Warrior - Joel Edgerton interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
JOEL Edgerton talks about some of the physical challenges of making Warrior, including picking up a knee injury and working with real-life fighters.
He also talks about working with Nick Nolte and how he goes about picking his roles…
Q. I thought Warrior was a terrific film…
Joel Edgerton: Did you? Great! It’s an interesting movie because for every reason that it works, there’s also an argument why it shouldn’t. You know because of the two brothers thing and it’s so kind of Hollywood on one level, yet it’s treated so well that it earns all of those, what could be perceived as clichés – the alcoholic father who favoured one brother… all that stuff, it could have gone so south. And yet it goes so far north.
Q. You were a black belt in karate once…
Joel Edgerton: I was. But I’m 37. I had a black belt by the time I was 16 and I quit when I was 17. I’d say I was proficient but I never really entered tournaments. I think I was in two tournaments but I never really liked the actual [fighting]. I liked the discipline and I liked the cool aspect of wearing a gi and saying that I was a black belt. I think there was a fair amount of vanity wrapped up in it, but I never really saw myself as a fighter. In fact, I’ll walk away from a fight faster than I’ll enter one. I’ve only ever had one, what I’d call proper fight in my life, when I was in school. And I’m hoping no one comes up to me after this movie and decides that they want to beat up Brendan Conlon [his character] just for the tickets they can have on themselves [laughs].
Q. So how rigorous was the training?
Joel Edgerton: It was incredibly rigorous. I mean, I’ve never worked that hard in my life. I hope I will again but it could easily be my toughest challenge because apart from all the mental challenge and the physical exhaustion that goes with making movies anyway, because of the amount of hours you spend, trying to balance two things – which were staying in peak physical condition while also dedicating yourself to a 13-hour day of shooting – it’s almost like there’s not enough hours in the day to keep those things afloat. Thankfully, this movie is two separate protagonists, so while Tommy [Hardy] was shooting I was hitting a bag and pushing weights, and while I was shooting he was doing the other thing. But Gavin [O’Connor, director] wanted this film to be and feel authentic… that every time you saw us in the cage it was actually us, apart from a few moments when I’m thrown on my back by Koba and all that. The stunt guys need such a shout out… my stunt guy, Sam Hargrave, and JJ Perry and Fernando Chien. They really taught us to look like we could fight. And every step of the way adjusted us and corrected us so that we could really be in there.
Gavin wanted it to be so authentic that he made us go to Pittsburgh two months early. And I think that’s one of two reasons why Tom and I are in this movie: maybe if you’d gotten two super famous guys, they would be like: “Yeah, thanks for the job, I’ll see you on the Friday and we’ll start shooting on the Monday!” Gavin needed two guys who’d saddle up for the training and we were both up for it. So, we got there two months early and just went from 7am until 3pm every day, training, training, training, eating f**king chicken and broccoli and stuff. The other reason I think he wanted Tom and I was because he also wanted two guys who didn’t have baggage – two guys that the audience could see as new people, in a way, that they could follow on this journey. And he saw different qualities in both of us that suited each character.
Q. The production notes mention an injury to your right knee. How close were you to having to pull out?
Joel Edgerton: Hugely. We were set to do a four week block of shooting in the stadium, which meant shooting all the fights and all of the back stage dressing room stuff. Now, even that was ambitious trying to fit all of that into such a short space of time. A week into that, and I’d only done a quarter of my fighting by that point, I got thrown and I tore… did like a grade three tear on my MCL [medical collateral ligament]. We didn’t know at the time whether it would need an operation. It turned out I could just do rehabilitation. So, I got in a pool with a bunch of old ladies down at the rehabilitation centre. But I had to keep training my upper body while not being able to use my legs. But for insurance reasons, I wasn’t able to throw a punch for six weeks.
So, even if I could stand up and fight and shoot from the waist up, they wouldn’t let me do it. So, for six weeks I just did dressing room scenes and normal acting scenes. And then they had to hire that stadium again six weeks later and I had to shoot all my fights on a very delicate knee. But look, f**k, that’s what we signed up for and Gavin wanted us to suck it up. Actors… we tend to cry a little bit and we never do anything remotely tough. We tend to kind of wave our own flag a little bit too much. But when you’re working with real fighters, you see that these guys will… this guy recently, [Conor] Haen, got his arm broken halfway through a fight and he was punching with his good arm. And then when he wanted to punch with two arms, he would hold his hands together and do this [motions] and he won the fight. So, me kind of having a little cry over a torn MCL wasn’t going to be in the spirit of what we were making.
Q. Did it help to have real fighters on-set and playing opponents, especially Kurt Angle, who plays Koba, who is an Olympic Gold medal winning wrestler anyway? Is it at all intimidating? Do you pray that they’ve done their work well enough that he’s not going to hurt you as well?
Joel Edgerton: Yeah, and Kurt Angle is a tough guy and him pulling his punches probably has the same kind of weight behind it as I would have throwing the hardest punch I could throw. These guys are used to hitting and following through, so it’s a hard thing for them to adjust to pull a punch. So, there’s that aspect. But the aspect that I wasn’t prepared for is that I realised I was nervous about hurting them… not because I was tough but because in the choreography I do a lot of jiu jitsu and I have to put someone like Anthony Johnson in an arm bar and look like I was about to break his shoulder. Now, Anthony had a fight coming up in three months and if I really broke his shoulder then I ruin his chance to make a livelihood and I got nervous about that… and also that if I did that his good arm was going to come around and knock me out [laughs].
Q. Fighting aside, you also get to have a terrific verbal sparring match with veteran actor Nick Nolte. How was that for you?
Joel Edgerton: Oh man. You know, every now and then you get a chance to work with really good actors and if you’re lucky you do that every time you work. But on this I feel like I got to work with a lot of great actors. Jennifer [Morrison] and Frank [Grillo] and all of them… but I feel like I got to work with someone new and fantastic in Tom and a real Hollywood legend in Nick, who yet again proved that he’s just a great actor. I think he slipped himself inside out and really kind of opened his heart for this role, in particular. So, it has a bit of a resonance with his very public moments.
Q. So, how do you go about choosing roles in terms of where it puts you? I mean, you seem to travel between LA and Australia quite a bit. You have The Great Gatsby next, you did Animal Kingdom, and you’ve done The Thing…
Joel Edgerton: Well, in the past it was always a real crapshoot in terms of the luck of the draw… you know, whatever came my way. In the beginning, I think you do everything you can do and then you hit that middle zone where if you’re lucky you have that little bit of choice but it’s more a case of just saying ‘no’ to the occasional thing and hoping that the right things come along.
Now, thanks to movies like Warrior I’m in that different zone now where choice is the real key. I just look for really good stories, really good scripts and I look for an experience that’s different from the last perhaps. And I just look to work with good people on good stories. I’m in a position where money is really not that big a deal. I mean, I love money as much as the next person but the real lure in this business sometimes, for some people, is a big cheque. I think that’s often compensation for lack of quality. But I think you’ve just got to pick the work above the cosmetics.
Warrior is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 View photos
Watch the trailer: