The Iron Claw is the true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s. Starring Zac Efron the film required many wrestling scenes and the four actors who played the brothers had to get match fit for the gruelling shoot
“It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done physically,” Zac Efron says. “I started one of the most rigorous training and diet programs that I’ve ever been on in my entire life. It was very tough. But it was ultimately a really big insight for me into who Kevin was — just the dedication that he was willing to put into his physicality, into wrestling, and into his body, the way that he strove for perfection.”
Writer- director Sean Durkin, though, was loose with his expectations around the actors’ physiques and getting match fit. “Everyone did their own regimens, and I was in touch with each of them or their trainers,” he says. “I just said from the beginning, look, no one needs to be a certain thing for this. The whole point of the movie is not pushing people beyond their means.” Still, even on set, the cast was often in non-stop mode. “What was wild is we would try to get into the gym every day — and we were in the gym most days — but then on set, Zac would have a tent with equipment, and Harris and I would have equipment by the trailers,” co-star Jeremy Allen White recalls. “So it was kind of like we would go from working out, to working out, to acting, to working out. It was just a lot of consistency.”
Before arriving on set, the actors first got together to train and get match fit with Chavo Guerrero, a professional wrestler and the film’s wrestling coordinator, to choreograph and rehearse the action scenes that would appear in the film. The training camp of sorts became an intense period of bonding among the four Von Erich boys, laying the groundwork for the chemistry they’d eventually find on-screen. “When you do martial arts with someone or you have to do theatre with someone and you have to be quite physical with them, there’s an element of trust and eye contact,” Harris Dickinson swho plays David Von Erich says. “You very quickly get over those social boundaries that are often in place and that sometimes take you longer to get to know someone. So that happened really fast. With Zac, once we started wrestling as a tag team, there was a solidarity. We wanted to be good for each other.”
“Getting them together in the room was basically starting from basics and ground zero: learning how to get in the ring, learning how to circle, learning how to roll,” Guerrero says. And yet, the ensemble went on to do nearly all of their own stunts in the film. Embodying that authenticity for the actors meant enduring a rough-and-tumble process that reflected the nature of wrestling. It’s a sport centred on loosely scripted performances, but nevertheless athletically challenging and at times gruelling — a champion is made in the alchemy of physical strength and showmanship, the ability to hold a crowd that’s just as central to the sport as the displays of agility and gymnastic control. “It’s a really, really hard business to be in,” Dickinson says. “People see it as this sort of fake fighting, but it’s as real as fighting can get in terms of the toll it takes on the body.”
“Day one was painful. Like, really painful,” Efron says. “It sucks. Falling on the mat, it’s not soft. It’s got a little spring to it, but if you hit it in the wrong spot, it’s a metal bar under there.” When it comes to filming the sport, that toll is often amplified. “Sometimes wrestling in a movie scene or TV scene is harder than an actual match, because sure, we go 20 minutes in an actual match, but the actors will film a one- minute sequence or minute and a half sequence over eight hours and then go to lunch and come back and film it for another two hours,” Guerrero says. “The three bumps that they’re doing in the ring sometimes turns into 30 or 40 bumps, because of how many takes and how many different angles we have to get it at.” “There is that sort of adrenaline and excitement that just gets you through,” White says. “And then you get home and you’re like, oh, I guess something did happen to my leg. Oh, I guess I do have some bruises on my back. Oh, my finger. But when you’re in the moment, it’s so exciting and it’s so fun.”
The sequences were also choreographed to mirror what was a largely brutal wrestling world in the 80s. “It was just a bit more brawling, especially this era of the NWA territory, so I wanted to portray that,” Durkin says. “We didn’t treat it like the hits are fake. It feels like they connected because they connected. In some ways it’s more of a boxing film in that sense.” The actors, though, remained fully game. (As the lead, Efron, in particular, Guerrero says, was a relentless “workhorse,” insisting on extending practices after they were over.) “It’s a lot of exercise before those wrestling scenes,” White says. “You run, you try to get your heart rate up, you do push ups, resistance bands, pull-ups, lift weights. All that kind of stuff really, really helps. Music helps.”
…and that’s how they got match fit!
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