Zac Efron Recalls Wrestler Kevin Von Erich’s Reaction to ‘The Iron Claw’: ‘It’s Far and Away the Most Important Review to Me’

Could A24 wrestle another Oscar contender into the mix while already having two strong candidates with “Past Lives” and “The Zone of Interest”?

At the beginning of “The Iron Claw,” the narrator says the Von Erich family is cursed. Towards the film’s latter half, when the supposed curse has reared its ugly head, a man sitting directly in front of me with a woman begins to weep physically and audibly intensely. The woman grabbed his head to comfort him, but it was proving too much for the gentleman, who grabbed his crutches and walked out of the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The woman quickly followed him. The two would return for the post-screening Q&A with writer-director Sean Durkin and cast members Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White and Stanley Simons.

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The fleeting and overwhelming emotion he displayed was understandable, especially if you’ve ever suffered the loss of a sibling, parent or worse yet, a child. Imagine undertaking all those beats at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. The emotional whiplash withstanding, the audience seemed to react positively to the true story of the Von Erichs, a family from Texas whose love for wrestling in the 1980s is only bested by the love of its four sons and brothers – Kevin (Efron), Kerry (White), David (Harris Dickinson) and Mike (Simons). Under the pressure and guidance of their father, Fritz (Holt McCallany), the dynasty will become engraved within the sport of wrestling, marred by tragedy and self-reliance. Also starring in the film are Lily James and Maura Tierney.

This was the first screening in L.A. for the A24 drama after its world premiere in Dallas last week. In attendance were a crowd of journalists, industry professionals and awards voters. One of the final films to drop in the awards conversation, it has the emotional resonance and impact of heavy-handed and depressing dramas such as “Manchester by the Sea,” which won two Oscars for actor Casey Affleck and original screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan.

iron claw
Zac Efron in “The Iron Claw”

“Iron Claw” will need to overcome the natural human apprehension of not wanting to see authentic stories of death and anguish, especially in a time where there seems to be so much around us. Helmed by the man who brought us “Martha Marcy May Marlene” with Elizabeth Olsen, Durkin’s way with his actors is among some of the best in the business. Efron and McCallany are particularly worthy of possible awards recognition but will already have to navigate categories overflowing with multiple names.

Efron reflected on speaking with the real-life Kevin the night before its Dallas premiere. “I was very curious about what he thought of the movie,” he shared. “We went out to the patio, sat forehead to forehead, and talked about life for an hour and a half. And he told me that he did enjoy the movie. I can’t really put into words how that feels. It’s far and away the most important review to me on so many levels. It meant the world, and everything just came full circle.”

White has known Durkin since he was 15 years old, whom he worked with on his first feature, “After School.” The Emmy-nominated actor of FX’s “The Bear” says of his director: “I think I’d always been trying to find my way back to him.”

Simons’ role as Mike is full of heartbreak. He sings the Oscars-eligible original song “Live That Way Forever” by Laurel Sprengelmeyer, Little Scream and the film’s composer Richard Reed Parry during a pivotal moment in the movie, one that he sang live on set.

The indie flick was shot over six weeks, making every moment on set crucial. Matthew Hannam, the film’s editor who was also in the room, received a huge applause when his name card came on screen and was echoed by a shout-out from the panel regarding his enormous task of putting the story together.

Canadian-born Durkin’s knowledge and love for the family runs deep, as he shared in his introduction and saw them on television when he was 9. When asked what he wants people to take from his movie, he sees a greater picture for young men.

“It’s a 40-year-old story,” Durkin says as he closes the discussion. “But the issues of masculinity, how we tell our boys to be, what makes a man and those sort of notions – as much as they’re getting better, it’s still a major issue. That was something that was very close to me while making this film.”

Produced by Durkin, Tessa Ross, Juliette Howell, Angus Lamont and Derrin Schlesinger, “The Iron Claw” opens in theaters on Dec. 22.

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