that. With everything else we had on our plate, that we weren’t responsible enough to achieve that in as short a space and time as possible. So they kept it not specific east coast.
Q: When you got the script, what made you want to do the movie?
JE: Well, that it wasn’t really just a fight movie, that it was a drama first and the fighting was kind of interchangeable really. It could’ve been anything. But it was more for me, it was the script plus watching [director] Gavin [O’Connor]’s movies. I think it was knowing that if Gavin was going to handle it, having looked at Pride and Glory and his other movies, that he really knows how to bring a world and an atmosphere to the screen. And if someone was going to make a movie set amongst the mixed martial arts world, that you’ve got to really get it right, otherwise there’s no point doing it. I think Gavin had proven with his other movies was able to really bring the right stuff to the screen to make it feel right.
TH: When I first read the script, it was a very different script altogether. Tommy was Hispanic. He did have long hair and a ponytail and he went swimming every morning with rocks in a rock sack. It was in a prison in South America, so it was a very different script that I read, the initial one. I thought you need Chuck Norris. There was no way that I’m going to be able to transform into this guy. Actually, I thought it was Benicio del Toro when I first read it in my head. The script went through many, many, many different drafts. And then it became this realistic world of MMA. It was Gavin actually that sold me the script because when I read it, I was like I’ll never play this. I’ll never play this. I’m punching above my weight. I’m miscast. It’s a challenge as in physically, the accent and everything was just impossible. It wasn’t as filled out and put together, so Gavin said, “No, no, the take, we’re doing a completely different take on it. It’s not like that. It’s about MMA, it’s about UFC.”
JE: They took the rocks out of the rock bag.
TH: They took the rocks out of the rock sack. I mean, who can swim with rocks in a rock sack. Who needs to put rocks into his rock sack and then go swimming, and didn’t sink? I said, “This isn’t the first scene of the movie. I don’t think I can play Tommy.”
JE: They had another guy who was going to play your part but he died rehearsing.
TH: “This is not a scuba diving movie. It’s a fight movie. We need to lose the swimming scene at the beginning.” There were various prison fights that Tommy had as well, like I fought my way through the prison system as well, so it was Jean-Claude Van Damme you were kind of looking for. Then they got to Malibu, threw out the scene, said to Gavin, “Look, trust me. I know I’m not Chuck Norris but I can try. I’d love to have a go at doing this.” Then we started talking about process. He did this documentary called The Smashing Machine which was about Coleman and Mark Kerr in the UFC. Very quickly, he’d done Pride and Glory and Miracle, it started to add up that this wasn’t a kung fu martial arts kind of movie at all that involved any kind of Chuck Norris. This was actually a family drama with the backdrop of the world of mixed martial arts and Gavin’s very passionate about it. In fact we talked more about I was reading a book called Door to Door which was about the Battle of Fallujah and the marines in that. So we talked about the marines and things like that.
Q: In what scenes did you want to show Tommy’s softer side?
TH: Never. I had so much fun smashing everything. I think you have to see it in two scenes. Actually, there were three. My favorite scene, there’s one where you see him talking to the wife of his best friend. There’s obviously the stuff on the beach between the brothers where you see that Tommy’s not just a nihilistic angry, petulant child. He’s gone through a succession of very abusive environments, but nonetheless is just shutting his brother out. There’s a genuine reason of abandonment, we see that. For me, the moment which I think for me was the most truthful moment, very cathartic, was putting my father to bed. Kind of full circle and actually coming back home, leaving it and returning as it was when I left. Without spoiling the movie for anybody, there is a very specific moment where Tommy comes home first. Really comes home emotionally and at that point we see him care because it’s like he’s come full circle, without giving too much away. You know what I’m talking about. That’s where I think you see what we’re dealing with is an 11 year old boy or 12 year old boy, however old he was when he left, starts again.
Q: Did you get together and discuss how internal the characters were, how the family dynamic would play out?
JE: There was a lot of discussion about it beforehand. As much as we were training, fighting all day long and on the weekends and nighttimes, in the in between times we were all talking and rehearsing and thinking. Gavin was wanting us to engage in all these conversations about it which was sort of rehearsals in a way. To talk about the family and the history of this family, because it’s a really tricky balance. He’s managed to achieve a lot of great things I think in the movie storywise because there’s large slabs of exposition in this movie, which as we all know are the hardest things to slide under the door elegantly. He manages to try to find the right places to put the right pieces of information so that the audience wasn’t delivered up the whole history of the family at one time, that just got given these pieces. Then of course that scene on the beach is quite a tricky scene I think because we’re both trying to do a number of things at the same time but one of those things is to handle so much information that the audience is yet to know. Then there’s also the argument you don’t give them everything. You just sort of give them enough that they can build their own sense of their history. I mean, give the audience enough so they can build their own version of it.
