Gavin O'Connor (Miracle, Pride and Glory) and Lionsgate Films deliver this generation's Rocky with Warrior, a film ostensibly about mixed martial arts that's actually an incredible story of a dysfunctional family. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton star as brothers who, for reasons of their own, re-enter the mixed martial arts arena for a shot at a huge payout. Nick Nolte co-stars as their recovering alcoholic father whose past troubles have caused his sons to all but disown him.
On getting the accent right:
Tom Hardy: "[...]I used the dialect coach and yeah, we ruled out Pittsburgh style, literally the true specific Pittsburgh accent because I don’t think they thought that we could handle that. With everything else we had on our plate, that we weren’t responsible enough to achieve that in as short a space and time as possible. So they kept it not specific East Coast."
On the appeal of Warrior:
Tom Hardy: "When I first read the script, it was a very different script altogether. Tommy was Hispanic. He did have long hair and he went swimming every morning with rocks in a rock sack. It was in a prison in South America, so it was a very different script that I read, the initial one. I thought, 'You need Chuck Norris. There was no way that I’m going to be able to transform into this guy.' Actually, I thought it was Benicio del Toro when I first read it in my head."
"The script went through many, many, many different drafts. And then it became this [take on the] realistic world of MMA. It was Gavin, actually, that sold me the script because when I read it, I was like, 'I’ll never play this. I’ll never play this. I’m punching above my weight. I’m miscast.' It’s a challenge as in physically, the accent and everything was just impossible. It wasn’t as filled out and put together, so Gavin said, 'No, no, the take, we’re doing a completely different take on it. It’s not like that. It’s about MMA, it’s about UFC.'"
On losing the whole 'swimming with rocks' idea:
Tom Hardy: "They took the rocks out of the rock sack. I mean, who can swim with rocks in a rock sack? Who needs to put rocks into his rock sack and then go swimming, and didn’t sink? I said, 'This isn’t the first scene of the movie. I don’t think I can play Tommy.'"
"This is not a scuba diving movie; it’s a fight movie. We need to lose the swimming scene at the beginning. There were various prison fights that Tommy had as well, like I fought my way through the prison system as well, so it was Jean-Claude Van Damme you were kind of looking for. Then they got to Malibu, threw out the scene, said to Gavin, 'Look, trust me. I know I’m not Chuck Norris but I can try. I’d love to have a go at doing this.' Then we started talking about process. He did this documentary called The Smashing Machine, which was about Coleman and Mark Kerr in the UFC. Very quickly, he’d done Pride and Glory and Miracle, it started to add up that this wasn’t a kung fu martial arts kind of movie at all that involved any kind of Chuck Norris. This was actually a family drama with the backdrop of the world of mixed martial arts, and Gavin’s very passionate about it. In fact, we talked more about I was reading a book called Door to Door, I think, which was about the Battle of Fallujah and the Marines in that, so we talked about the marines and things like that."
Tommy's a creature of pure instinct. How did that factor into playing the character?
Tom Hardy: "He is a very willful, feral, instinctive character. He’s a gorilla type. He’s an animal, in many ways a beast. as it were, of nature. But that only belies underneath a much softer center. He’s like a whirling dervish, a Tasmanian Devil of rage but that’s because inside, as long as he’s emotionally in violent motion, there’s stillness within him. So he’s still, that violence is within his head and contained, so a very still Tommy’s a dangerous Tommy. And a physically active Tommy is a quiet Tommy in the head. I think in violence there’s silence for Tommy."
On the scenes in which he wanted to show off his softer side:
Tom Hardy: "Never. I had so much fun smashing everything. [Laughing] I think you have to see it in two scenes. Actually, there were three. My favorite scene, there’s one where you see him talking to the wife of his best friend. There’s obviously the stuff on the beach between the brothers where you see that Tommy’s not just a nihilistic angry, petulant child. He’s gone through a succession of very abusive environments, but nonetheless is just shutting his brother out. There’s a genuine reason of abandonment, we see that."
"For me, the moment which I think for me was the most truthful moment and very cathartic was putting my father to bed. Kind of full circle and actually coming back home, leaving it and returning as it was when I left. Without spoiling the movie for anybody, there is a very specific moment where Tommy comes home first, really comes home emotionally, and at that point we see him care because it’s like he’s come full circle - without giving too much away. You know what I’m talking about. That’s where I think you see what we’re dealing with is an 11 year old boy or 12 year old boy, however old he was when he left, who starts again."
On wondering what he got himself into in tackling the role of a mixed martial arts fighter/Marine:
Tom Hardy: "When I got off the plane in Pittsburgh. It was like the first day’s rehearsal’s at six o’clock. We’re going to drive down the 276 to Eric Hibler’s Fight Club. We’re going to skip and we’re going to [train], then we’re going to start hitting the bags. Okay, so the day’s done. No, no, that’s just to warm up. Then two hours boxing, then two hours Muay Thai, then two hours choreography where you do jujitsu, then two hours of weight lifting. Then we all went up to...there’s no end of pulled pork jokes because we go get our pulled pork."
"We had like group shakes together, so we had like protein shakes at the same time. And that’s it. It started for seven weeks, seven days a week, we were just eating and hitting pads then choreography to the music that you hear at the end. Gavin would come in and play that music for eight hours straight and we’d do choreography to it."
Has he stayed in a constant state of muscle nonstop?
Tom Hardy: "No. No, I’ve gone and come back around again. Actually I’m heavier now than I was for Warrior. [...]I play with about 28 pounds just about, up and down 28 pounds."
On the ease of playing around with that 28 pound loss and gain:
Tom Hardy: "Not the first time it wasn’t [easy], but then it comes off, then the muscle memory goes back up again. Now I’ve gone a bit heavier actually because Warrior I was 179. [Joel was] 190. I’m now 190 for Bane. The Bat fans want me to be over 220 pounds. 400 pounds. Like, 'Dude???'"
On being excited about playing Bane in The Dark Knight Rises:
Tom Hardy: "Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I’m really sorry if anybody mistook what I said the other day about comparing working for a huge franchise being like working for Starbucks. I didn’t mean it like [that]. It could’ve been British Airways, it could’ve been Virgin, it could’ve been Nike. It could’ve been any huge sort of thing, because from the studio’s point of view, Batman is like Superman or Spider-Man. It belongs to so many people. So many people love him and he belongs to them, that when you step into playing that kind of character, you are going to fail and be judged. I am very excited about playing it."
On keeping his focus on the work while fans comment on every photo or frame of footage that hits the internet:
Tom Hardy: "You just have to switch off. There’s nothing else you can do. But it’s the first time I’ve actually thought... I’m human and I do read things and I do look. My friends say, 'Just don’t read it. Just ignore it.' I read it and I read comments and I cry. I can’t cry for everybody. I get on with my job and be the best that I can be. If I’m going to be the best person in the world, I’m going to be the best that I can be and just trust me. I trust Nolan."Hardy added, "You’ve got to care as well. I find what’s really difficult is I am sensitive so I kind of want to people please. I want to ask, 'What do they want?' They want everything, it’s not possible to do everything for everyone."
"You’ve got to entertain people. That’s the job. I’m here to entertain so of course I want to please you. Of course I do."
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Warrior hits theaters on August 9, 2011.