BORG VS MCENROE
Sex, Swedes, the ’70s: why Borg Vs Mcenroe could be a smash
The first of a new series where we preview 30-year-old sports matches... What? It’s a film? Oh, as you were...
“THIS MOVIE IS not about a tennis match,” says Shia Labeouf, the ‘Mcenroe’ of Borg Vs
Mcenroe. “I don’t think the big reveal is who wins the match. That would be a shitty movie. Our big reveal is the human side of things: the smoke and mirrors of these men being heroes and villains.”
The match Labeouf refers to is the pair’s classic 1980 Wimbledon final, but today’s set-ups swap SW19 for West 54th Street. Empire has joined the production in the middle of a bacchanal. Outside it’s Gothenburg, October 2016. Inside a sleek modern restaurant, it is Studio 54, 1977. Tennis superstar Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is being inducted into the legendary New York nightspot by fellow player Vitas Gerulaitis (Robert Emms) and is taking in the sights: naked, goldpainted dancers on podiums, topless waiters, a fancy-dress angel straddling a devil, while refugees from Saturday Night Fever diligently disco-dance without music so dialogue can be recorded.
“We are in a moment in Björn’s life when he is being exposed to the global jet-set life of the time,” explains director Janus Metz Pedersen
(Armadillo). “It is an exciting moment of parties and nudity and all that comes with the temptations of fame he was suddenly experiencing.”
Borg’s hedonism plays against the myth of the pair being opposites — Mcenroe the ‘fire’/ brat, Borg the ‘ice’/good guy. Borg Vs Mcenroe posits the (base)lines were not so clear cut.
“They were very different personalities, but they were the only ones who could understand the other because they knew what it was like to be on top and how difficult it is,” says Gudnason, sporting flares and a shirt with Concorde-like collars. “Even if they were different, they were also alike.”
Although Mcenroe is not in today’s scene, Labeouf is on set in cargo shorts and a red trucker cap. If the actor is a target for the paparazzi, he is clearly beloved by the crew, joshing around, hugging people, soaking up the party atmosphere.
Borg Vs Mcenroe is near the end of its shoot, but these easy vibes weren’t always the case.
“We had a rivalry here on the set,” Labeouf admits of his relationship with Gudnason. “It was loving and friendly, but real. We didn’t really hang out until after I wrapped. It wasn’t the bad eye. It was closer to what Borg and Mcenroe had.” What goes on the Tour, stays on the Tour, it seems.
above: Emotional Mcenroe (Shia Labeouf) in despair as Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) remains impassive; Borg shows his secret steamy side in Studio 54; Director Janus Metz Pedersen (right) on set; “You cannot be serious!” Labeouf embraces his inner J-mac.