Interview Date: 08/19/2011
Run Date: 09/09/2011
MMA fans can finally relax. "Warrior" is the first film to come out of Hollywood that treats mixed martial arts seriously and with the respect that the sport's advocates insist it deserves. A populist family-centric tale in the spirit of the early "Rocky" films and innumerable kitchen sink melodramas, "Warrior" brings together likely superstars-to-be Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as long-estranged Pittsburgh brothers Tommy and Brendan Conlon. The pair starts out working their respective ways through the world of ultimate fighting for very different reasons. With inexorable movie logic, they end up facing off with a boatload of money and their souls as the purse. In between them is Nick Nolte as Paddy Conlon, the formerly abusive, recovering alcoholic father neither can forgive.
Cockney accented in real life and younger looking than his 33 years, Tom Hardy has been around longer than you realize but is now seemingly fast-tracked for superstardom after acclaimed work in the stand-out role of Eames in "Inception" and in the violent 2008 biopic, "Bronson." Hardy will also be recreating the role of Mad Max in an upcoming franchise reboot from series creator George Miller, but will first be seen in key roles in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and a little movie called "The Dark Knight Rises." Likable Australian Joel Edgerton made his biggest film impression so far in last year's Oscar-nominated import thriller, "Animal Kingdom." A powerful enough actor to play the not so likable Stanley Kowalski opposite Cate Blanchett in a hit Sydney production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," Edgerton will be showing up in Disney's "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" opposite Jennifer Garner, as well as in the sci-fi prequel, "The Thing" and Baz Luhrmann's new version of "The Great Gatsby." As for Nick Nolte, at age 70 he is nothing more nor less than an ingeniously shambolic living legend. In person, he is exactly the gravel-voiced guy you expect, maybe smarter and funnier.
Co-writer and director Gavin O'Connor ("Miracles" and "Pride and Glory") and stars Hardy, Edgerton and Nolte all had plenty to say to Bullz-Eye and others regarding "Warrior" and their respective careers at a press day in August. (Leading lady Jennifer Morrison also speaks her peace in our separate one-on-one interview.) Below are some highlights.
Nick Nolte, on getting involved with "Warrior."
What attracted me to the script were the relationships. The attempt of Paddy to put his relationships right after he caused so much destruction. To try and put the love back in. All of the human relationships appealed to me. The fighting, I was kind of shocked about it. I called Gavin and I said, "Jesus, Gavin, do we really have to go through this MMA stuff? Do we really have to go through that venue to get to this?"
Joel Edgerton: "It seeped into our lives a little bit. We both still watch [MMA]. You're still training for other reasons. I do a little bit of fight training, but not as intensely as that. I don't think I could do that forever. I've got respect for the fighters who do that on a constant basis."He said, "Yeah, we do. You've got to get to know it, Nick, before you make a judgment. You've got to go see it. You've got to meet the guys. You've got to meet their parents, meet their girlfriends, and see what they're about before you can make this judgment that it's just a violent thing."
And then I did. I went and saw it and met 'em and Gavin was right. There is a world behind it that isn't violent, that isn't about pounding the brains out of a person. There is an art to it, much more than boxing, now, I feel, because you are combining quite a few different arts.
Director Gavin O'Connor on an early test screening of his theoretically very macho movie, which was delayed by over a year of intense post-production work.
The reaction was great in the room. I met [with executives] in the conference room of the studio and the first thing they said to me when I sat down, they said, "You made a chick flick." Our highest scores – we got in the 90s – were with women, both above 25 and below 25. It was a shocker. I think women are pulled into the emotionality of the story... The movie isn't about fighting. Even when you get to the fighting, it's not about that. I call the movie "an intervention in a cage." That's what it's driving towards. One brother saves the other brother's life by beating the hell out of him.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton on the training required to play two bulked-up, yet highly agile, behemoths.
TH: We'd do two hours boxing, two hours Muay Thai, two hours Jiu-Jitsu, two hours choreography. Then, we'd all go and eat pulled pork and baked beans – you can never get enough jokes about pulled pork – then we'd go back and we'd do two hours weightlifting. Then, we'd go to bed and get up and do it all again, for about seven or eight weeks.
JE: I think by the time we were doing the fighting in the stadium we were being brought chicken and broccoli every three hours. Then, a protein shake in between. We were eating constantly. It seeped into our lives a little bit. We both still watch [MMA]. You're still training for other reasons. I do a little bit of fight training, but not as intensely as that. I don't think I could do that forever. I've got respect for the fighters who do that on a constant basis.
TH: We ate a lot of chickens. Normally, the job is about managing other people's insecurities. Interdepartmental issues, trying to get your point across to somebody. Three weeks into a project you start to realize that you're panicking, and who isn't? But when you haven't eaten any carbs you start to not really hear people, or care. And you're built like a brick shithouse, and there are tears. And you can't kick off and have a tantrum in this situation because you are surrounded by real fighters.
Gavin O'Connor on casting his two leads, after being instructed to find two actors not yet too well known but on the verge of becoming "huge blah-blah-blahs."
I look for the qualities in a person that are analogous to the qualities of the character. Joel as a person has more integrity than anybody I know. He reeks of integrity. He's a gentleman. He keeps his word. Honest. You want him in your foxhole. I need that type of guy to play Brendan, but with a twist. I also needed a guy that, when you look at him, you [say], "I can believe he was a barroom brawler back in the day."
I don't know how I came across Tom Hardy. I hadn't seen "Bronson" yet. He was supposed to come in for a couple of days and stay at a hotel in town. It was Sunday night at midnight and there was a knock at my door. It was Tom Hardy. He ended up coming in the house and he stayed for five days. He lived with me for five days.
