“Warrior” sets two distanced brothers against each other in a mixed martial arts competition, but the roots of their estrangement go deep past that.
Nick Nolte needed to establish that criteria for his crucial performance as the siblings’ father, Paddy, a recovering alcoholic who starts up training one son again as a tenuous step toward reconnecting with his boys.
“Paddy was the instigator of that drama,” says the 70-year-old Nolte about his part in the story’s dysfunction web. “Paddy raised his sons to be warriors, took credit for the fighting and didn’t allow his sons any space. In order to get his love, the condition was that they gave it all to him. But the glory went to him, so he was robbing his own children.”
Nolte sees a unique sadness in the lives of fighting families, something he noticed back when he prepared to play a boxer for his breakthrough role in the 1970s miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man.”
“The trainers can be brilliant men in their own right, but in the long run they’re living through their boxer,” he says.
To help keep a handle on the father-sons frost, Nolte stayed away from co-stars Tom Hardy or Joel Edgerton outside of work.
“Not that we weren’t friendly on set, but I didn’t socialize with them at all,” Nolte says. It’s easier to keep the imagination active.”
Nolte was supposed to act for Gavin O’Connor in the writer-director’s previous feature, “Pride and Glory,” but dropped out before filming. It didn’t rupture the relationship, though, made clear by O’Connor’s writing the part of Paddy expressly for the veteran.
“I think I was the very first to read it,” says Nolte. “I’ve always liked Gavin. We have similar backgrounds. We talk about the athlete artist, since we have athletics as a background. We talk about digging deep and we know what suffering is physically. We have this commonality that we hit off from the beginning.”
Nolte adds, laughing, “I’m a little goofier than he is, though.”
O’Connor ran such a well-rehearsed set that the actors had plenty of room to improvise, Nolte says.
“There’s only one other film where I was able to really improvise that way, and that was ’48 Hrs.’?”