LOS ANGELES—Warrior director Gavin O'Connor didn't have to go looking for someone to play a recovering alcoholic who is the father of two mixed-martial-arts fighters. He and writing partner Anthony Tambakis had written the role for recovering alcoholic Nick Nolte. He just couldn't tell that to the studio.
“I had made a movie called Pride and Glory, and Nick was the dad in that movie right before we started shooting,” he says in a Los Angeles hotel room. “He had to have reconstructive surgery on his knee, so he had to bail, and I hired Jon Voight. But we had been very close because we lived near each other. I told him to sit tight on this one. I said ‘I don't have to go through the studio process of looking at the cast lists. I will just write it for you.' ”
Fittingly, Nolte's memory of Pride and Glory is a little different from O'Connor's. “Two weeks before I was supposed to start, I phoned him and said that my knee was really bad and I had to have a transplant,” he says. “So once I had said that I had to go to L.A. and have a transplant. So now I have a titanium knee. You wouldn't think a director would hire someone who bailed on him but he did.”
Neither will dispute that Nolte's drinking past was a catalyst for his casting in Warrior, which opens next Friday (September 9) and stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as two brothers who seek the same MMA championship trophy. Tom Conlon (Hardy) returns home after years of estrangement to punish his father, Paddy, by showing him that he too has become an alcoholic. Brendan (Edgerton) would rather ignore his father completely. Nolte says he learned a lot about the destructive tendencies that are at the heart of his Warrior character through his own several decades of drinking.
“You stop because you get to see the destruction you are causing,” he says. “By not being present in the moment, you ignore those around you who love you very much, your family and friends. So you are completely occupied by alcoholism. For me, abuse is not pretty, and I am sure that there was a period for Paddy where he hit these kids. I am not a hitter, but I drank every day till I was 48. Finally someone said, ‘You don't have to drink.' I was happy to hear that because I was able to see who I was. Katharine Hepburn said actors shouldn't be allowed to marry because they ignore their families. She liked drunk men. She told me, ‘The difference between you and Spencer [Tracy] is that Spencer would go on benders. He wouldn't drink all the time, but you just drink all the time.' Alcohol controls you.”
Watch the trailer for Warrior.