Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tor Gavin O’con­nor searched the globe to find a pair that packed enough punch for his new ac­tion- drama, writes Peter Mitchell

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

Fight­ing for Hol­ly­wood’s at­ten­tion.

ON a re­cent af­ter­noon in a five-star Los An­ge­les ho­tel, Aussie Joel Edger­ton and Brit Tom Hardy are play­fully fight­ing.

They look like eight-year-old kids mess­ing around in the back yard, not two of Hol­ly­wood’s hottest new act­ing prop­er­ties in an $ US800-a-night suite.

The teas­ing na­ture of their blows def­i­nitely does not repli­cate the fights the duo per­form in their new ac­tion-drama War­rior, which is set in the world of mixed mar­tial arts ( MMA). It not only re­quired the ac­tors to stack on more than 10kg of mus­cle and be­come pro­fi­cient in cage fight­ing but also to per­form heart-wrench­ing scenes.

‘‘ We have been beat­ing each other up all day,’’ says 37-year-old Edger­ton, who was born and raised in Syd­ney’s western sub­urbs.

‘‘ We still have some re­sent­ment about the fight,’’ Hardy, 34, from Lon­don, adds.

The ‘‘ fight’’ Hardy refers to takes place in War­rior, with the two ac­tors play­ing es­tranged broth­ers in Pittsburgh who find them­selves faceto-face in a bru­tal MMA bout with the win­ner pock­et­ing $ US5 mil­lion.

Edger­ton is fam­ily man Brendan Con­lon, an MMA fighter who left the sport, mar­ried his child­hood sweet­heart, is a fa­ther of two young daugh­ters, works as a physics teacher and is strug­gling to stop the bank from fore­clos­ing on his home.

Hardy is al­co­holic ex-Marine Tommy Rior­dan, while Nick Nolte plays the broth­ers’ al­co­holic fa­ther.

The jour­ney Edger­ton’s and Hardy’s char­ac­ters em­bark on is rugged, but repli­cates the more than three-year bat­tle di­rec­tor Gavin O’Con­nor en­dured to get War­rior made and re­leased in the­atres.

The first road block was find­ing ac­tors ca­pa­ble of play­ing Con­lon and Rior­dan. Amer­ica, ap­par­ently, was bar­ren ter­ri­tory, forc­ing O’Con­nor to look else­where.

‘‘ There’s some­thing about Amer­i­can ac­tors these days,’’ says New York-born O’Con­nor, who di­rected 2004’ s Mir­a­cle, a film about the men’s US ice hockey team’s un­likely gold medal win at the 1980 Win­ter Olympics.

‘‘ I find Hol­ly­wood is go­ing over­seas more to find a cer­tain mas­culin­ity and a viril­ity.

‘‘ I don’t know what that says about my coun­try right now, but we tend to go over to Aus­tralia a lot to pluck these guys.’’

Half of O’Con­nor’s au­di­tion­ing prayers were an­swered when a pack­age ar­rived in the mail from Aus­tralia in 2008. Edger­ton had heard about the di­rec­tor’s quest to find lead­ing men, so sent him an au­di­tion tape.

To­day, Edger­ton is one of Hol­ly­wood’s hottest tal­ents, star­ring in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby now be­ing filmed in Syd­ney.

He is also in the new hor­ror re­make The Thing and next year’s Kill Bin Laden film by Os­car-win­ner Kathryn Bigelow. But three years ago, when O’Con­nor was cast­ing for tal­ent, Edger­ton wasn’t even on Hol­ly­wood’s radar.

‘‘ God no,’’ O’Con­nor says when asked if he cast Edger­ton af­ter see­ing him in An­i­mal King­dom last year, which won seven AFI awards.

‘‘ I didn’t know who Joel was. I made War­rior more than 2 ½ years ago. Joel put him­self on tape in Aus­tralia, I watched it on my com­puter and was in­trigued.

‘‘ I got his reel and was more in­trigued and then the stu­dio flew him over.

‘‘ He came up to my house and read, we played around with some scenes, I got to know him a lit­tle bit and cast him.’’

War­rior was orig­i­nally set for re­lease in 2010. But when the Mark Wahlberg-Chris­tian Bale box­ing movie The Fighter opened and made its bid for Os­car’s glory, a de­ci­sion was made to shelve War­rior for a fur­ther 12 months.

O’Con­nor found the other piece of his cast­ing puz­zle across the At­lantic Ocean in Lon­don when he came across an­other then lit­tle­known ac­tor Tom Hardy, who shot to fame in last year’s Christo­pher Nolan ac­tion sci-fi hit In­cep­tion.

‘‘ I knew I wanted un­knowns, which they were at the time, and I ex­hausted ev­ery­body here in the States,’’ O’Con­nor says.

‘‘ There were qual­i­ties to these guys that I was look­ing for in the char­ac­ters.

‘‘ I didn’t want them to be act­ing all of this stuff. I wanted them to ac­cess their truth and what’s re­lat­able in their own lives.’’

As emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally drain­ing as the role was, Edger­ton said he rev­elled in play­ing the strug­gling fam­ily man and MMA fighter.

He is drawn to char­ac­ters such as Con­lon or Mel­bourne ca­reer crim­i­nal Barry ‘‘ Baz’’ Brown in An­i­mal


‘‘ All of it was tricky. Ev­ery day at work seemed to be hard,’’ Edger­ton says of his War­rior ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘ It’s funny be­cause you love your job and it doesn’t feel like a job, but at the same time it is in­cred­i­bly hard work – par­tic­u­larly do­ing the train­ing regime we had to do.

‘‘ The emo­tional side of things . . . that’s part of why I be­came an ac­tor.

‘‘ I’m so kind of but­toned up in life. I avoid ten­sion and if there’s any kind of drama, I tend to walk the other way and not to get in­volved.

‘‘ But, at work, that is the ex­pe­ri­ence I’m look­ing for. The mad­der, the bet­ter and the darker, the more in­ter­est­ing I find it.’’

As for who would walk out of an MMA cage vic­to­ri­ous if Edger­ton and Hardy did en­gage in a real-life bout, the ac­tors con­cede they are soft­ies.

‘‘ Two cry­ing ba­bies walk out,’’ Edger­ton says, with a laugh.

WAR­RIOR Opens Vil­lage Cine­mas on Thurs­day

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