Warrior, an uncompromising drama set against the background of the brutal world of MMA is out this Friday and I spoke to the stars of the movie Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton to talk about the rigours of physical training, the authenticity of the sport on film and the joys of getting punched in the face. I also challenged Tom Hardy to a fight, which he accepted! So far he hasn’t called…
Did you know anything about the sport before you signed up to it?
Joel: Well, I knew it was out there. I occasionally spied it on a plasma screening in a pub and saw two guys hammering the shit out each other but I didn’t understand anything more than that about it. It seemed like it was a sort of open-ruled version of fighting. Sort of like a Van Damme Bloodsport in a modern context.
Do you think people have a lot of misconceptions about it? How did doing the film change your opinion of the sport?
Joel: My perception first started shifting when I agreed to do the film and I went to Pittsburgh and the next morning I got on a bus to go to Ohio to watch UFC 88 or 94, something like that. It was the first time I’d been in a room watching live UFC fights and I remember thinking at the time that I’d know by the end of that experience whether I was going to try to back out of the movie or not. <Laughs>
I remember there was one guy that got knocked out and I remember thinking, “If this guy dies, I’m leaving this movie” <Laughs> He just had a little nap though because someone had hit him in the head. My perception completely changed.
I think… Tommy and I both speak about this, the getting to know the people and getting to the know the fabric of the life and what they’re involved in, completely allows you to understand and empathise with them and their sport in a way you can’t do when you’re just hanging back and calling and it a blood sport. But I like getting familiar with it and I like getting familiar with it. And I’m really glad that this movie depicts the sport in a way gives it a lot of respect.
What are you personal pain thresholds because it looks like you took a lot of punishment in the film?
Tom: I tore the ligaments in my right hand, Joel you tore your ACL right?
Joel: I tore my MCL.
Tom: I ended up punching Joel in the head a couple of times…
Joel: It was good. It’s pleasurable pain though, to be that fit and to be that strong and to learn new things. And also when you’re an actor, you’re all like “not the face, not the face”. You’ve signed up for something slightly tougher than the normal life of actor, you know?
Tom: Don’t get me wrong, I whinged and moaned and bitched and cried and slept my way through it but there was something really invigorating about getting punched in the face. At first, I was all like “I’m never doing that again, I’m never doing that again, that was horrible, that was awful”. And the next moment it was “Hey…can we have a wrestle?”
Do you still train then?
Tom: Yeah yeah yeah. I fight Peanut (points to his hulking minder) pretty much every day of the week.
How did you find (MMA trainer) Greg Jackson?
Joel: I spent a bit of time with Greg Jackson. I went down to his camp in New Mexico. Greg’s really a great person. You know every now and then you meet someone in a particular field who just has a real light shining out of them and Greg is that person. He’s a very intelligent guy and everyone around him shows such respect and conversely he shows everyone a great amount of respect.
We took a lot of our fight choreography on video, like a video storyboard really and Frank Grillo, the guy playing my coach and I, we went and saw Greg and interviewed him about the fights and asked him things like “If this was your fighter, what would you tell him?” Greg became a real touchstone and a real advisor for the integrity and detail of the sport.
For the same reason, on a physical scale, Greg and Gavin, the director and the stunt team were determined to not give it those “fruity” moves that you could put in a Hollywood version of an MMA film. There’s a few bodyslams and stuff…
Tom: Never Back Down!
There are some really “great” lines in that actually. “You’re like the shield of Achilles; fighting so you don’t have to fight”
Joel: I would love to say that! <Laughs> But you know what I mean, the broodiness that could have existed in this movie is not there, so the choreography goes into the finer detail between the moves. In between me punching you and you punching me, there are still two fighters vying for position here, so make it scrappy.
Tom: The guys who choreographed it were from fighting backgrounds: Fernando Chien, Jace James.
Joel: Jace was an old shootfighter from Texas.
Tom: Fernando Chien is a Muay Thai fighter, a bouncer, and an actor actually. He was a really serious fighter; he was into all of the moves from every arm bar, Kimura, through to rear-naked choke, he was meticulously planning stuff. The same with Greg Jackson: he was looking at hybrids, different moves like an anorak.
Joel: And he was in the editing room. One of the great things about this movie is that they invited a fighter into the editing room to say, “That take is good but this take is better”.
Tom: JJ Perry was the stunt coordinator on it but Fernie’s voice was very loud, in a good way, and he deserves respect because he was responsible for the authenticity of the interactions that we had.
(Director) Gavin got us involved with Greg Jackson, we had the Tapout boys down, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, Nate Marquardt; we had all these guys in the room to create an authenticity which would funnily enough be just a backdrop to what actually more important, a movie about family. So it wasn’t just an MMA movie in that we had people who are very serious about what they’re doing to support essentially a drama.
Something which speaks to its authenticity is that in real MMA, you do get fighters that come from all sorts of different backgrounds – from a poor upbringing or ex-military but also from middle-class backgrounds like Randy Couture.
Tom: Well it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog and that can come from anywhere. I’ve got friend who is a very high level operator for the Pentagon and he’s from a public school background but you wouldn’t know that if you met him, you wouldn’t see it coming. And he’s one of the toughest men I’ve ever met.
In the fight world, it’s amazing because the characteristics of normal human beings are put under extraordinary duress in athletic sport and it takes all sorts to participate. It’s a wonderful world to hold a magnifying glass up to because it’s a much bigger operation than people realise.
How did it feel shooting those huge scenes in front of all those people?
Tom: We shot 210 hours of fight footage and it was six weeks in total in front of 1000 people. The first week is all “yeah!” but by the sixth week you’re like “Fuck this man, it’s cold!” <Laughs> Getting spritzed with water between takes and lifting weights.
Joel: Running up and down the bleachers and doing chin ups and all that…
Tom: My character’s name is Tommy and my name’s Tom so when I had all those marines shouting “Tommy!” I was like “Yeah, I can do this!”
Joel, did you get the same adrenaline rush?
Tom: Nah, he had to come out to Beethoven didn’t ya? <Laughs>
Joel: We were holding so much choreography in our heads…
Tom: Not me, my fights didn’t last three minutes!
Joel: And at first, I didn’t understand why we’d do a few moves and then move on. But then when I fought Kurt Angle, the guy playing Koba, he is such a good “dance partner” in that we were wrestling which meant we had contact with each other at all times and the choreography became easier.
It wasn’t remembering, “I hit then you hit, then I hit” which if you start thinking about it is when you get punched in the face. At one point were doing takes that were a minute and a half long that incorporated so many moves which was really exhilarating.
And the poor crowd. As much as they loved Tommy and I at the beginning, can you imagine having to be one of those guys who had to turn up every day and just sit in a chair for six weeks. Kurt Angle helped light up the show for everybody and he’s a bit of a local hero. It’s nice that it’s on film now and we can just sit back and eat cake.
Have you guys ever considered having a real fight?
Joel: There’s definitely a curiosity for it. I like having a rough around but I’m not going to become Mickey Rourke!
Tom: Yeah, I’d be happy to do it with someone at my level.
I’ll fight you Tom. Seriously.
Ok, well let’s talk afterwards…
Technically this wasn’t part of the interview, but I did have a brief chat to Tom in the corridor about martial arts and the possibility of us doing a little bit of sparring together. He did express a little bit of concern that I wasn’t a beginner (I have an instructorship in Kali an high grades in Jeet Kune Do and Silat) but I assured him that I hadn’t done very much Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which is essential for the ground fighting seen in Warrior. He’s got my number – I’m still waiting for that call…