The more I got to know Tommy, I just knew he was Tommy [the character in the film]. I knew as a person he had that in him. The pain, vulnerability... The other thing, I remember going to dinner with him and I remember sitting there looking at him and I thought, "This dude's a fucking movie star." I can't believe no one has figured this out. We were shaving each other's heads by the time it was over.
Gavin O'Connor: "The original 'Rocky' is a masterpiece, but that's not 'a boxing movie.' It's a drama; it's a love story. It's a brilliant movie. Why is that movie so brilliant? Because Rocky doesn't win. If Rocky won, we'd all walk out going 'eh.' It was a personal victory."Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy on executing the climactic, emotionally fraught, brother-on-brother battle.
JE: The whole fight was like a dialogue. There wasn't just, "Let's choreograph any old fight." So much care went into each kick and each punch meaning something.
TH: (smiling) "So much care went into each kick and punch." So much care went into receiving it!
JE: That was a long fight and it took a lot out of us, and it was towards the end of the shoot when we were really exhausted and physically kind of knocked around. It was kind of appropriate in that regard but, at the same time, it was tough.
TH: Most professional fighters, which we're pretending to be, don't get gassed. They don't breathe heavy for the first five minutes. So, it takes two days to shoot five minutes. So, we shoot the first five, six punches. Then we stop, then we lift weights. Then we go back in and shoot the same five punches. Then we go out, lift weights. Ten hours straight...We're acting "not tired" for the first five minutes.
JE: You know, there's something really fantastic about how the physical effects the emotional. Given a physical task, it becomes so much easier to be in the space of that thing that you're doing. There's something about standing around, kind of coiled, and [not] just using words…
Nick Nolte on the father/son memories brought up by "Warrior."
I had problems with my father, but it wasn't open, physical problems or anything like that. Communication problems. He couldn't communicate. We didn't talk about anything of substance. I was four when he came home from the Pacific [at the end of] World War II. I remember two images of that. That there was a lot of excitement, and when the door was open there was a skeleton. He was 6'6" and he was real thin. They used to take me upstairs to sit by his bed and I would watch the skeleton breathe.
He would not talk about that war. Jack McGuire, the head swimming coach at Iowa State, who was his buddy, [also] wouldn't talk about that war. They didn't know what was wrong. They just wanted everything to be quiet and drink at home and get as drunk as they could. I had problems with that generation. I had problems all the way through school.
My son and I went the opposite way. I said, "What kind of house should we have, an open or a closed house?"
He said, "What's the difference?"
"Well, [with] a closed house we only let in certain people. An open house, we open it to everybody."
He said, "Let's go open." He's about seven years old. We probably made a mistake by allowing it to be a little too open. We got in a lot of trouble. The school thought we were harboring the criminals of Malibu.
Gavin O'Connor on two other movies about fighting.
The original "Rocky" is a masterpiece, but that's not "a boxing movie." It's a drama; it's a love story. Paulie [Burt Young's character] is a drunk and beating up his sister [Talia Shire]. It's a brilliant movie. Why is that movie so brilliant? Because Rocky doesn't win. If Rocky won, we'd all walk out going "eh." It was a personal victory. "I've got to go 12 rounds. I gotta go the distance."
[Writer-director David O. Russell of "The Fighter"] is a very close friend. I was actually really grateful we didn't come out the same year. We would have been canceling each other out. We may have been the ones that actually got cancelled out.
Nick Nolte on why his character is repeatedly seen listening to an audiobook of a certain weighty American literary classic in "Warrior."
A lot of people have said, "Why 'Moby Dick'?" What does [Captain Ahab] do? [Ahab] goes after a white whale, obsessed. He ignores his crew. He ignores their safety. And, eventually, he gets impaled on the white whale. That's the same thing Conlon does. He ignores his family, he ignores everything, and he impales himself on alcohol. At first I didn't understand why he was listening to "Moby Dick," but as we went along, I began to. You know, it's a big book. I mean, I read it. It was a long read. Then, when he gets drunk, it's not violence that comes out of him, it's the problem.
Tom Hardy on the conventional wisdom that actors should never judge their characters.
Yes, you can. Of course you can judge. You've got to judge. To be nonjudgmental you've got to choose not to, so that's a lie... You have to plant a flag somewhere. To move forward, you have to make a choice. That's judgment. I choose what characteristics interest me and inspire me. So, I'm playing someone like [ultraviolent British prisoner] Charles Bronson. What do I find funny? Or, what made me laugh about being him? What do I want to show you? What did I observe and reflect? What scares me? My judgment call is that I know what scares me, so if I replicate that, I hope that might transfer to some of the members of the audience, scaring them.
Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy on the brutish and untrustworthy characters from classic fiction they play in "The Great Gatsby" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," respectively.
JE: A lot of the time characters are so morally too strict that it's boring. Characters like Tom Buchanan become far more interesting propositions because you've got so much more of an interesting closet to look around in.
TH: It's more truthful, with people like Buchanan and Rikki Tarr. Like Robert De Niro in "The Mission." He makes the glorious mistake – the glorious mistake. He kills his brother. He fucks up so badly, what can a human possibly do to rectify the situation? These people are far more interesting than the formulaic, cookie-cutter character that hasn't done anything wrong. It's as pasteurized as processed cheese. It's intending to do you no harm whatsoever!
Tom Hardy on his semi-meteoric career trajectory.I got a little taste of it [early on]. "Band of Brothers"! "The Reckoning"! "Black Hawk Down"! "Star Trek: Nemesis"! Rehab! Ten years later I'm sitting here. It took me a long time to come back. I'm very grateful. Very grateful to be alive!