10 years on, Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior has found a second life on streaming. Despite making only 23.3 Million USD off a 30 Million production, love for the film has only grown over time – to the point where it is now considered a modern gem within the sports genre. Gavin O’Connor would go on to helm more films such as The Accountant and The Way Back, but in his own view, given the choice to only attach one feature to his name for the rest of his life, he would pick Warrior in a heartbeat.
Warrior is a beautiful tale; an MMA deep dive with a complex familial core, and the performances of a pre-fame Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are wonderfully complemented by the Oscar-Nominated Nick Nolte’s role as their father. To see such a great piece thrive with a second life following its commercial shortcomings is simply fantastic. In honor of the film’s 10 year anniversary this September 9th, we sat down with director and writer Gavin O’Connor himself to talk all things Warrior. We cover the legacy of the project, his love of MMA, and even a world-first discussion of his upcoming TV series in which Warrior may just receive a third lease of life.
So obviously 10 years removed now from the film, what are your thoughts on the legacy of Warrior and the sort of second life it’s acquired on streaming services?
Gavin O’Connor: Really good question. You know, when the movie came out, I knew on opening weekend that it was over and that we were not going to be performing for a myriad of reasons. It was pretty heartbreaking. So over time, as you said, the movie has seemed to have a second life and find an audience in a new way. It felt really satisfying and gratifying and surprising in certain ways. What’s validating now that it’s 10 years later – because I’ll be totally honest with you, I never expected it – but we’ve been getting so many calls from journalists and podcasters and things to do with the 10 year anniversary. I didn’t even realize it was 10 years old! So I’m just so surprised and overwhelmed and truly grateful that the movie still has life.
You’ve mentioned in interviews before about Warrior being one of the favorite films that you’ve produced and I wanted to ask if that has maintained?
Gavin O’Connor: I mean, if I had to put one movie next to my name until I leave this planet, it would probably be Warrior for a number of reasons. But mostly because the way the movie came about from writing it. Once I finished it, I gave it to Lionsgate, they greenlit it, and we were going straight into production. That’s very rare. Usually, there’s a gestation period for scripts that take years to get made, but everything happened so quickly. So the making of the film was this passionate act and an exorcism in a way of my own trauma that I was dealing with as a child. I was pouring that into the movie along with all my love and passion.
Everything was so alive inside of me and in my bloodstream. I was making it because there was no gestation period. So that was a big part of making the movie. Also, it was just very personal. You know, my father was an alcoholic. So Paddy [Nick Nolte] was very much based on my dad. My brother and I both got split up as kids, one went with mom and one with dad. There were sports in my background as a kid. So all that stuff comes forward into the movie. And as I say, I think it was just like therapy in a lot of ways to make it.
What informed your choice of MMA for the film? I personally believe that MMA, as a sport, is one that is rife with story potential in an incomparable way to a lot of other sports. So what was the process of choosing that as the vehicle for Warrior as a story?
Gavin O’Connor: I had produced a documentary in 2000 called The Smashing Machine about Mark Kerr, who’s a fighter in Pride in Japan, an MMA fighter. That was my introduction into the world of mixed martial arts and then UFC and the different fighting promotions. I really fell in love with the sport. And so I wanted to use the sport cinematically, but also to do two brothers who were boxers just felt kind of tired and stale. I think Rocky is the best, alongside Raging Bull of course; they’re the best fighting movies and were really impactful films for me as a boy.
So I knew I could never do better than those movies in the boxing world. If I was doing boxing, I was already going to be failing before it started. So I wanted to do mixed martial arts. It’s a sport I knew I was passionate about. My gut also told me it was growing support really fast globally. I just figured, like, I hope as many people care about the sport as much as I do, because I really care about it. That’s what I was trying to do about something I really love. It’s a very cinematic sport, so I wanted to be able to capture that.
You’ve spoken quite frequently about the fact that the character of Paddy was very much written for Nick Nolte. What was the process of Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy coming onto the film? And how happy were you with the core trio?
Gavin O’Connor: I was thrilled. The casting process was long and we had a list of actors that are famous today that were not back then, more than 12 years ago when the casting started. They weren’t famous yet but we met and read, though they just weren’t the characters. I ended up having to go overseas to find these guys. Once I found those two for Tommy and Brendan, I was set. It was always Nick who was playing Paddy. We wrote the part for Nick so that was never in question.
I was thrilled because I got the guys I wanted and then I have to commend Lionsgate because no one knew who Tom [Hardy] and Joel [Edgerton] were back then. So getting them to give me $30 million for this movie with two pretty much unknowns and Nick, who wasn’t putting anybody in the seats anymore, was herculean on their part and a bit of a miracle how we pulled it off. The studio had pretty big stones to be able to greenlight this knowing the artistic approach with the actors.
As you kind of said, Nick Nolte wasn’t necessarily a name that would straight away sell the movie back then. So how vindicated did you feel when he received his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor?
Gavin O’Connor: I was so happy for him. He became a dear friend, I love Nick. So I was really happy for him, and I was happy for Lionsgate! Because in the end, they said yes. So it was a big validation for all of us. In the beginning, Lionsgate wanted a bigger movie star, kind of a Harrison Ford type, one of those big box office guys. But we wrote it for Nick, it was always going to be Nick. So they agreed and I think it was validating for all of us.
