What Non-Wrestling Fans Need To Know Before Watching The Iron Claw 

As a dyed-in-the-wool wrestling fan, Sean Durkin's "The Iron Claw" was one of my most anticipated films of 2023. Based on the real-life story of the Von Erich wrestling dynasty (real last name Adkisson), the film features Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich, Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich (my personal favorite of the Von Erich brothers), Stanley Simons as Mike Von Erich, Holt McCallany as Fritz Von Erich, and Maura Tierney as Doris Adkisson. For wrestling fans, the Von Erich story is the stuff of infamy, a dark moment in the industry's history that weighs heavy on the hearts of multiple generations. Pulling off "The Iron Claw" would be no easy feat for those involved, but the result is one of the best films of 2023.

I attended the press conference following the film's world premiere in Dallas, Texas, and was able to witness many of the cast discuss their experiences working on the project firsthand. Additionally, I was able to interview Stanley Simons one-on-one and get some additional insight from the man who played Mike Von Erich. Fortunately, Durkin made sure that the film would be accessible even to viewers who have never watched a single second of wrestling in their entire lives and delivered a story that could enrapture audiences with its relatable heartbreak. So without further ado, here's a spoiler-free guide to everything non-wrestling fans need to know before watching "The Iron Claw," with some input from those who helped bring the film to life.

The Von Erichs were a cultural phenomenon

"The Iron Claw" showcases that the Von Erichs were popular in Texas, but the reality is that they were more of a cultural phenomenon. They were the definition of the type of people men wanted to be and women wanted to be with. Texas Monthly estimates that "of the 3,700 people who'd fill a sold-out Sportatorium, fully 70 percent were female." Not only did they wrestle on TV through World Class Championship Wrestling, but they were also the subject of sci-fi comic books and served as spokesmen for the Pizza Inn restaurant chain commercials. Before Vince McMahon bought up all of the wrestling territories for WWF (now WWE), popular wrestlers could become regional superstars and expand into the world. Stanley Simons was blown away once he realized just how big of a deal this family was.

"I didn't know how much it meant to specifically a generation of people who were obsessed with watching them every week and I think it is kind of insane, and I had no idea, but they were a cultural phenomenon, not only in Texas, but in America and even the world and beyond," he explained. "Sean, the director, grew up in England for part of his childhood and he knew about them. He was a big fan. So I think that's a testament to how big of superstars they were and I didn't, but now I do."

Wrestling fans often say that the Von Erichs were The Beatles of Texas wrestling, and while that may sound like an exaggeration, it's really not. The Von Erichs were icons, and during the height of their fame, they could barely make it to the ring without the hands of screaming fans reaching out and touching them as they walked through the wings.

The real-life Von Erich story is even sadder

Without spoiling anything for those who don't already know the story of the Von Erichs, understand that the real story of what happened to the Von Erich family has even more sorrow than what "The Iron Claw" depicts. For Stanley Simons, the Shakespearean tragedy was a whole new territory, and a huge challenge for him as an actor was figuring out how to play this harrowing true story with honesty.

"It was obviously a very difficult task and I had a lot of conversations with Sean [Durkin] about it and I didn't take it lightly definitely, but I think there was a lot of footage — especially of the press conference scene that in the film — that is direct footage of Mike," he told me. "Based on context clues and the 'Dark Side of the Ring' documentary, and just from interviews with Kevin himself talking about Mike, what he was going through, what he was like, and then trying to make choices and live in that space and work off the other actors [...] it was difficult, but I think that it was I was up for that challenge and it was sad."

Simons and I both agreed that the film's final scene is what hit us the most, a specific line from Efron as Kevin Von Erich in particular, shedding some serious tears in the process. If you've not seen any documentary footage of Kevin talking about his family, know that when Efron delivers the gut punch of a line, it's something pulled directly from the real man who endured the devastation.

Yes, Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White are actually wrestling

If you're a wrestling fan, chances are you've already heard Jeremy Allen White's press conference comments about his newfound appreciation for the world of pro wrestlers. "The moments in between these moves are oftentimes more important for the audience than the moves themselves, that's what gets people sucked in, that's what gets people excited," he said. And he's right. White continued:

"And so then like your energy, like I'd have this routine. I'd be jumping up and down, off the ropes, and all that stuff, it'd be exhausting. And Chavo [Guerrero Jr.] would say, 'And then you have to like charge up.' Charge up? I'm like, 'I wanna breathe first and catch my breath.' He's like, 'No! You gotta be stomping, you gotta be...' And I think that was fascinating, understanding I think the wrestling world, and that broader aspect of like the storytelling and these guys as real performers outside of the obvious like athleticism. They are real artists and real performers and real storytellers."

Chavo Guerrero Jr. is not only himself from a legendary family of wrestlers but has also become one of Hollywood's go-to wrestling trainers. Sean Durkin produced "The Rental" directed by Dave Franco, who is married to "GLOW" star Alison Brie. This bit of connective tissue helped Durkin get in touch with Guerrero Jr., who helped get the actors into fighting shape.

And while there were stunt doubles for some of the bigger moves, the majority of the film is on the actors. Choreography was centered around each of their strengths, and as Guerrero Jr. told Vanity Fair, he helped motivate the actors by reminding them "I can't do every wrestling move, but I won't do the ones I can't do. I hide my weaknesses and I show my strengths — the same thing you do in acting. You've been convincing the studios that you're better actors than you are, that you're better-looking, that you're taller than you actually are. That's all I do in the ring."

The actors became brothers on set

While wrestling was undeniably an important part of the film, the heart of "The Iron Claw" is its story of brotherhood. During the press conference, Efron discussed how quickly the actors playing the Von Erich boys connected through the physicality of performance. "I think within 30 minutes, we were all pushing each other to the max," he said. This was a result of something the real Kevin Von Erich told Durkin before filming began, "What's important is that you know how much my brothers and I loved each other." 

For Stanley Simons, part of that brotherhood development comes from working alongside talented actors, but a good portion of it was due to the on-set environment. "We were hanging out and exploring [Baton Rouge, where they shot the film] and there was obviously an underlying knowledge that this film was going to be about these brothers and their bond, so we just tried to get to know each other," Simons told me. "Sean was very adamant about being vulnerable with one another and allowing us to just hang out and talk and on set we were throwing around the football and shooting the s*** and having a good time."

Simons is a little newer to the Hollywood machine, but he became their brother nonetheless. "I loved it. I loved just having these guys as my brothers for a couple of months and just I guess pretending that these guys are the closest people in my life," said Simons. "I got very close to them personally. It was a lot of fun. It was rewarding." And that brotherhood is palpable on screen. Both Simons and Harris Dickinson admitted during the Dallas press conference that the first thing they did after wrapping the film was calling their own brothers to tell them they loved them.

"The Iron Claw" is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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