Divide & Conquer
Young actors-on-the-rise Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton get in the ring for Warrior, the hard-edged tale of two estranged, warring brothers who go toe-to-toe and head-to-head in the violent world of mixed martial arts.
Today, the testosterone is in check, and the machismo is locked down. But you wouldn’t want to mess with these boys. Dural-born Joel Edgeton may have barely gotten his hands dusty playing Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but he more than makes up for it in the intense new drama, Warrior. Set in the limb-twisting, head-locking world of mixed martial arts — the full contact sport that blends a host of fighting techniques, from wrestling and boxing, to muay thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu — it sees him take on British bulldog Tom Hardy, who has already proven his mettle and muscle in the prison flick, Bronson.
Sitting together on a grey sofa — about the only thing soft in this room — in London’s Soho Hotel, Edgerton and Hardy are accompanied by an entourage of publicists. Also presentis the latter’s own personal trainer/best mate, Patrick “P-NuT” Monroe, a former US Marine built like the proverbial brick shithouse. Dressed in jeans and a tight, long-sleeved grey sweatshirt, Hardy’s outfit can barely contain his bulging frame, bulked up to play Bane, the villain in Christopher Nolan’s currently-in-production Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. Edgerton, in a denim jacket and cap, looks leaner but no less handy.">
Never mind that these are two of the most exciting actors of their generation, Hardy seems distracted, his mind awash with surreal thoughts. ”You know what?” he suddenly says. ”I was just looking at that pipe out of the window.” Behind us, on the opposite brick wall, is a giant ventilation shaft, made of steel. ”I thought, ‘Can you imagine if you got stuck in it? How would you get out?’ I don’t know if I could. Think about it.” As non sequiturs go, it’s peculiar. Though if Hardy did ever find himself stuck in such a pipe, in the shape that he’s in, he could probably tear through the metal with his bare hands. Like his Warrior character Tommy Conlon, he’s a living, breathing Raging Bull.
Downplaying his previous physical exertions on Bronson, you can sense that Hardy holds a grudging admiration for his opponent on Warrior, a story of fierce sibling rivalry that brutally spills into the ring. ”With all due respect, Joel — when he was younger, a boy — had a black belt in Shotokan karate. I’ve never seen the inside of a dojo in my life. So he had more experience than I did. On Bronson, I ate pizza and a lot of ice cream and carried P-NuT up and down stairs for a few hours a day for five weeks — we’re not talking an elaborate training schedule. We’re talking about eating, sitting on my arse, lifting weights, and then developing a character.”
Warrior, on the other hand, was a “different beast,” he says. Training in Pittsburgh, both Hardy and Edgerton hooked up with former world MMA champion Greg Jackson, whose task it was to whip the actors into shape. It meant days of boxing, jiu-jitsu and muay thai, along with weightlifting and choreography classes. Two months of gym work, eight hours a day, for seven days a week, preceded the three-month shoot. ”And your average shooting day can be anywhere between eight hours and sixteen, depending if you push,” says Hardy. ”Then you have a five and six day week, so an eleven-day fortnight. And on the weekend, we would do rehearsals.”
Straining every fibre, Edgerton added kilos of pure muscle, but admits that he relished his transformation. ”It feels good,” the actor smiles. ”It feels good to be strong. And it feels good to learn something new. I certainly felt a couple of months into training that, by the time that we were in the cage, standing there with a pair of gloves on and a pair of shorts, at least part of me belonged. We learned a certain amount of the components of what it would be like to be a fighter. But we never had to do that final thing, which is that moment where you can get the jitters in your stomach walking in that cage for real, knowing that the other guy actually really is trying to knock you out. We never had that experience!”
Adopting a gruelling fighter’s early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine, Edgerton and Hardy undertook a strict high protein diet of six small meals a day. Carb-depleted, Edgerton was, well, on the edge. ”The stunt coordinator, JJ Perry, would come up to me… and I’m a pretty even-tempered guy. But I would have some issue with something, and my temper would flare up. He’d look me in the eye and say, ‘Go eat a bowl of rice!’ I’d go, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re right!’ I’d have some rice, and then I’d feel human again. It was interesting, getting to a point where you really understood each piece of food that went into you, what feeling that gave you, and what it did to you.” Hardy concurs. ”You’re all right for a couple of hours, once you’ve had your chicken and broccoli. Then all of a sudden…” Snap… He clicks his fingers.
