Stephen Dorff has a reputation for giving it his all on screen, but as MMA fighter Cash Boykins on last year's battle strip Embattled, he managed to raise the bar even higher for himself. With the critically acclaimed father-son drama centered around the Octagon, now available as a digital download, Dorff sat down with M&F and opened up to the physical and mental demands it took to make one this difficult To carry out the project.
"I already knew while reading the script that there was a kind of animal from a man that I was about to start playing," says Dorff. "I knew I wanted to grow in size and I didn't have much time because I just got back from filming True Detective and was very thin at the time."
Preparation is key
Before filming True Detective was finished, Dorff considered changing his form. He contacted his preferred personal trainer, Josh Perzow, who has experience training fighters and NHL hockey players. Working with MMA greats like Tyron Woodley and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, Dorff began to increase his training. Once he finished with True Detective, the real work could begin. The star says he gained 10 pounds of muscle in four weeks thanks to training at the gym and topping up on clean calories from organic foods.
With a focus on protein, Dorff was given a plan that included 1 g per pound of body weight per day, which was primarily derived from chicken and turkey breasts, as well as fish. He got his healthy fats from nuts and egg yolks, and despite the need to appear torn in the light, the carbohydrates were never entirely reduced because high energy levels were essential for those long days of filming.
Perzow prescribed a cure for Dorff that included three days a week for traditional muscle building and two days for isolating certain parts of the body. We spent the remaining two days prioritizing rest and relaxation. The aim was to expand Dorff's physical framework to give him more presence in the ring.
After adding the necessary size, Dorff soon found that the long hours of filming five-minute rounds of MMA were counterproductive for his body on the big screen. "As soon as we got to Alabama and you were friendly or collaborated with the UFC coaches (like Chris Connelly), something of that size that I was wearing now shrank," he recalls. Of course, there's a lot of cardio in MMA, so the actor was forced to find a careful balance between caloric intake and energy output.
All of the fight scenes in Embattled were actually filmed first, much like the Rocky films. “It's kind of risky,” says Dorff. "It's like; what if I or Darren (husband) get injured? And then you have seven weeks to shoot the rest of the movie. But I thought it was a mistake to end the fighting (of the shoot ) because we would have been emotionally tired instead of feeling strong and fresh from the gym. So we did it this way, it's been two tough weeks filming these fights, but I think it really worked. That was the right way, because I think the other way around it would have been wrong. "
But unlike Rocky, who focuses on boxing, MMA is arguably more difficult to choreograph as there are more moving parts. "I knew a lot of MMA moves, but I needed some help to brush up on my grappling and certain techniques," says Dorff. “I'm not an MMA fighter. So if you're playing a champion, try to bring your character into the choreography. I thought Fernando Chien did a great job with the fight choreography. "
Courtesy IFC Films
What kind of fighter was his character?
“(Chien) read the script and it was very clear that Cash Boykins was more of a scrapper. He will bring you to the ground and then he will bury you. Cash wants to be in as little as possible. He's not a jiu-jitsu guy while Darren's character Jett is much better with his feet. And that's why this final fight is so strong because you have two different styles that will work against each other and will ultimately burn up. There's an excitement and an adrenaline rush to this cage that is different from any boxing match I've ever seen. "
Suffering for his art
“There has never been an MMA film that I really enjoyed,” says Dorff. “There was Warrior, but that was so many years ago and I feel like it was before the sport really exploded. Embattled is a far superior film for me. The depth that we reach in our father-son relationship wasn't really made that way. "
Watching Embattled makes it clear that Dorff is willing to make physical sacrifices to further his artistic skills, and he's not afraid to polish it up. "If I go in there, I'm ready to be hit," says Dorff. “I got met a couple of times and I connected to Darren, I connected to Darren's double. I feel bad because you never want to connect.
“The special thing about fight scenes and choreographies in films is that it's a dance, and a very complicated dance,” says Dorff. “Whether you're filming MMA or boxing, or a street fight, a sword fight, whatever it is, it's a dance. But your brain can only move that fast, and you are multitasking. You act and wonder what to do next and you will inevitably make mistakes and injuries can occur, but we have been very lucky. "
He added, “You do it and you get dirty and you get stolen. My back had cuts and cuts all over the place from standing against that fence. There's all of these clinches and the slamming down on the mat. It's no fun. But at the same time it really felt like we were in a big game, and the reality is that we were both ready. "
Embattled is now available as a digital download.