In a conversation with the website Joe, you actually expressed an interest in revisiting the characters 10 years on. Can you comment on whether there have there been any discussions around this? Would you be down for a sequel?
Gavin O’Connor: Such a good question. I have explored the idea of doing it as a second movie. But the truth is, I was never able to figure out how to do it and make it better than the first one. I knew I just didn’t want to have one brother in the other brothers’ corner and how he’s coaching the brother and… it just all felt so fucking cheesy to me that I was just never able to do it. I knew if I couldn’t make a better movie, or at least make something that had some kind of artistic merit that’s worth asking people to spend money to go see it, I just didn’t want to like fucking prostitute myself. And so I never was able to. But here’s what I am doing, to expand on that.
With Lionsgate, I’m going to do Warrior as a TV series. It’s not the movie, so there’s no Conlan family, there’s none of the brothers or dad, there are no characters from the movie. But the show will be in the spirit of the movie. It will be dealing with social issues that are important to me, as there were social issues that were important to me back then that I was dramatizing. There will be characters fighting for something bigger than themselves. We will get the audience to understand and feel deep feelings for the characters before they end up fighting each other, along with the emotional complexity of that. It’s the painful realities of contemporary America I want to deal with. I’m dealing with issues, whether it’s poverty, incarceration, mental health, or addiction; it’s social issues that are important to me that I want to explore in a series, but through different characters.
So here’s the show; it’s four characters, two men, two women, they’re all fighters, and they’re going to get into Sparta [the competition from Warrior] and will eventually be facing each other and fighting, and I’m going to get an audience supporting the two girls and two guys. So it’s got the DNA of the movie, but the most important part of the show is that it’s not about the fight in the cage. This show is a drama about the fight outside of the cage. What are they fighting for? Fighting your way out of poverty, to save for your family – I want to deal with things that are going on in the world because I have a character that’s in Dublin, Ireland, in Mountjoy prison. There’s a Muslim girl who’s a fighter, who’s living in her Muslim conservative community outside of Paris. She’s a lesbian and a fighter, and in her community, neither one of those are permitted. So you have a woman who’s in two closets almost, she’s got to find a way out of two closets. That’s kind of the idea. Do you follow the UFC?
Gavin O’Connor: So you know Daniel Cormier?
Gavin O’Connor: The one person I’ve cast so far is DC. He’s playing a guy named Bob. He’s playing Bobby Watkins, who lives in Houston and is fighting his way out of poverty for his family.
So I’m calling the show Warriors.
Are you writing, directing, or executive producing?
Gavin O’Connor: I’m writing it with a guy named Adair Cole, and then I’m going to direct all the episodes, and EP, and showrun it. I just closed the deal with Lionsgate, we’re going to take it to streamers and sell it now.
That sounds amazing. Have you had any thoughts as to what networks? Obviously you can’t say too much at the moment, as it is being shopped around, but any preferences?
Gavin O’Connor: We’re going to go to the usual suspects, the streamers. I’m not going to do it at, you know, CBS or any traditional kind of network. We are going to go to the streamers. I just did a show with HBO, Mare of Easttown, so we’ll go there. But it’s an international show. I think some of these streamers are really focused on global storytelling. In a [potential] second season, that’s the paradigm shift. I’ll have a character in China, a character in Africa, and then the same thing, they’ll be on a collision course to fight each other at Sparta.
I’m sure that’s going to get a lot of buzz. It’s fantastic to see Warrior be vindicated in the amazing second life it has had, and it’s having almost a third life then in the TV series.
Gavin O’Connor: That’s a good way of putting it. You’re right. I mean, maybe we’ll have the third life. I’m really excited about it. I really hope that we sell it. If we don’t, you’ll probably hear about me hanging from a tree somewhere (laughs).
To continue, a huge congratulations are in order for Mare of Easttown which you executive produced. What have been your thoughts on its critical reception and awards buzz?
Gavin O’Connor: I think the takeaway for me with that show was that I want to create my own show. I want to make the artistic decisions without having a bunch of other people having a say in it, you know? I want to go do something very singular, my intention is for it to have a very specific fingerprint and identity. I don’t want to use the word vision, sometimes it’s an overused fucking word, but that was my takeaway with that show. It was a great experience. I love Brad [Ingelsby], the guy who created it. We’re writing a movie together now. We’re really good friends. But I want to do something that’s my own.
So outside that movie and Warriors, are those the only projects you’re working at the moment? Can we expect anything else from you coming soon?
Gavin O’Connor: I’m writing a movie with Brad called Here We Are. So we’re into that, writing every day. I kind of block out my day with that and Warriors, because I’m just mapping out the season and the characters. Then I have a couple of projects that I’m developing, things I really like. But this is where my head is at right now, is the show.
Well, I’m really excited for Warriors and can’t wait to see it!
Gavin O’Connor: Man, I really appreciate it. It’s been nice to talk about the movie after 10 years and see how people have responded to it. So I’m grateful too and I appreciate it brother.