Zac Efron Will Always be Troy Bolton, Even to the Cast of ‘The Iron Claw’

Complex caught up with Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Stanley Simons, and Harris Dickinson to talk wrestling, making their new film, and what it's like performing a song from 'High School Musical' to the OG Wildcat.


When the first pictures from the set of The Iron Claw graced our timelines, the Internet had a lot to say about Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White’s new looks.  

Why did Efron, White, Stanley Simons, and Harris Dickinson all suddenly look like beefed-up versions of Lord Farquaad? What was up with the hair? The muscles? Who exactly were these guys playing? And what even is this film about? Based on the true story of the Von Erich family, The Iron Claw follows the rise and fall of one family’s wrestling dynasty as they climb toward colossal success in the ‘80s and battle demons both in the ring and outside of it. 

Anyone familiar with the Von Erichs’ story will know that The Iron Claw is a tragedy on all ends. As much as the film invites us into the electricity of the ring, with exhilarating fight sequences to boot, it also lulls us into the quiet rooms of a family trying to heal itself in the face of unimaginable pain. If you’re walking into The Iron Claw expecting a fun fight watch, rewrite your expectations entirely because the film will have you bawling at your seat by its end. 

Efron is an absolute scene stealer, giving the performance of his career. White and Dickinson hold their own force and continue to prove themselves as Hollywood’s next acting auteurs. And Simons has an enviable debut, breaking through in his first major role and triumphing in every scene he’s in. The four actors are brothers onscreen and off it, going through a transformative training process together to become the Von Erichs and tell their story with the humility and grace it deserves. 

“I think the rise and fall nature of [wrestling] is the story that people really connect to, especially when it is about how someone survives and pulls through it, which is what [The Iron Claw] is,” says director Sean Durkin on the film’s true message. Complex caught up with the main cast of The Iron Claw and Durkin to talk wrestling, the film’s true takeaway, and the ghost of Troy Bolton making it onto the set.  

Obviously The Iron Claw is based on the true story of the Von Erichs, but what do you think the film is offering about their story that audiences might not be expecting? 

Sean Durkin: I think for wrestling fans or people who do know about the Von Erichs, [The Iron Claw] is very much a celebration of what made the family so special in the wrestling world. But I think the unexpected might be how much of an emotional journey it is where it’s less about the facts of what happened and more about how Kevin survives what happens.  

As much as The Iron Claw is a biopic, it is also very much a sports drama. And I think no other sport within the genre has ever been revisited as much as boxing and wrestling have. Why do you think that is? What is it about wrestling that makes it such a good medium for storytelling against other sports like basketball or baseball? 

Stanley Simons: It’s so dynamic. I mean some of the moves are just perfect for filming. Seeing it on the big screen especially, obviously being in person at a wrestling event is—

Jeremy Allen White: It’s electric. 

SS: Yeah, it’s electric. And seeing those move up close as well, I think there’s something to that. 

JAW: And I think with wrestling—the drama of it, the rivalries, the good and the bad, the heel—there’s something very classic about it. The good versus evil sort of thing. 

Zac Efron: There’s also a level of personal commitment [to it] that is extraordinary. [Wrestlers] live to eat, train, and go to war every day for 160 days of the year. It’s incredible. There’s something really romantic about the undertaking of being a professional wrestler. I think it’s at times probably very lonely, and pulling back the curtain [in The Iron Claw], it’s fun to examine how special the journey is for the Von Erichs. To experience it in this way is fascinating. 

You guys have spoken at length about all the physical training you had to do for this film, but we were curious about what you were eating to bulk up so intensely. 

Harris Dickinson: You really have to think about everything in advance. You can’t just be like, “Oh, I’ll see what I’ll have for lunch.” You have to really plan each meal. 

ZE: I mean you’re consuming so many calories that you kind of get a set regimen of what you can eat. It’s chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, broccoli, salmon; there’s like 10 things you interchange out. But it’s pretty bland in my experience.

SS: You had beef heart or something? [Laughs]

ZE: Oh yeah, I was eating a lot of organs to get vitamins because they’re just nutrient-dense cuts of meat. 

Stanley, during a Q&A panel for the film in November, you mentioned that you serenaded Zac with songs from High School Musical. Can you please share what they were? 

SS: It was one time! It was “Breaking Free.” I remember being a kid and listening to that song—I was a little embarrassed—but I did love that song specifically. 

ZE: Rock and roll, man! 

SS: And you know, I was in the presence of thee Troy Bolton—

JAW: It had to be done.

SS: Something had to be done about that!

ZE: It was pretty awesome. It was a great moment. 

I’m really happy you did that. You lived out everyone’s dream. 

SS: Apparently it’s a collective dream. [Laughs]

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