Lena Headey and Nick Frost on Why Wrestling Comedy ‘Fighting With My Family’ Is a Universal Story
When one thinks of professional wrestling, the mind most likely doesn’t go to family, but executive producer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and writer/director Stephen Merchant set out to smash misconceptions about the world of wrestlng with “Fighting With My Family,” a surprisingly heartwarming and funny film about the Bevis clan, known to fans as the Knights, a British family of professional wrestlers. This true story centers around daughter Saraya-Jade Bevis (Florence Pugh), aka WWE superstar Paige, as she leaves behind the life she knows in Norwich for a shot at a pro wrestling career stateside.
Nick Frost and Lena Headey co-star and Ricky and Julia, the parents of Florence and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden). The Knights first gained notoriety in England in 2012 after the release of the documentary “The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family,” which detailed not only their daughter’s journey to the WWE, but also the inspiring story of how Ricky and Julia, who both had troubled pasts, found salvation in wrestling and running their own league.
Headey and Frost both revealed to Entertainment Voice how the original documentary played a role in their decision to sign on to doing the feature.
“I’d seen that documentary years ago and had fallen in love with the Knight family,” recounted Headey. “And then I got the script from Stephen, which was beautifully written, and then I think he’s an amazing talent. I was excited to be a part of it and portray Julia, because I think she’s fabulous.”
“I was struck by what a great group of people they were, and how theatrical they were, as a family,” said Frost of the documentary. Merchant’s involvement was also a factor for Frost. “I’ve known Stephen for ages. I’ve always really liked Stephen as a person. I’ve always enjoyed being in his company and we’ve always made each other laugh.”
Frost went on to explain how his long-standing friendship with Merchant made filming a more collaborative process. “Quite often I’d say, ‘How about this?’ ‘Could we try this?’ ‘What if my character says this?’ And we’d try it. Stephen is very generous like that.”
Headey discussed how having an acting background gives directors like Merchant an edge. “I think actors make good directors because they have the experience of knowing what it feels like to be there in front of the camera. It’s a good schooling, acting.”
For Frost, playing Ricky was a dream come true. “I think for me, as an actor, Ricky is an absolute home run. He can be as funny as he wants, and he gets to be heartfelt and honest, and he is angry and violent. He’s a treat for an actor to play.”
Neither Headey or Frost met their real-life counterparts before filming. For Frost, this was a deliberate choice. “I didn’t want to do an impression of him that he could watch and think, ‘No, that’s not me. I’m sad about what you’ve done.’ That would make the premiere very difficult, with him putting me in a violent headlock.”
Instead, he drew from his own experience as a father to better understand Ricky.
“It’s difficult being a dad… You don’t stop being yourself when you have children. When those two people clash, the father and the self, it can be difficult, and it can be tough, and I knew that. I knew what kind of man he was because of that. And as an actor, I tried to play that, and not necessarily do an impression of him.”
“It was just due to circumstances that we didn’t meet,” said Headey of the real Julia. “I’m going to meet her today, but I did study her and watch a lot of her interviews and I got to know her life and what makes her who she is.”
On portraying a real person, Headey expressed, “I think there’s more responsibility to do them [justice]. If they happen to be great people like the Knights, you want to do that really well and be respectful to the people they really are, which is great human beings.”
Frost and Headey have an easy onscreen chemistry, which, according to Frost came very naturally. “We just kind of got each other straightaway. We understood each other comedically. She has a wicked sense of humor. I could do very little and it makes her laugh a lot. So for me, being kind of needy [laughs], it’s a treat.”
Added Headey, ‘I love him, and he’s an incredible comedian, and such a talent. I’ve always fancied comedy. It’s really hard, but having Nick to work with was a quick university degree in comedy.”
She went on to speak about the ease in which the pair and Pugh and Lowden settled into playing a familiar unit. “Florence is a fantastic talent, and I obviously knew of her because she’s, quite rightly, so unavoidable. It was really exciting. It was really easy, actually. The four of us got along really well. It was lovely.”
Saraya-Jade Bevis, the real Paige, also spoke to Entertainment Voice about the universal nature of “Fighting with My Family.” “The good thing about this film is you don’t have to be a wrestling fan to watch the movie. It’s just a really beautiful underdog, heartwarming movie that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy.”
Frost was wholeheartedly in agreement. “I think, first of all, with this film, you could literally take out the wrestling and put in a family in the circus, or people who love pottery, or karate. It’s just the thing they do, it’s not the thing that they are.”
Headey also added,” I don’t think you have to be a fan of wrestling or have any knowledge to love this film. It’s ultimately about family.” She pointed out how the sport served to bring the family closer together. “They get in the ring, they wrestle. They come home and eat together. They get back in the van and do a few wrestling gigs. They live and breathe each other all day.”
Frost, a long-time WWE fan who also has some wrestling experience himself, spoke about the false notions some have about that world. “I think if there is a misconception about wrestling, it’s that it’s all fake. If someone believes for a second that wrestling is real, then there’s probably something wrong with you. That doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly violent and physically [taxing]. It’s scripted, but there’s a route to go. There’s a story to be told, but within that story there is very real violence and action.”
“What I learned from Paige, and from Florence’s experiences is that it’s really, really grueling, and it requires perseverance and resilience and commitment and dedication, and it doesn’t always work out,” said Headey. “You can do all that, go that distance, and then somebody could say, ‘It’s not going to work for you.’ I think, ultimately, you have to know who you are and be happy with that to survive that.”
Headey is best known to American audiences for her role as ruthless queen Cersei Lannister on “Game of Thrones.” Although that character is miles away from Julia, one thing that connects them is a deep love for their children. How does the actress think the two women would get along? “I think they’d love each other.”
Although Headey is required to be tight-lipped regarding the final episodes of “Game of Thrones,” which are set to air on HBO beginning April 14, she reflected on saying farewell to Cersei. “I’ve played her for eight years now, and I love Cersei very much, but sometimes you have to walk away,” she said with a laugh. “I love the series. I think it’s crafted incredibly well. It’s just been a great ride.”
“Fighting With My Family” opens Feb. 14 in Los Angeles and New York, Feb. 22 nationwide.