Q: Was there any time in the movie you thought, “What the hell did I get myself into?”
TH: When I got off the plane in Pittsburgh. It was like the first day’s rehearsal’s at six o’clock. We’re going to drive down the 276 to Eric Hibler’s Fight Club. We’re going to skip and then we’re going to start hitting the bags. Okay, so the day’s done. No, no, that’s just to warm up. Then two hours boxing, then two hours Muay Thai, then two hours choreography where you do jujitsu, then two hours of weight lifting. There’s no end of pulled pork jokes because we go get our pulled pork.
JE: We ate some huge animal at lunchtime as a group.
TH: We had group shakes together so we had like protein shakes at the same time. And that’s it. It started for seven weeks, seven days a week, we were just eating and hitting pads then choreography to the music that you hear at the end. Gavin would come in and play that music for eight hours straight and we’d do choreography to.
Q: Have you just stayed in a constant state of muscle nonstop since you moved on to Bane in The Dark Knight Rises?
TH: Me? No. No, I’ve gone and come back around again. Actually I’m heavier now than I was for Warrior.
Q: You had to take off 20 pounds a few years ago for another role, right?
TH: Yeah, I play with about 28 pounds just about, up and down 28 pounds.
Q: Is it easy for you?
TH: Not the first time it wasn’t but then it comes off, then the muscle memory goes back up again. Now I’ve gone a bit heavier actually because Warrior I was 179. You were 190, weren’t you? I’m now 190 for Bane. The Bat fans want me to be over 220 pounds. 400 pounds. Like dude…
Q: Where are you with Bane?
TH: Can’t tell you a thing.
Q: Does it require a lot of physical stuff?
TH: Yeah, I can’t. I really can’t tell you anything.
Q: Are you excited about it?
TH: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I’m really sorry if anybody mistook what I said the other day about comparing working for a huge franchise being like working for Starbucks. It could’ve been British Airways, it could’ve been Virgin, it could’ve been Nike. It could’ve been any huge sort of thing, because from the studio’s point of view, Batman is like Superman or Spider-Man. It belongs to so many people. So many people love him and he belongs to them, that when you step into playing that kind of character, you are going to fail and be judged. I am very excited about playing it.
Q: How difficult is it to keep focus on the work when everyone has an idea?
TH: You just have to switch off. There’s nothing else you can do but I’m human and I do read things and I do look. My friends say, “Just don’t read it. Just ignore it.” I read it and I read comments and I cry. I can’t cry for everybody. I get on with my job and be the best that I can be. If I’m going to be the best person in the world, I’m going to be the best that I can be and just trust me. I trust Nolan.
Q: Joel, are you having the same kind of issue with Great Gatsby?
JE: Yeah, I think if every kid in America has read that book, that’s not my responsibility. If one kid read the book, then I’d perform the same way I think. I’m not going to take on the pressure of that. I manage to have a good ability to switch off to that to a degree but at some points, it sort of creeps in. But I don’t think I should be too worried about it. If I’m worried about that, then I’m not thinking about what I’ve got to do to make it right, which will make me worry about it even more.
TH: You’ve got to care as well. I find what’s really difficult is I am sensitive so I kind of want to people please. I want to ask, “What do they want?” They want everything, it’s not possible to do everything for everyone.
JE: But that’s what we are in a way. I keep thinking that as actors that that’s what we are. We get given these tasks and we just want to please everybody anyway. That’s almost like the base state that we exist at and hopefully within that, you don’t worry too much.
TH: You’ve got to entertain though. You’ve got to entertain people. That’s the job. I’m here to entertain so of course I want to please you. Of course I do.
JE: I want you to love what I do.
TH: Then people aren’t happy. I didn’t please them.
Q: Was there a movie you saw when you were young that got you pumped up?
JE: Rocky. I came out of the cinema on George St. I stood there out of the cinema after Rocky and I wanted anyone to pick a fight with me. I was so pumped for that movie and so pumped for violence, I just thought I could take on the world.
Q: Tom, what was yours?
TH: Flashdance. Footloose.
Q: Would you enter a dance competition?
TH: I couldn’t dance to save my life.