The underdog sports movie 'Warrior,' opening this weekend, tells the story of two brothers (played by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) that must confront their troubled family history, all while both men are competing for a desperately needed cash prize in a mixed martial arts tournament. In addition to tough discussions about their feelings, the threat of bone-shattering hits and painful submission holds looms over the heads of the two men.
One of the biggest obstacles standing in the brothers' way is Koba, the undefeated MMA champion. As if the character of Koba wasn't intimidating enough, the man behind the role is Kurt Angle, a gold medalist for amateur wrestling in the 1996 Olympics, who then moved on to the larger-than-life world of pro wrestling -- main-eventing WrestleMania against current UFC beast Brock Lesnar -- and is now is trying his hand at the (relatively safe) job of Hollywod actor.
Moviefone spoke with Angle about 'Warrior''s grueling training schedule, why the movie is better than 'Rocky' and what would happen if the stars of the film switched careers with Lesnar.
Moviefone: There's been a lot of movies covering the world of mixed martial arts, but the sport hasn't had its 'Rocky' yet. Do you think 'Warrior' could be that?
Kurt Angle: I believe it will be. Going to the premiere at the Marine base down at San Diego Comic-Con, I was very taken aback; it was just... wow. I must've cried four different times. I was very proud to be part of the movie and Gavin O'Connor, the director, and Greg O'Connor, the producer, did a tremendous job, as did J.J. Perry, the stunt coordinator. Honestly, I think it is the best fight movie, as far as realism.
As a professional competitor, how would you describe the intensity of the fight scenes, compared to classics like 'Rocky' or 'Raging Bull'?
In boxing, all you hear are the punches. The first fight when Tom Hardy slams that guy down in that fight club and the impact of the slam, the whole crowd just went "wow" and you heard the cheers. It was like it was a real fight! I don't think it's like 'Rocky'; that'll always be the greatest movie ever but you have to admit, when Apollo Creed beat the crap out of him, the ref would've stopped him probably twenty-five different times. In 'Warrior' it was very real to the sport of MMA. And that's what I liked about it.
What kind of fight training did the cast need?
They required three months of MMA training. I can tell you Gavin O'Connor really pushes you to work when you're in there. You do twelve hour days in the octagon, but it was well worth it -- I had different people who trained St-Pierre showing me different techniques. It was a lot of fun and if I wanted to go into MMA, I learned a lot just from that movie alone.
They searched about fifty different people for the part of Koba. And they were looking for a Fedor Emelianenko type, a guy with no emotion. Who he was and the power he brought to MMA a few years ago, they wanted that type of character, and they wanted that type of guy -- a guy with a wrestling background. I just happened to be an Olympic gold medalist and they wanted the movie to have an Olympic gold medalist in Russia. It was very ironic.
In pro wrestling, you've always played an all-American superhero and now you're playing the Russian bad guy.
I was the Russian "bad guy," but in the movie the people come to see Koba, they don't come to the brothers. They come to see the best fighter in the world, Koba's first time in the United States to fight. I thought I was gonna be like Dolph Lundgren of 'Rocky IV' so when I come out of the entrance, every fan is cheering my name and it's like, "wait a minute, this [movie] is a different animal." This is MMA, they want to see the undefeated guy. It was a different twist to it. It wasn't the Cold War thing.
What kind of challenges do you encounter filming a fight scene, that you don't get in a real match?
To me it was all in the same. The only thing I had to turn off was my emotion. In pro wrestling, you have to show emotion in order to get emotion from the fans. In 'Warrior' I had to focus on one guy and not worry about the crowd. But it brought me back to the way I was in amateur wrestling in the Olympics, I had to focus on one guy.
A lot of these fighters that are in the movie are really in UFC and MMA and they all did a tremendous job. I come from both worlds, the world of amateur wrestling and the world of pro wrestling, which is entertainment, so I know how to do the choreography. The hard part is when you're a fighter and you go by instinct and by reaction and then they're telling you exactly what you have to do. When you're bobbing, when they want you to weave and you're really not supposed to do that, you have to turn your instincts off. I thought the fighters did a really great job.
If you were a Hollywood producer and you cast Brock Lesnar in a movie, what kind of role would it be?
Oh my god, just look at him, 300 pounds, 6-foot-3. He's a perfect man-eater. I would have him be what Dolph Lundgren is in 'Rocky.' He has that athletic ability. you wouldn't believe how athletic Brock is. He would've made the NFL if he stuck with it. He just didn't want to go to Europe. Brock could do anything he wants, he's that good. He can play basketball, he can play football, he can wrestle, he can fight. He's just that type of kid, he has a god-given gift. No matter if he wins or loses, there isn't an athlete like him, not his size.
Now that you've done both worlds and now that you've trained with Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, how well do you think they would fare in the world of competitive fighting?
[Laughs] As much as I love them and they're my good friends and I respect them and I think they're both going to be up for Academy Awards, they wouldn't last a minute in MMA. No way!
Tom Hardy would not quit eating. They had to keep him on a diet because he kept eating and gaining weight. They'd try to keep his weight down, he was hilarious. Joel was just terrified of me. There were stunt doubles that I really threw around quite a bit, but Joel did all of his scenes. I told Joel I would take care of him, and didn't do it as hard. But he suffered a knee injury, he tore his MCL partially. And then Tom got the flu. Things were pushed back and I felt really bad for those guys cause they were working both sides -- acting and the fighting -- and god bless them, they came through, but it wasn't without some setbacks. They did a tremendous job; as far as fighting, they learned the techniques well. But naw, I wouldn't gamble on those guys getting in the octagon any time soon.