Joel Edgerton has buffed up a little since Animal Kingdom to make a play for the Hollywood big leagues in Warrior. Picking up some blue-collar roots alongside a serious amount of muscle, Edgerton plays a cash-strapped father and physics teacher, who steps back into the Mixed Martial Arts cage in order to earn enough money to save his house. A monstrously muscly Tom Hardy (who you may remember from Inception) plays Edgerton’s estranged brother, an MMA fighter and ex-Marine with his own debts to pay; while Nick Nolte growls his way through the film as their recovering alcoholic father and trainer.
In Sydney to film Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Edgerton took some time out yesterday to chat with us about brothers, trapezoids, training montages, and also to talk a bit of smack about the cast of The Fighter.
Mixed Martial Arts is a bloody full on world for an actor to dip his toe into. How daunting was it walking into that cage?
It was great. We had a gentle kind of step up to it, because we trained for ten weeks in a Mixed Martial Arts gym. This is going to sound really strange, but we really were kind of like gently welcomed into the gym by these really amazing fighters.
My expectation was that, like ‘OK here come these two actors' and there’d be a lot of this [Crosses his arms and looks tough and standoffish], or that there’d be a lot of toughing up and alpha aggression. But it was the opposite because Tom and I were kind of like these vehicles, and they realised we were the vehicles to depict their sport in this fictional film, for the first on screen in a real way that respected the sport and showed the sport in all of its dimensions. So there was a real investment on their behalf to make sure they filled us up with the right skill and showed us the right way through it all in every aspect: the diet, and the rest aspect, and the weights, wrestling, jujitsu and muay thai. So there was this real kind of loving atmosphere and encouragement. And there was never any, you know ‘You’re not doing this right.’ There was no impatience. It was all positive.
So that was Warrior training, thrown in the mix with all of these guys?
Yeah, ten weeks of that and as we got stronger and as we got bigger and more skilled, then there was more pressure on us. Then we felt much more like equals. Because if I stepped in the cage with any of those guys, I’d be on the floor, crying in about 30 seconds [Laughs]. But we definitely felt more equal, we felt like we were capable and at least we could sell the trick that we belonged in that environment.
You’re not stranger to the vagaries of the fraternal bond. How was it sizing up to Tom Hardy and those…
Yeah those traps! Compared with Nash [Edgerton]?
Well I don’t know if Nash has traps [Laughs]. I’m sure they’re there somewhere. Nash and I used to fight a lot when we were kids, but we’re best friends now. There’s no severance or strained relationship. So for me the experience of this movie was relating to this by kind of inverting my experience.
And did anyone think it was a bit odd for an Aussie and a Pom to be playing this blue-collar American story?
In a way. I think for Gavin [O’Connor] the director it was about finding the right essence in the guy. And for us it was about pulling that trick of the blue-collar Pittsburgh guys, and the physics teacher of it all, and the soldier of it all. All of those things that we had to bring to it. But the energy was something he needed.
Gavin talked about me, and I never really knew why he picked me at all, but that he needed someone who is a family man and full of love, who would also be able to seem like a fighter. And so somewhere in the middle of sensitivity and brutality I existed, and in a different combination of those two ingredients was Tom, including the damage, you know?
Now, you’re a screenwriter as well, so from that perspective I wondered what is it that we love about sports dramas?
The underdog thing is definitely a real pull for people, because we all feel like we’re not good enough. We all feel like we’re not really capable, and we all feel like we’re on the verge of losing all the time. And to think every now and then that one of us can get up and win the day really strikes a chord with us.
The other thing that really strikes a chord with everybody in this movie is just how painful it is to not have a connection with your family. Or to imagine what it is like to lose the connection that you do have. And the filial bond and the lines that you are connected with to your family are so strong, so when they’re gone, they still exist, but there’s a certain kind of lost-in-the-wilderness feeling, because you’re no longer a team. I think as humans we’re meant to be integrated in our family; we’re not born and cast out into the world. So when we are, it’s really confusing and upsetting.
And then of course there are the montages in sports dramas, which are amazing….
And to be in a training montage! I was trying to think the other day, ‘Have I been in a montage before?’ And I don’t think I have? And I thought, ‘How can you get to my age without being in a montage?’ [Laughs] I’m in one now!
Hollywood seems to serve films up in pairs; Look at Armageddon and Deep Impact, so how do you see The Fighter and Warrior coexisting?
Obviously ours is a much better movie, and anybody who says differently... I just think Tom and I should just get in a cage with [stars from The Fighter] Mark [Walberg] and Christian [Bale], and just work it out.
Wow! Them’s fighting words.
No no. [Laughs]
Well surely you’d sick Tom Hardy on them?
Yeah, I’ll go [Waves away], ‘Tom, you go deal with these guys, Nick [Nolte] and I will be over here eating a sandwich.”
Look I think The Fighter is a very different kind of movie. Warrior is much more a kind of Rocky for the mixed martial arts world, for today, in that it’s got that sports movie edge, which I don’t think The Fighter really had, that sports movie ingredient. It really was just the biopic and a great movie as well. They’re chalk and cheese. They really are. The fighting aspect of them is all they really share in common and the brother stories are very different.
Well speaking of chalk and cheese, you’ve almost literally just walked off the set of The Great Gatsby to be here. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve taken toThe Great Gatsby from Warrior?
One of the best things I learned from Warrior really was from the director Gavin. Because when you make a movie there’s often really pivotal scenes, and there might be four or five of them. And you feel like if you hit those scenes, then the movie’s really going to work. They’re the big flag-in-the-ground kind of moments. What Gavin really taught me, which I thought was really special, is that he sees every single moment in the film as important as the other moment, so a couple of my favourite scenes in this movie were very incidental scenes in the script, but Gavin would still clear the room and go ‘Let’s bang our heads together and figure out what’s the most important thing about this moment.’
I thought that was a really great lesson, that everything should be important. Every word should be thought about, every gesture and every interaction, whether the character is a major character or a minor character they're there for a reason and therefore should be mined of everything to make the movie as good as it can be. So with regard to me, that’s a lesson I’ve taken on to every movie that I do.
Published on The Vine
Australian release date: 27 October 2011