Watch: ‘Warrior’ director Gavin O’Connor talks about directing the emotional fight drama

Gavin O’Connor has had a very interesting career, but in the sort of slow-motion that only Hollywood seems able to manage.

“Tumbleweeds” was his breakthrough moment, critically speaking, and I liked that film a lot. It featured a great performance by Janet McTeer, and it was a controlled, intimate movie.  His sports movie “Miracle” was a conventional Hollywood treatment of a great true-life story, and it worked well enough.  His last film, “Pride and Glory,” was a strong movie with Colin Ferrell and Edward Norton starring in it, but it felt slight, and it was treated poorly in its release.  Three movies since 1999, and each one seemed like it took quite a bit of effort to get it going in the first place.

But of all of his films, “Warrior” appears to have been the hardest one to get off the ground, which sort of surprises me.  MMA is so huge right now, so high profile, and there’s so much money behind it that it would seem to me that making a film set in that world would be very appealing to studios.  Instead, O’Connor was turned down by studio after studio, and it was an act of faith for Lionsgate to sign on and make the film, particularly with two leads who were essentially unknown.

They’ve got to be feeling better about things now, though, with Hardy almost finished shooting “The Dark Knight Rises” and Edgerton gearing up on the Baz Luhrmann “Great Gatsby” opposite Leonardo Di Caprio.  And the film is one of those movies that plays amazingly with a packed theater, a crowd-pleaser that also brings some pretty heavy emotion to the table.  It’s a heady mix, and O’Connor gets note-perfect performances from his leads.

One of the most remarkable things about the movie is the painful work done by Nick Nolte as the father to both Hardy and Edgerton, and Nolte brings all of his own baggage to the table, playing a reformed alcoholic struggling as he reaches his 1000th day sober.  I love Nolte anyway, but seeing him here as this great ruined giant is heartbreaking, and it was one of the things I most wanted to discuss with O’Connor.

Overall, this was a real pleasure, and I’m curious to see what happens when audiences get their shot at the film this weekend.  I hope it opens well, because I think word of mouth will kick in at that point, and this could well be a film that snowballs into a genuine monster hit.  We’ll see.  Whatever happens, I think it’s a high point for O’Connor so far, and I hope it leads to even bigger and better things from him.

“Warrior” opens everywhere this Friday.