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A 'Warrior' Weekend

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There are two films opening tomorrow that are reaching for the same demographic—young males—and the star-laden killer virus flick “Contagion” appears to be gathering more interest. I have no hesitation in saying the other film, the Mixed Martial Arts movie “Warrior,” is the one you shouldn't let slip by.

You can check out this week’s cover story on “Warrior” stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, two actors who were virtual unknowns when they shot the film over two years ago but are now poised to both be The Next Big Thing ™ in Hollywood. In “Warrior,” they play estranged brothers Tommy and Brendan Conlon, who end up facing off in an MMA winner-takes-all competition. If this sounds clichéd or a redo of “Rocky,” you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Director and co-writer Gavin O’Connor has crafted a tense family drama that is all too timely in these difficult financial times, with fully realized, three-dimensional characters all around. Even Jennifer Morrison, who plays Edgerton’s wife, isn’t your typical “girl in a fight movie” role, but an understanding, strong female presence. Look for Nick Nolte to score an Oscar nomination for his work as the father of Hardy and Edgerton, a beautiful, searing performance that for my money, is the one to beat.

If you want to know more about the making of the film after seeing it and reading the cover story, I have some great bits from O’Connor, Morrison, and Nolte after the jump. Read on!

Tom Hardy wanted the role of Tommy Conlon so badly, he showed up at director Gavin O'Connor's house...and stayed for five days. Hardy admits he was out of shape and wouldn't look good on tape. But O'Connor knew Hardy was the man for the role.

Gavin O'Connor: He’d told me was a terrible auditioner. So we were going to spend the day together, then I’d shoot it and we’d just keep doing it all day until we got it right, because the studio wanted to see something on tape. He ended up staying for five days. Every time the camera would roll, he just couldn’t do it, it was really weird. So his audition tape was horrible, which didn’t help my cause. I was like, "You’re killing me right now, I’m trying to get you in this movie!" But I remember being at dinner with him one night and looking at him and thinking, "This dude’s a fucking movie star. You just got to shoot him right, light him right, but he’s a movie star."

In the original script, Jennifer Morrison's character, Tess, had had a heart transplant that put a financial strain on the family. O'Connor let her know the script would be changing, and eventually it was the character of her daughter who had the heart problem. O'Connor let her know that he was very open to collaborating throughout shooting.

O'Connor: When Jennifer came into audition, she was the third girl on the first day of casting that part. We had other days set up to cast the part of Tess. But she walked in and I’ve never done this before but when she left I said ot the CD, "Okay, we can stop. We’re done. I’ll go through the rest of the day here because I have to, but the girl who just walked out the door is playing Tess. Done."

I had never seen her work, I had no idea who she was. I had dinner with her a couple of nights later. I said, "Trust me, it’s going to change. Your part is the one part that’s a little bit in flux. But I promise you one thing, we’re going to dramatize this marriage and you’re going to have meat on the bone. You won’t just be a disposable wife who doesn’t mean anything in the movie." And she was great. She came in and we started rehearsing and workshopping and changing things and she embraced all these changes. The movie is called 'Warrior,' but it has nothing to do with the people in the cage. Jennifer’s character is as much a warrior as anyone else.

Jennifer Morrison: I did really relate to this character, from day one, and through all the versions of the script. I related to the idea of this woman who was so conflicted about wanting to support her husband and wanting to support what he wanted and understanding that he had good intentions of why he wanted to do it...and also being terrified of what he wanted to do and loving him so much that she wasn’t willing to see him be hurt or to lose him over it. I definitely related to that, personally.

O'Connor had written the role of Paddy Conlon, Tommy and Brendan's father, with Nick Nolte in mind. Paddy is a recovering alcoholic, as is Nolte. Did he hesitate at playing a character he shared demons with?

Nick Nolte: No, I embraced it. Because I have a drunk driving record and I have not been silent about my own addictions, it was a perfect vehicle. I understand addictions, I understand how destructive they are and how difficult they are to break. It’s usually because you don’t know any better. I was 48 before I got sober. It was a quite frightening experience, when you catch on to yourself and you really know you got a problem. It’s kind of scary. Because you know it’s got to change, but you don’t have the slightest idea how to do it.

Though "Warrior" is just now hitting theaters, the stars of the film are seeing their careers on the rise. Do they credit the buzz on "Warrior" with the surge in their careers?

Morrison: I’m sure that’s part of it. You read a script you’re really moved by and you see all the puzzle pieces you know are right—Joel and Tom starring, Gavin O'Connor directing, Anthony Tambakis writing—sometimes it can still fall apart, but at least you’re betting on good cards. It was such an incredible, creative experience for me that you grow as a person and as a performer when you have those milestone experiences. It made me better. And going from there, no one saw any of that footage for at least a year, people are just now seeing it, so I don’t know how much the actual performances helped us. But from my perspective, having been a part of something I felt so passionate about also gave me the confidence to go after finding that experience again.

--Jenelle Riley

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