© House Claw LLC.
The most powerful sports films not only focus on the glory of winning, but also celebrate self-discovery and camaraderie. The new biographical drama, The Iron Claw, is one such feature; it thrives on chronicling how the famed Von Erich family embraced a high flying rock and roll lifestyle in Texas wrestling in the 1980s and ’90s in order to overcome their pain and grief.
The movie chronicles a true Greek Tragedy in the American heartland. Drawing on the tradition of features that explore the tightrope of glory, loss and American masculinity, The Iron Claw chronicles the importance of finding love in the relationships between fathers and sons, as well as brothers. The biopic’s writer-director, Sean Durkin, also questions the lens with which families are conditioned to see the world in order to find a hopeful new future throughout the project.
The Iron Claw chronicles the true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers – Kevin, Kerry and David (Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White and Harris Dickinson). Together, they made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s, in part by popularizing the titular hold. Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach, Fritz, (Holt McCallany), the brothers sought larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.
Durkin generously took the time recently to talk about penning and helming The Iron Claw during an exclusive interview over Zoom. The filmmaker spoke about making the feature to help promote its release; the drama is now playing in theaters, courtesy of A24.
@Photo by Eric Chakeen/Eric Chakeen – © House Claw LLC.
Q: You wrote the script for the new biographical sports film, The Iron Claw. What was it about the Von Erich family that inspired you to make the drama? How did you approach scribing the screenplay?
Sean Durkin: I was a fan of the family, as well as wrestling, as a kid. I was really haunted by their tragedy, but also loved their camaraderie and the feeling of their wrestling. So they stayed with me during my childhood.
Later on as a filmmaker, I was exploring what to make. Then it just sort of occurred to me to think about them as a film. So I looked at their story and did some research.
I realized it was just an unbelievable epic family drama, like a real Greek tragedy. There were so many elements I was drawn to and wanted to continue to explore. Those elements included family, as well as questioning the values of masculinity and why we believe what we believe.
I also wanted to explore the wrestling world in a way that I’d never seen before through their family. That included looking at both their performative aspect of emotion in the ring, as well their complete hiding of a emotions in life.
That was that was all really interesting to me. So I dove in and started to explore.
Q: In addition to penning the script, you also directed the movie. What was your overall helming style like throughout the production?
Sean Durkin: I approached everything the same as I normally do, even though it’s a movie about wrestling. So I didn’t really approach this film any differently than any other project.
I really focused on the actors and actress first and foremost for this project. I tried to create an environment for the actors that allowed them to do their best work.
In order to do that, I believe in shooting long takes where they can really get lost in their character and the moment and create something really present. So that’s how I approach all my scenes, and I tried to approach the wrestling scenes the same way.
The guys learned how to wrestle so that we could shoot entire matches. They also did their own stunts, which allowed us to really focus on the emotion of those moments and and emotionally live out the entire match.
So that was the general approach. It was a really special shoot on a special set. There was there was a really great camaraderie and chemistry between everybody. It really felt like a family.
Q: The Iron Claw stars Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White and Harris Dickinson as three of the Von Erich brothers – Kevin, Kerry and David. What was the casting process like for the biopic?
Sean Durkin: You never know for sure, but I just have an instinct. I met with Zac and he was very sweet and kind. It felt like he had this quality that was really connected to Kevin. So he’s the center of the movie, and we built the cast around him.
I’ve known Jeremy for a long time. I thought he and Zac would get along. I also felt Jeremy had the right intensity for Kerry.
I was also a fan of Harris’ work. From talking to him, I had a sense he had a different energy, but one that would compliment the other guys really well.
Stanley (Simons, who played fellow brother, Mike Von Erich) was cast from the auditioning process. When I saw him on the casting tape, I thought he was the perfect little brother.
I just hoped it would work. I thought it would work and it did, but you don’t always know. Casting doesn’t always work, but it did here.
© House Claw LLC.
Q: Like you mentioned earlier, the actors performed their own stunts during the film’s production. How did you help them create their physicality and perform their own stunts for the wrestling scenes during the shoot?
Sean Durkin: They all worked really hard. I brought on a wrestling coach, and he’s really good at working with actors. We set a very high bar, and they trained really really hard. We did some individual sessions with them all, and then we did a group session.
We spent about two weeks in a boot camp environment. The actors learned the basics of the moves, and then we choreographed specific matches. We went as as far as we could in the time we had.
Q: The Von Erich family, who rose to prominence in the 1980s and ’90s, hailed from Texas. How did you create the look for The Iron Claw‘s locations to make them feel authentic to that setting?
Sean Durkin: We did a lot of research. We went to Dallas and Denton to research, and gathered everything we could from newspaper and wrestling footage. We also gathered second hand accounts of the family and what they were like then.
We tried to understand as much as we could and replicate that. We tried to replicate the (Dallas) Sportatorium pretty closely and some of the costumes. Things like that that were iconic.
The idea was that that would give us little freedom on the character side. We tried not to worry about matching the characters too closely, as we never want it to feel like imitation.
So we wanted to try and strike a balance between fact and something more emotionally truthful.
© House Claw LLC.
Here’s the Trailer of the film.