Directed by Gavin O’Connor, who made the familial cop saga Pride and Glory, starring Colin Farrell and Edward Norton, Warrior may be like Rocky on steroids, but an emotional core underpins the flurry of fists and fly-kicks. Edgerton’s Brendan Conlon is a high school teacher struggling to keep his family afloat amind the global recession. A one-time street fighter, he decides to enter Sparta, a winner-takes-all MMA tournament that brings together the best fighters from around the globe. But little does he know that his estranged brother, Tommy, a psychologically-damaged former US Marine, has returned home after fourteen years to recruit their deadbeat father (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic they both loathe, to train him for the same competition.
“Gavin gives you two protagonists — one who’s fighting for country and for self, for reasons towards his own self-centredness and pain,” says Hardy. ”He’s a Marine, but there are other reasons why Tommy’s fighting. The fight is within Tommy. Then you’ve got someone who’s actually an upstanding member of society in Joel’s character, Brendan. He’s a parent, and a school teacher, who is also an athlete. His fight is for financial reasons. These are normal people in extreme circumstances with the backdrop of MMA. So in that way, when you ask what does Warrior do for the MMA world where others have failed, it’s talking about it as a sport as opposed to making a kung fu movie or a martials arts movie. It’s like Rocky meets Kramer vs. Kramer, if you like.”
While O’Connor calls it “Old Testament storytelling,” this Cain and Abel tale may struggle to maintain its Biblical parallels, but what Warrior does do well is bring the audience through a series of stellar cage fight scenes. Blessed with a brother, Nash, who is both a well-known stuntman (on such films as Superman Returns and Knight and Day) and accomplished director (The Square), Edgerton had a head start when it came to orchestrating such movie scraps. But can he really handle himself? ”Could I take on Nash? Set a date, let’s get it going!” he laughs. ”I did give Nash a black eye once. When we were teenagers, our family was like Tommy and Brendan. We fought a lot, but we’re really close now.”
What about those MMA specialists that he trained with? Edgerton shakes his head. ”I reckon Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson, Kurt Angle, or Nate Marquardt, or any of those guys, would probably have me seeing stars within about twenty seconds,” he laughs. ”And that’s if I could run away from them for twenty seconds!” Still, having a brother helped him slip into the mindset of Warrior, which — like Hardy — he doesn’t see as a traditional sports movie. ”The film really is a family drama,” Edgerton says. ”Brendan and Tommy could be getting together at the end to have a game of chess. The fighting could be replaced with anything. But thankfully it’s a really dynamic, cool sport.”
If there’s one thing that Hardy and Edgerton are in agreement on, it’s that MMA is not only dynamic and cool, but also safe, however it might look to the baying spectators. ”It’s no more brutal than a game of rugby,” says Hardy. ”If you go onto the pitch with the All Blacks, you’d know about it. And that’s ninety minutes. These guys do 25 minutes, one on one. They’re not just taken off the streets and given a couple of hours training and then they decide to get into a fight. They train every day from four in the morning until six in the afternoon, and then they go to sleep at about eight!”
Edgerton pitches in. ”They agree to have the fight. They sign a contract to step in the cage — it’s not an emotional situation. It’s a strategic battle.” The “ground and pound” aspect, getting on top of someone and beating them up, might be brutal, he says, but if an opponent can no longer defend himself, then the fight is over. ”There’s no ten count, whereby I can half put myself back together and try to remember my name in order to fight you again,” Edgerton says. ”Boxing allows you to keep engaging in the fight, even if you start to lose brain cells. With mixed martial arts, the moment that you can no longer defend yourself, there is a clear winner.”
