Josh O’Connor became a beast while filming Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers.” The sexually-charged drama centered in the world of professional tennis stars O’Connor and Mike Faist as Zendaya’s two love interests over the course of a decade.
Faist told GQ that O’Connor was dedicated to physically transforming into the role of a tennis pro. “I watched this guy probably put on close to 10 pounds over the course of the weeks we were working,” Faist said. “He physically transformed. He’s a craftsman, and knew exactly what was required of him in the moment.”
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The cast spent two to three hours playing tennis six days a week for three months with former professional tennis player Brad Gilbert, who served as a consultant on the film. The cast then spent an additional two hours at the gym daily post-practice and before rehearsals.
“If left to my own devices, I’d go to the gym for an hour, then think I could eat whatever I want. I wouldn’t have done anything,” O’Connor joked, adding of his character, “It’s really nice to play someone who is just pure outward energy. I remember when I first read it thinking he’s this tough guy, like a Gallagher brother. But then I remember having a breakthrough where I was convinced he needed to smile. Anytime he’s angry, I’d just whack in a little smile.”
O’Connor recalled director Guadagnino comparing actors to animals, saying, “I remember Luca saying to me: ‘Actors are like racehorses: You have to keep them in condition if you want them to run as fast as they can.’ I think what he means is nice hotels, nice food … but being in a hotel room isn’t the best condition for me. It was so luxurious and I just felt depressed.”
Guadagnino said of O’Connor’s performance, “Every great actor delivers on the day. But only the masterful ones like Josh make you discover all the details, all the subtleties, in their physical performance when you sit in the editing room and watch the material.”
O’Connor previously told Empire magazine that the frenetic tension of the “Challengers” love triangle is rooted in athleticism, with the sex being, well, a form of sport. “The tennis is the sex. Those moments are so sexy,” O’Connor said. “The film is dealing with the tension before and after. The sex they’re all desperate for is on the court.”
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