Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gavin O'Connor Talks - Warrior

Over the course of fall KCET will be hosting a Cinema Series at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, California. Nine special nights showcasing eight new movies before their theatrical release along with one classic Johnny Mercer scored film. Each screening will also include a Q&A immediately following the film with actors and filmmakers hosted by film critic Pete Hammond. The first film of the series was "Warrior," a drama that follows to estranged brothers that are on completely different paths but heading for the same destination. Director/screenwriter Gavin O'Connor and co-screenwriter Anthony Tambakis talked about the MMA drama after the film in a interesting Q&A. Take a look at the highlights below...

Director Gavin O'Connor knew how important it was that the audience is invested in the main characters. If they are not, the movie will simply not work. One way director and screenwriter said he tried to combat this was creating a story that was "grounded in truth." He wanted to create characters that the audience would be able to easily relate with and their struggles. The director also felt it was extremely important that the audience does not recognize the talent in the film. "The studio tried and tried to force talent" but from the get go Gavin O'Connor was sure he wanted two actors who were not mainstream. His choices were Tom Hardy (Bronson, RocknRolla, Inception) and Joel Edgerton (Kinky Boots, Animal Kingdom).

Another actor the studio did not want to take a risk on was Nick Nolte in the role of Paddy Conlon. Gavin told the crowd that the studio would try repeatedly to push other actors into the role but he never budged. He said, "I wrote the part for him. He was always going to play Paddy." Gavin said he needed a "feral man. Somebody that had physicality." Unlike with the leads of the film, O'Connor wanted his audience to have the real life background of Nolte going in. He knew that personal things in Nick's life would work in creating backstory and definition to his character. He stressed that for Nolte this waiting game with the studio was nothing but "a war of nerves and impatience."

While "Warrior" revolves around MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) the film is very much a focused on telling the story of estrangement between two brothers and their father, violence just so happens to be the launchpad. Gavin O'Connor said he wanted everything, "grounded in reality." He wanted to make sure that every move, grapple, punch, kick or takedown in the film had been done before and was documented. Gavin said he watched hours and hours of MMA footage to find the right mixture of moves. He went as far as to say, "anything you will see on screen is something I needed to have seen first." Gavin also mentioned that all the fighting was choreographed and then deconstructed. He said, "It has to be messy otherwise it doesn't look real."

As far as making the fighting look real, "Warrior" does exactly that. Both Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy went through strenuous training in order to get in shape and these guys are in the thick of it for most of the shooting schedule. Both actors came to the roles with background knowledge (Joel Edgerton has a black belt in karate) but Gavin O'Connor stressed what they had to do physically in order to get ready. The two had rigorous workouts with the top MMA trainers. Gavin O'Connor talked briefly about shooting schedule with so many fighting sequences to film and said he tried to "give the actors breaks." He also mentioned that he would have a signal with Joel Edgerton for when he needed time. The shoot didn't go without injury either, Joel Edgerton tore his MCL while Tom Hardy broke a few ribs, his hand, and a toe. Gavin also mentioned that they used real fighters throughout the film. By doing this the production team was fighters that needed to become actors. "They needed to learn to pull punches when they are trained to punch through things," co-writer Anthony Tambakis said.

One final point both Gavin O'Connor and Anthony Tambakis were sure to stress is that while "Warrior" may not appeal to all demographics, it is a film you can understand on a human level and not just the violence. To their credit, they are completely right. While some of the film may come across a bit piled on, the overall message works. Stay tuned for my full review. "Warrior" releases Friday, September 8th.