According to Hardy, you can’t even sign the contract to fight unless you’re a professional athlete. ”You’d be vetted anyway,” the actor says. ”You’re never out of your element. You’re always with somebody who has a similar skill set. From when you trained at your local dojo, you move through various levels before you’re even accepted in the ring. It’s not a random act — ‘Oi, you! You’d be great! Let’s put you in way out of your comfort zone!” Yet despite what his surname suggests, Hardy was out of his comfort zone on Warrior. Training with Hans Marrero, who includes former heavyweight boxing chamption Mike Tyson as a sparring partner, was no mean feat. ”I had a moment where I was like, ‘I really don’t want to be here!’ I was standing there in my gloves and my shorts, and I was like, ‘This is really shit! This is really not for me!’ Then we has a wrestle, and it was fast! They’re not trying to hurt you — they’ve come to play. They’re really kind and they’re really lovely, and they’re full of humility, because they do it all day, every day. They’re got nothing to prove. You’re an actor, and they’re happy that you’re here and that you’re trying to represent their sport fairly, and give it a good name. They want to play and be useful.”
But, according to Hardy, these guys really don’t know their own strength. ”If you catch an elbow or a shoulder, literally just brushing against them, it’s like head-butting a horse,” he laughs. ”In a really bad way!” With the second half of the film primarily set at the Sparta competition, with both Brendan and Tommy taking on numerous opponents, it meant shooting over 210 hours’ worth of fight footage. ”There comes a point where you give up being frightened because you’re knackered,” adds Hardy. ”It’s quickly in, quickly out, we’ll get through this. So we went from being tense to loose, and in the end, we were hitting each other just to get through the shots.”
Unsurprisingly, injuries were commonplace, with Hardy even managing to cause Marrero some damage. ”I put the whizzer on him, threw him down on the ground, got on top of him, and then, ‘Cut!’ And he went, ‘Dude, can you put my thumb back in?’ I went, ‘You what?’ And a trainer came over and went crack!!! He went, ‘Thanks, dude!’ What happened there? His thumb had popped out!” Hardy didn’t escape; when fighting Erik Apple, he cracked his ribs. ”He couldn’t pull his kicks,” the actor sighs. ”Bless him, he’s a champion. And his shins are very, very hard. He was pulling his kicks, but I had to hold onto his leg. He’d kick, I’d hold his leg, and then I’d punch him. But by the sixteenth take, it’s be…” Ouch. We get the picture.
Did Hardy and Edgerton ever spar together? ”We had a little bit of a wrestle here and there, but not really,” says the Australian. So did director Gavin O’Connor want to keep them apart? Hardy shakes his head. ”We were a team that worked together really, so it didn’t make sense that we were kept apart in some kind of wanky Method thing.” But that’s not to say that aggression that these actor-athletes had built up didn’t spill over on the set. Take the time Edgerton “unloaded” on Hardy in their fight scene. ”Gavin came up and said, ‘It just doesn’t look like you’re connecting!’ So I went, ‘Come on!’ grins Hardy. ”And I kneed you in the head!” Edgerton adds. ”You looked up at me and went, ‘Edgerton, you fuckin’ do that again!’”
It’s just the sort of honest admission that makes the 37-year-old Edgerton such a likable, down-to-earth interviewee. Put it down to his solid Australian upbringing, where he and Nash were raised by their mother whilst their father supported the family, first as a lawyer and later a property developer. ”My life was not a struggle at all, apart from little minor things,” he says. ”My life has been a very gentle song. It really has. I grew up in a lovely environment, with a great family and a mother and father who loved me very much. I have a brother who I hold very dear, and who is my best friend. I don’t really feel like I’ve ever had to struggle at all, except inside my head about various things. I feel very privileged in that regard.”
Learning his craft at Nepean Drama School in western Sydney, before gaining his breakout role as Will on TV’s The Secret Life of Us, you’d think that Edgerton has had it easy. But even he admits that success has its price. ”I feel like there’s been a lot of noise in my life,” he confesses. ”It’s funny, though. There are demons in my head, and I wonder where they come from. Even when everything is well-rounded in your life, you still…” He breaks off for a second, thinking. ”There are those scars that you get as a really young kid, where you interpret just the most minor little things as big tragic events…but there’s nothing really you can hang your hat on and go, ‘That’s why I have this problem because that happened to me.’”
