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