Entertainment & Arts

Can Warrior pack a punch in the UK?

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton in Warrior
Image caption Warrior stars Tom Hardy (left) and Joel Edgerton (right) as estranged brothers

Tom Hardy's latest film is set in the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Can a story involved with the popular US sport also be a success in the UK?

The world of MMA is relatively unknown to British audiences, unless you happen to watch sports channels in the middle of the night.

The full contact combat sport, which is hugely popular in the US, combines a mixture of fighting disciplines including boxing, wrestling, jiu jitsu and kickboxing - all conducted in an octagon cage with just fingerless gloves for protection.

It is against this backdrop that British actor Tom Hardy's latest film, Warrior, is set.

The Inception star plays Tommy Conlon, an Iraq war veteran and wrestling prodigy who returns home and enlists the help of his estranged father (played by Nick Nolte) to train him to compete in an MMA tournament which carries a $5m (£3.2m) prize.

Image caption Nick Nolte also stars in the film as Tommy and Brendan's father, Paddy

Australian actor Joel Edgerton stars as Tommy's older, estranged brother Brendan - a fighter-turned physics teacher who resorts to back street fights to help pay the bills.

But when he is fired and the bank threatens to repossess his home, he too enters the tournament to support his family, forcing him to confront his brother in the cage.

Tough regime

To prepare for the film, Hardy and Edgerton were both put in a gruelling 10-week, full-time fight camp to bulk up.

"In the beginning stages we learnt lots of skills together, lots of warm up stuff and kick boxing," says Edgerton, who already had a black belt in karate and put on almost 20lbs of muscle for his role.

"As our fighting styles were different in the film, I would then concentrate more on jiu-jitsu and Tom would do striking."

Hardy's training regime and strict high-protein diet saw him put on 28lbs of muscle.

It's not the first time the actor has had to bulk up for a role - he also sported a bigger frame for his part as Charles Bronson in the 2009 film about the notorious criminal.

And he has put on even more muscle to play the villainous Bane in the forthcoming Batman film.

"With Charlie Bronson it was enough to do a few press-ups, lift [my trainer] Pnut up and down the stairs, play some Xbox, eat lots of pizza and ice cream, shave my head and grow a moustache," says Hardy.

"But Tommy has technique which he has trained for hours refining, so the body is going to require a specific make up," he says, referring to his hours of weightlifting and boxing training.

"And there's a certain amount of illusion - his presence is also created with violence, expedience and necessity."

To ensure the sport's authenticity in the film, director Gavin O'Connor approached MMA trainer Greg Jackson to be a technical adviser and ensure every detail was recreated.

"The guy who plays the referee in the film is a real referee and the guys holding the cameras around the cage really do that for a living," says Edgerton.

"That authentic world was important for all of us to give the sport the respect and credit it deserves."

'Different world'

Both actors also faced real fighters while filming, including Olympic champion wrestler Kurt Angle, and suffered numerous injuries.

Image caption Real fighters appear in the film including Olympic champion wrestler Kurt Angle

Hardy sustained a torn ligament, broken foot and a cracked rib and Edgerton came away with a serious knee injury which jeopardised the entire filming schedule.

And although both actors did not consider themselves fans of MMA before they took on their roles, they have since made friends with some fighters and now see the sport in a different light.

"There's a real sense of fighting and destruction in our DNA that we don't get in touch with," says Edgerton.

"And this is a sport that allows us to catch a glimpse of that in a controlled but exciting environment."

Family drama

The film has been described by critics as Raging Bull meets Rocky, but as it is set within the world of MMA, could it hinder its chances of success in the UK?

"I'm not sure how it will play actually," says Hardy. "It's obviously a boutique kind of movie in one way, but I think it will be a word of mouth film.

"It will be very interesting to see how it's received because ultimately people will look at it and say: 'It's a fight movie, I'm not really that interested'."

Image caption Nick Nolte's performance as an alcoholic in need of redemption has been received well by critics

But both actors maintain the film is essentially a family drama - just set against the backdrop of MMA.

"What I love about the film is that Tommy is a dark character with a glimpse of light that makes us see he's not a bad guy, he's just got stuff going on," says Edgerton.

"And Brendan is a guy who's supposed to be open-hearted and good but he's also got his own darkness in him."

Central to the movie is also the brothers' relationship with their estranged alcoholic father, Paddy, played by Nick Nolte.

The role was specifically written for the actor as O'Connor wanted to "remind everyone what he's capable of".

"There is a 'red car and a blue car have a race' part which is the Rocky side of it," says Hardy. "But ultimately the film's dynamic is not one of a MMA movie - it's a family dynamic.

"Interestingly, when this film was tested in America it scored very highly with women as a chick flick."

So Warrior is a chick flick with violence? "Funnily enough, a little bit," he says.

Warrior is on general release in the UK from 21 September.

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