If he seems a little lost in his own inner turmoil, Edgerton couldn’t be more different from Hardy. The only child of advertising copywriter and occasional playwright, Edward Hardy, and his artist wife Anne, living in the wealthy London suburb of Richmond, he was a teenage tearaway. Educated privately, Hardy rejected his privileged background, wrestling with issues of authority. Expelled from Reeds Boarding School for theft, by the time he was fifteen, Hardy was arrested, famously, in a stolen Mercedes with a gun. ”I was very lucky to be with a diplomat’s son,” he told one journalist. ”And if he wasn’t there, I couldn’t be there either, and if I couldn’t be there, then the gun wasn’t there. I just had to sign a form and walk away.”
Recalling his character in Warrior, who boasts self-destructive tendencies, Hardy almost threw away his life as it was getting underway. A promising stage career segued into an even more promising screen one. Winning small roles in Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down, Hardy followed them by playing the villain in 2002′s Star Trek: Nemesis. He calls it his “brief stint with the Americans, with Hollywood, and the movie industry.” Understandably, he was like a kid in a candy store. ”I was like, ‘This is it! Straight out of drama schook, here we go!’ But I had no idea of how to handle the industry, to interact with producers, executive producers, studios, even my fellow men! I was 24 — and punching way above my weight.”
But this doesn’t tell the whole story. According to Hardy, he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and low self-esteem. Moreover, he has a fiercely addictive personality, which drew him into a spiral of alcohol and drug dependency. In 2002, the year he was meant to go stellar with Star Trek, he was famously found slumped in a Soho alleyway — just yards away from where we are today — covered in his own vomit, with a crack pipe in his hand. At the time, he was married to Sarah Ward, a costume designer he’d wed just three weeks after meeting her. While their marriage lasted five years, it became one of the many casualties of Hardy’s addictions.
It’s why he’s delighted that his success is happening now. With upcoming roles in the acclaimed John le Carré adaptation Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; the McG-directed action-comedy, This Means War; and John Hillcoat’s Prohibition-era bootlegger tale, The Wettest County in the World, Hardy’s hot streak could power a blast furnace.
“I’m glad that it’s happening now, because I was white-knuckling when I was younger,” he explains. ”There are people who are more susceptible and less susceptible to stimulus. I was very reactionary. I don’t have a lot of skin. I’ve learnt as I grow older — I’m 34 now — to be less ‘jumping’ at everything.” Warming to the theme, he continues, seemingly unconcerned that he’s getting personal in front of publicists. ”It’s taken ten years, being someone’s dad [he has a three-year-old son, Louis, with former girlfriend, assistant director Rachael Speed], being divorced, going to rehab, having mortgages, playing different characters, doing theatre, waiting, and then it not happening. Then doing rather well at something, enjoying my character work, but it not being a huge amount of money.” Ego, it seems, has been checked in at the door. Like on Inception, Christopher Nolan’s dream-based thriller that helped him win a BAFTA Rising Star award. ”It was like, ‘How can I help and be a part of this?’ Rather than, ‘I must impress everyone!’ That’s what it was like when I was 24…actually up until a couple of years ago.”
When it comes to fame, Edgerton’s rise has been more gradual, blending solid homegrown films like The Hard Word and Ned Kelly with small roles in the occasional Hollywood blockbuster (everything from King Arthur to the Star Wars prequels). He’s happy that it gave him time to acclimatise. ”Maybe I wouldn’t have been as prepared for it in my twenties,” he says. ”I might have been a bit more of a messed up kid about it. I don’t know how messed up. Look, I definitely feel now — after a series of fits and starts, stumbling and falling and having some moments where I thought the career was going to progress and then it didn’t — that it teaches you not to have expectations. It teaches you not to think that this job is going to be the thing that makes me extra special.”
