Toxic masculinity and wrestling: Zac Efron on his role in The Iron Claw

Directed by Sean Durkin, The Iron Claw takes inspiration from the lives of the Von Erichs – a renowned professional wrestling family in the US.

The A24 film centres on wrestling, of course, but also takes a deep dive into the impact of toxic masculinity and the refusal to examine emotions.

“That’s one of the things that Sean spoke about early on in this process that drew me to the story”, Zac Efron says.

The 36-year-old actor plays Kevin in the film – the oldest of the Von Erich siblings who has dedicated his life to professional wrestling under his father’s wing.

Efron adds: “Examining it, whatever you want to call it, being a guy is hard to do and I think Sean really accomplished it with this movie.”

His performance has been widely acclaimed by critics but he failed to pick up any nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes or BAFTAs.

Zac Efron in The Iron Claw. Pic: Brian Roedel/A24
Zac Efron in The Iron Claw. Pic: Brian Roedel/A24

Despite this, The Greatest Showman actor is glad that it’s resonating with audiences.

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“I think everyone’s going to walk away moved or feeling in some capacity – and that’s everything,” he says.

Sean Durkin, who previously wrote and directed Martha Marcy May Marlene starring Elizabeth Olsen and Sarah Paulson, also penned the script and led production on The Iron Claw.

The idea was sparked from his “all-consuming” love for professional wrestling when he was younger.

The 42-year-old says the Von Erich brothers “revolutionised wrestling” but their fictionalised family story showcases an “extremely misguided expression of masculinity that has harmed our culture in ways we are only just beginning to understand”.

Drawing similarities from the real family, the Von Erichs in The Iron Claw are dedicated to their craft.

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(Left to Right) Harris Dickinson, Zac Efron, Stanley Simons, Jeremy Allen White. Pic: Eric Chakeen/a24
Harris Dickinson, Zac Efron, Stanley Simons, Jeremy Allen White (left to right). Pic: Eric Chakeen/a24

Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch played by Holt McCallany, holds onto the possibility of his family winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt. This overpowering desire for success blinds him to the devastating misfortunes that unfold within his household.

The director calls the wrestling drama a “true Greek tragedy” that is about family at its heart.

He says: “I think my favourite reaction is often that people leave the cinema, and they call their brother or sister.”

Unthinkable losses occur in the film – the storyline echoing true unfortunate events that occurred in the family.

And although The Iron Claw depicts five Von Erich brothers, in truth, there were six.

Between 1959 and 1995, five of the six siblings – Kerry, David, Chris, Mike and Jack Jr – had died suddenly and soon the family became synonymous with the rumoured “Von Erich curse”.

Kevin Von Erich, the only surviving sibling, rejects the idea of a curse but showed his support for the film by attending the Los Angeles premiere.

Speaking on Chris Jericho’s podcast in December, the now 66-year-old reiterated that the film is made for entertainment and that despite his dad being seen as “pretty rank” in the film, “he was an honourable, good man”.

The Von Erich family were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.

The Iron Claw is in cinemas now.

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