Is Warrior the most macho movie of the year? Given that it’s about two mightily proportioned men kicking and punching each other, it’s certainly possible. But because those mightily proportioned men also happen to be the exceptionally fine actors Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, Warrior also functions as an engaging drama, as well as a thunderous mixed-martial arts movie.
With Warrior out in UK cinemas now, we caught up with the two leads for a lively round-table interview, where the pair talked about working with the great Nick Nolte, and training for the film. And as an added, unexpected bonus, Tom Hardy dropped in an anecdote about a scuffle with Shia LaBeouf…
Let’s start with the obvious: how fit were you when you signed up for Warrior, and how fit were you when it finished?
Joel Edgerton: You could see how fit we were when we finished. I always kept myself fairly fit. I think Gavin [O’Connor, director] wanted to get two actors who were right for these characters, and drag them towards the cage, rather than drag two fighters kicking and screaming into the world of acting…
Tom Hardy: Yes.
JE: …which would have been weird.
So, because the film’s presumably shot out of sequence, are there scenes where you think, I’m supposed to be bulkier there, but wasn’t, because I wasn’t at the right stage of my physical development?
TH: No, not really.
JE: You sort of plan properly, in a way. But leading up to the blocks of fighting, when we were fighting…
TH: Shirts off day. There was a shirts off day, wasn’t there? T-X minus 30 minutes is, like shirts off day. It was, like, three, two, one, go! It was a definite shirt off day.
Was there a difference in your training regimes, because your silhouettes, if you like, tell us a lot about your characters. Tom, your character’s quite hunched over and aggressive, for example. Was that just something that came about naturally?
JE: I think, when you put two separate people through… there were differences to the training regimes. I did a lot more wrestling and ju-jitsu than Tom’s character, so our regimes reflected that. But also, if you put two people through a training regime, and feed them truckloads of food, it’s going to affect them in different ways, as well.
Tom, how are you handling all the hype, that you’re the next big thing, with all these stories about you? Do you pay any attention to it?
TH: Well, the thing is, that’s… got to be normalised, hasn’t it? What does that mean? And at the end of the day, I’ve been doing this job for twelve years. Nothing has changed in the way that I approach my work, and all that has really changed is that I have more opportunities to work in bigger fields, with more financial support and different teams. I haven’t noticed anything else. So… I think there’s not been any fallout or paparazzi chasing me, or hitting reporters or anything like that. I’m ultimately quite boring.
Do you still live in the UK?
Yeah. My son’s here, and he lives with his mum and her husband. And I’m not going anywhere, because my little boy’s here. So the bottom line is, how am I handling it? I’m someone’s dad. That’s very grounding. The hyperbole part of it… I’m not going to not go to the shop and buy milk, or drive around town, with the top down and the music up. I’m just as lairy as I always was.
Speaking of hitting reporters, did either of you get injured while making the film?
JE: My shining moment was getting my MCL ligament torn on a grade three tear. I had six weeks of rehab for that. Apart from that, the odd elbow or punch in the face. Everyone was getting knocked around. You couldn’t really be an actor in this process without getting knocked around.
TH: There wasn’t any room to act, was there? It was so annoying. [Laughs] I want to act, but he keeps hitting me! Not my face!
As Gavin said, “It’s a fuckin’ MMA movie! It’s not a fuckin’ kite flying movie, now man up!” “But it hurts!” [Laughs]
JE: He literally said that, one day.
You were presumably aware of that before signing on, though…
TH: Well yeah, but I’m not as manly as I thought I was, when push comes to shove.
JE: It was definitely the brief. Gavin said, going in, “I expect this, this and this.”
TH: But you say yes, don’t you? It’s like, when someone asks you, “Can you ride a horse?” you’ll always say, “Of course I can. Absolutely!” And later, they’ll say, “Here’s a horse.” And you’ll just go, [high-pitched shriek]. “That’s a horse!” [Laughter]
Were you familiar with MMA before the film?
JE: No, I didn’t know much about it all. Through the eyes of any film, you get to learn and enter a world. That was our introduction to MMA was this crash course in becoming a fighter. Shy of actually getting knocked out…
TH: I got knocked out by Shia LaBeouf, actually, yeah. [Nervous titters all round] On The Wettest County In The World. Apparently. Behind the scenes.
That’s not true, though?
TH: No, he did. He, he knocked me out sparko. Got very aggressive. Knocked me out cold. He’s a bad, bad boy. But anyway, previous to, err… [Laughter]
….he did. He’s quite intimidating as well. He’s a scary dude.
Why were you fighting Shia LaBeouf?
TH: He just attacked me. But anyway… [Raucous, baffled laughter] He was drinkin’ moonshine. I was wearing a cardigan. It went down. I woke up in [personal trainer] Pnut’s arms. He was concerned for me. I was like, “What was that? It was lightning fast!” He was like, “That was Shy.”
“Fuckin’ hell! Can we go home now?” “No, we’ve still got three weeks to finish.”
So, anyway, the long and the short of it is that, no, MMA, I’d played it on the Xbox. When we were doing Black Hawk Down, we used to watch it on TV. We used to laugh about it, because it was so fuckin’ brutal. But I never really trained. But you had a black belt in something, didn’t you?
JE: Yeah, I had a black belt in Shotokan as a kid.
TH: Didn’t help you, though, did it? At the same time, when you get into the ring, it’s a completely different gig.
JE: Yeah, totally different.
What was the training process like?