Now dividing his time between Los Angeles and Australia, like Hardy, Edgerton’s international reputation is growing rapidly. He’s also currently in cinemas in The Thing, thee prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter horror classic, in which he promises that his chopper pilot is “cut from the same cloth” as the Kurt Russell character from the original. Then comes The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann’s version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of 1920s decadence, in which Edgerton plays Tom Buchanan. ”You need a director who can find a visual poetry that’s going to match Fitzgerald’s descriptive language,” the actor notes. ”Baz is a great fit for that, when you look at Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, and what he can do.”
Not to be outdone, Hardy is set next year to resurrect George Miller’s Mad Max franchise, taking over the role once occupied by Mel Gibson. So what drew him to that? ”Well, it’s Mad Max, isn’t it? It’s the V8 Interceptor. It’s Mel Gibson. It’s wicked. And I’m very grateful and happy to be part of that. George Miller is a very diligent, quiet, introspective, kind, gentle, psychoanalytical man. So when you imagine doing something which is innately as epic, dark, and slightly Greek tragedy, but at the same time ultimately a big action piece, with somebody like that, the alchemy seems like it might be quite exciting. That’s my draw for it.”
The interview draws to a close, and P-NuT rises to his full height, casting a huge shadow over the Blackberry-tapping publicists. The two warriors, meanwhile, have more press to do, while Hardy has the Batman set and Christopher Nolan to return to. ”He knows what he wants,” he says of Nolan. ”He’s very clear. My job is like being a Labrador with a tennis ball. He’ll throw it, and I’ll go get it. Then I go home.”
Clearly amused, Edgerton cracks a smile; from Raging Bull to Labrador — that’s quite a smackdown.
Sins of the Father
Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy are undoubtedly the stars of Warrior, but Nick Nolte is just as important to the film’s family dynamic as their compromised, recovering alcoholic father.
Nick Nolte is back in form playing a grizzled alcoholic in Warrior. The veteran actor once held sway in Hollywood after first gaining notice in TV’s Rich Man, Poor Man, and then achieving superstar status with The Deep, Who’ll Stop the Rain, 48 Hours, Under Fire, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills, culminating in his award-winning role in The Prince of Tides. Ready to take up that mantle is Tom Hardy, who plays his battling son in the film. ”Tom was brilliant,” Nolte tells FILMINK. ”We worked really well together. He’s a very charismatic, unique young actor, and he’s going right to the top. He was fascinated with Marlon Brando, and when I told him I knew Marlon, he wanted to know everything that I knew about him.”
Playing someone with an addiction not unlike his own, was that cathartic for him? ”Very cathartic,” Nolte replies. ”The catharsis really kicks in when you see the film in its entirety. I couldn’t sit through it. I had to leave when the old man gets to the arena. I didn’t want the lights to come up and have everyone see the actor with slobbering tears running down my face. So I had to get out.”
On Warrior, Nolte found himself surrounded by exciting young actors, a similar situation to that he experienced on the WWII epic, The Thin Red Line, directed by the enigmatic Terrence Malick. ”Most of the young actors came up to me and said, ‘I’ve shot four scenes, and Terry hasn’t shot the end of the scenes.’ So I watched. Terry was watching the sun. When it got into golden light, he would say, ‘Let’s stop this and go back and revisit scene 95.’ He wanted to shoot the whole film in golden light, which means that you only get to shoot for a couple of hours a day, and the studio wasn’t going to let him do that. Then there was the meeting that the actors wanted to have. He asked me to attend. They were complaining about not having enough of this, and not enough of that. Terry listened to all this. He said, ‘Well, fellas, you’re right. Let’s go out and do that.’ It so disarmed them that they didn’t know what to say. Privately, he said to me, ‘I’m going to change the shooting. Are you ready to just fly? We’re going to take a handheld camera and go right through your scenes. You just scream at everybody.’ it perked everything up. Robert Altman later said to me, ‘How did you capture that WWII mentality of those men?’ Terrence Malick is one of those geniuses. He’s great to work with.”
For Joel Edgerton, the ascension to international success has been a slow and steady one, as opposed to a meteoric rise.
