Swinging and punching its way into theaters this weekend is “Warrior,” a tale of two estranged brothers who find themselves reunited in the MMA (that is, Mixed Martial Arts) ring. As to be expected, much of the screentime of the two leads, Joel Edgerton (playing the older brother, Brendan) and Tom Hardy (as the younger, Tommy), involves skillfully busting their co-stars up as they make their way through the ranks of a championship tournament to eventually face one another for the ultimate prize: a very large check both could use. We recently had the chance to sit down with Edgerton and talk about playing a big guy with a big heart, as well as the preparation it took to go up against his co-stars, who (besides himself and Hardy) were all MMA fighters professionally.
“That was part of the thing that Gavin [O’Connor, the director] wanted from the onset," explained the actor. "He wanted two guys who were willing to get there early and train hard. Every time there were guys fighting it was just us, so you know, there are elements with the stunt guys, sometimes over the shoulders, usually taking the big wrecks -- on the back -- but the rest of it is us.” The pair trained for 10 weeks leading up to the film, 7am – 3pm everyday. “We’d just go to the gym and work hard but we needed to do it, because when you’ve got to spend half the movie with your shirt off and pretend to be a mixed martial arts fighter, there’s no fudging it,” he laughed.
But for Edgerton, being prepared wasn’t just about having a physical presence in the ring, the actor also worried that a mistake on his part could lead to an early retirement for one of his professional MMA co-stars. “I was scared I could get hurt, but then I also realized I was more scared, not because I thought I was in any way a physical match or stronger than these guys, but because their livelihood was fighting and their livelihood depends on them being healthy. So if I, in my kind of fumbling way, if I kind of popped one of their shoulders out or something, then I had ruined their chance at a fight in the next 6 months.” At one point in shooting, an accidental kick to the arm had Edgerton worrying that he might have dislocated one of his opponent’s arms. “[They thought] he would have to go to hospital and get an MRI,” said Edgerton, “and I was praying that he hadn’t dislocated his shoulder because then I’d ruined his livelihood and he would come back with his one good arm and strangle me!”
But as far as the Tough Guy glowering at you from the "Warrior" poster (and if you're in L.A., you've likely been glowered at from every billboard in town), Edgerton just doesn’t see that in himself, or in his character Brendan. “Maybe the tough guy with the heart of gold, the sensitive tough guy... It’s weird, I don’t see myself as a tough guy,” the actor admits, noting that while he has taken on characters that may seem rough ostensibly (see also, his somewhat brief but memorable turn as the ring leader in “Animal Kingdom”), they have a much more sympathetic side as well. Edgerton characterizes Brendan as “soft,” noting that he’s a family man, who's also willing to reach out to his estranged brother. “Brendan is a tough guy but he’s willing to talk about things, whereas Tommy is not.”
Only a few days after speaking with us, the actor took off to his home of Australia, where production is starting on fellow Aussie Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of "The Great Gatsby." Once again Edgerton is taking on the tough guy role, this time as aristocratic meathead Tom Buchanan. He had some encouraging selling points for this latest adaptation of the classic novel which has been source material for a number of productions both on the screen and off since its publication in 1925. However, the actor refuses to be intimidated by his latest role's place in cultural history. “I did Streetcar ["A Streetcar Name Desire"] a couple of years ago on stage, it’s just one of those things that, you concentrate on what’s on the page, and you don’t worry about the parade that goes on around it. And when I say parade... playing Stanley Kowalski, there’s a parade of perceptions that go on around that and you try to forget about it and go ‘How do I bring myself into this part and how does this part bring itself into me, and what is it that I’m going to do.' I don’t care whether every child in America has read that book [Gatsby] or one child in America has read that book, I’m going to do my job the same way.” Between Kowalski and his turns in 'Kingdom' and "Warrior," Edgerton seems to have the sensitive tough guy down, so we'll be interested to see if he can find something in Buchanan that will make us want to sympathize with one of the more notably unsympathetic characters in American literature.
But until then, you can see the actor on screen starting this Friday in "Warrior."