JE: Eight weeks of seven AM until about three or four in the afternoon everyday. We’d literally get to the gym and seven in the morning, do some kicking and punching drills, I’d go off and do a bit of wrestling, until we’d all head off for a big steak together…
TH: Or a bit of pulled pork!
JE: A bit of pulled pork! Pulled pork jokes never get old. [Laughs] I remember the T-shirt on the waitress said, as we were cracking jokes, “Pulled pork jokes never get old.” [Laughs] And it’s true! Pulled pork jokes never do get old.
TH: We couldn’t keep eating pulled pork, sadly, because there came a point where pulled pork had to stop, and we were only allowed chicken and broccoli.
JE: Chicken, like, clean chicken and broccoli. Then in the afternoon we’d lift weights. So it was a full day dedicated to our bodies and our skillset. That got us prepared for the beginning of filming. And filming was a whole new challenge, because then you’ve got to figure in a 12-hour shooting day.
But a movie like this was good, because you’ve got two cars racing against each other. Tom’d shoot and I’d go and train, and then Tom’d train and I’d go and shoot. But still, trying to keep the regime.
We had a stadium booked for six weeks of fighting, and one week into that, I smashed my knee, and it was all over to Tom. “I’m just going to do scenes from the waist up for a while.” We had to book the stadium again six weeks later and resume the fights.
Were you united in the fact that a Brit and an Aussie, presumably, have more in common than they have with the Americans?
TH: I was just thinking about the Brits that went over to America, and the Brits that went down to Australia… aren’t we all related somehow anyway?
JE: Yeah. At some point, one of your great, great uncles stole a sheep, got caught, and became my family. [Laughs] Look, I don’t really think about it in those terms at all. All I know is that Gavin saw something in us that was right for this movie, regardless of where we were physically. I’m very glad, in hindsight, that he did.
I was halfway through filming, I found out that Gavin had his own battle in casting Tom and I. Because, when you think about it, at the time this film was made, neither of us had the right to be there when you think about Hollywood being the stockmarket that it is – completely fuelled by money.
TH: They wanted Jake Gyllenhaal and Hayden Christensen.
JE: Yeah, that’s who the movie should have starred.
TH: No one wants them. No what I’m sayin’ [Laughs]? We’d like to see them really get into a ring, and really see who’d go down, but not in a film. Good God, no.
You have a quite touching scene with Nick Nolte. Was that harder than the physical stuff?
TH: No, because that’s where I come from, that kind of background. That was me doing the bit I’ve done years of training on already.
I’m not being flippant, genuinely, that the whole addiction, abuse storyline was not a shock, and not far from home. Living with addiction isn’t something that’s difficult for me to access. I’m nine or ten years sober, anyway, so it’s not a long, long way from my last drink. But I know people who’ve died, so that’s a territory I feel responsible for being a part of.
Do you think it’s important to talk about that?
TH: I think it’s relevant. I think you have to be careful how you talk about it, because it’s one of those things that takes lives. It’s not to be taken for granted, it’s not a fashion accessory, alcoholism and addiction. It’s a really serious illness. It fucking kills people. If you have it, you need help – and the help is there.
To talk about it is one thing, to promote it is bad taste. But it’s important to be part of where you’re from, and addiction is part of my story. It’d be futile to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Those scenes with Nick Nolte, I thought were brilliant, and I really enjoyed doing them. When I watched it I cried, actually, because I’ve been in places like that.
The scene by the slot machine, with Nick, I thought was good, too. What was that like to do?
TH: Nick Nolte’s carved from the rock of actors. He is as prevalent in my life as a digestive biscuit. He just quintessentially exists, you know? He’s a staple part of a diet – a brand, like Marmite. He’s that American brand of actor, craggy faced, lived-in, tough guy, been through the mill, working class. Huge heart.
He is as wonderful to work with as he is to watch. He is as mercurial and funny and enigmatic and full of life as he is when I watch him on screen, and he is as troubled as you can imagine he could possibly get at times, too. He was the most exciting thing about working on Warrior.
JE: Who’s Nick Nolte? [Laughs]
TH: He worked with Eddie Murphy.
JE: Oh yeah, that one. [Laughs] Everything Tom said. I don’t think I could put anything as eloquently as Tom has. But there are a number of privileges that come with being an actor – special lights and everything. You get to enter these worlds, and live the life of the fighter…
TH: The question’s about Nick Nolte.
JE: Yeah, yeah, I’m getting there! I’m trying to make a big… He, er… One of the great privileges… [To Tom] Look, fuck you. I’m taking my shirt off again. [Laughs]
TH: You’re lucky enough to work with Nick Nolte, now say something nice.
JE: Part of the privilege of being an actor is the people you get to work with. And when you know you’re heading down the barrel of working with a great actor like Nick, you could either get really scared and freak out, or charge in and get excited about it.
Everything Tom said. He’s very special. And one of the great things about Nick is, as he gets older, he doesn’t relax and turn in half-performances. This film proves that.
TH: Six in the morning. Tell ‘em about the six in the morning.
JE: Yeah, me and Nick did the scene on the lawn, that was my first scene in the movie. That was part of the acting component. The non-punching component, I call it.
TH: Six pages long.
JE: Six pages long. Six PM until six AM. Nick’s close-ups were shot as the sun was coming up next morning.
TH: And he’s almost 70 years of age.
JE: He was as dedicated in every moment, and as heart broken in every word and gesture and breath, up to six in the morning. Including when the camera was away from him and onto me. He was never going to give anything less than the best, and that made me respect him all the more, that I got to be a part of that with him.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, thank you very much.
Warrior is on general release now.