“Star Wars opened a bunch of doors for me, but I’ve never gotten anything too easily,” Joel Edgerton told FILMINK in 2006. ”The concept that you go and do one American film, and then there’s a buzz around you and you suddenly get elevated to squillion dollar pay packets in big budget films…well, that’s never happened to me. It has a lot to do with choices that you do make and the amount of time that you spend in LA. After King Arthur, for example, I pretty much had ten months out. I didn’t really go to LA to field the opportunities. Then I went back and did a reading with [director] Mia Goldman for a $700,000 film [Open Window], because my agent knows that’s the kind of thing that I’m interested in. With those scripts, you could quite easily never see them — most agents just want to get you a superhero movie.”
Despite having made inroads internationally, Edgerton much prefers to live and work in Australia, where he co-wrote the 2008 thriller, The Square (which was directed by his brother, Nash), as well as a number of well-received short films. ”I want to live here,” the actor told FILMINK upon that film’s release. ”The reason that I go overseas is that there isn’t enough work here. It would be really good to change all that. I know we can’t change that on our own, but we can create our own stuff.”
Ever humble, Edgerton never hesitates when it comes to looking at his career as a whole. ”I’m incredibly fortunate,” says the 37-year-old, currently co-writing a follow up to The Square with his brother. ”It’s easy to look at the small problems in your life and get all wound up. Every now and then, you have to stand back and look at everything. When it comes to my work, I seriously would have died to be in the position that I’m in right now when I was younger. When I was at drama school, I had my sights set on working in the theatre. The idea of being in a film felt so far away. I feel like I’ve earned it, but at the same time, a lot of luck comes into play. There are so many amazingly talented people out there that don’t get a run of luck.”
And does he have an opinion on why so many Aussies are getting work in Hollywood? ”I have a theory,” Edgerton told FILMINK in 2003. ”On a business level, there are nineteen million people in Australia who could go to the movies. Doesn’t it make sense to put an Australian actor in the odd studio film here and there to help increase the box office takings down under? I think so. The plus for them is that we’re a bunch of good actors…and we’re good at swapping accents too. Just a theory…”
Though just seeing release now, Warrior was actually filmed before Christopher Nolan’s hit thriller Inception, the film that introduced the international audience at large to the rough and tumble charms of Tom Hardy.
“When Chris called me, I was in Pittsburgh doing Warrior,” Hardy told FILMINK in 2010. ”I was desperate to be in any other film with nice people who didn’t beat me up. And Chris said, ‘Tom, can you ski?’ I went silent because I knew that if I didn’t answer this question correctly, I may never work with Chris Nolan again. I cannot ski to save my life! With that silence, I thought that honesty was the best policy. Right? At least I was honest, so if I threw it away and didn’t get the job, it was okay. ’No, I can’t ski,’ I thought. He goes, ‘All right then, fine.’ But then, when we were shooting, he says, ‘You lied to me! You said you could ski!’ And I said, ‘I did not! I was silent!’ He goes, ‘And in that silence, I knew that was the silence of a man who’s considering telling me that he could ski.’ Which I was! But I did ski in the end, and it was all good.”
It was more than good. Coming soon after his broiling, magisterial turn in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson, Inception quickly established Hardy as a big time star on the rise. Nolan didn’t hesitate in returning to Hardy when he needed an appropriately intimidating actor to play the brutal villain, Bane, in his third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. While doing press for Inception, Hardy couldn’t speak highly enough of his director. ”He’s like the admiral of a fleet,” the actor enthuses. ”He’s got this entire war going on, and in the meantime, he’s chatting to you about what happened last week on TV. It’s just an incredibly relaxed environment to work in, which is so unusual. It’s a very admirable quality, which I’ve never seen in anybody. For me, Inception was a one in a billion opportunity.”
Like many in the film’s substantial audience, however, Hardy was a little confused by Inception. ”I’m not going to lie to you,” he confided to FILMINK. ”I had to read the script about thirty times. It was far too complex for me! I relied entirely on Chris to walk me through the whole thing. I’d go up to Chris and ask him what was going on, and then I’d get back to work and mingle. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process, even though it was very complicated.”
Thanks to Charlidos for the scans!