Hollywood Enters the Cage
Posted By MJ On August 26, 2011 @ 11:34 am In Cover Stories,Culture
Here’s a bit of wisdom from the mixed martial arts film Warrior, a gritty tale of estranged brothers — one an ex-Marine, the other a public-school teacher — eking out lives in Pittsburgh: The best therapy sometimes means beating the crap out of somebody. Separately, the brothers sign up for an MMA tournament, and, as they head toward a showdown in the final, they punch, kick, and wrestle their issues into submission. Thanks to J.J. Perry, the film’s fight choreographer and a tae kwon do black belt, the fighting scenes are rendered with arresting authenticity. “The director wanted the film to be organic, free of any of that Hollywood flash,” Perry says. “Our mantra was, ‘If it doesn’t work in real life, don’t do it.’”
Over two months, Perry and a group of coaches and athletes from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the most prominent professional MMA league in the U.S., transformed the British-born Tom Hardy (of Inception) and the Australian-born and relatively unknown Joel Edgerton into near-legitimate fighters. Each actor gained some 20 pounds and endured crippling workouts with a cadre of MMA contenders that included Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Erik “Bad” Apple. They also trained with Kurt Angle, who won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1996 Olympic Games.
“Arms were getting hurt, legs were getting hurt, feelings were getting hurt,” Perry says. “We had them getting fed every three hours — a ton of protein — and we had weights on set to get them pumped.” In the movie, every punch and kick that lands below the neck is real, absorbed by the actors. And, while filming a pivotal fight scene, Edgerton even tore a ligament in his knee.
This verisimilitude lends Warrior, which also stars Nick Nolte as the brothers’ alcoholic father, a certain credibility and power. Other recent treatments of mixed martial arts, such as Fighting and Never Back Down, were largely ignored by fans because they exaggerated the sport’s maneuvers, delivering hyper-stylized, woefully unrealistic bouts.
Perry contends that the allure of mixed martial arts — and, in turn, Warrior — can be found in its complexity. “In boxing, you only have to worry about the right and the left,” he says. “But in MMA, you better be thinking about the right, the left, the right elbow, the left elbow, the right leg, the left leg, and the knees. There’s nowhere to hide.” With a smirk, he adds, “That’s taking a thespian out of his element, bro.”
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