LOS ANGELES, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The Iron Claw, in theaters Dec. 22, tells the story of the Von Erich wrestling family dynasty. Zac Efron plays Kevin Von Erich and said the real Kevin complimented him on capturing his emotional turmoil.
"[Kevin] said he appreciated that inability to express his emotion or what he's going through with regard to his father," Efron said at a post-screening Q&A in Los Angeles.
Efron, 36, added that Kevin validated Efron's portrayal of the struggle "about what's going on in the ring, about how demanding it was, about how it was taking its toll."
Patriarch Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) was a wrestler himself and raised all four of his surviving sons to be wrestlers. The oldest Von Erich brother died as a child.
Kerry Von Erich (Jeremy Allen White) was an Olympic hopeful who missed his chance when the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow games. Fritz encouraged Kerry to wrestle, but Kerry lost his foot in a motorcycle accident in 1986.
Kerry would learn to wrestle with a prosthetic and eventually join the WWF, later renamed the WWE. White, 32, said archival footage of Kerry in the hospital after his accident highlighted the way the family pushed through hardships at the expense of their emotions.
"He's speaking to the press and to his fans about how he's doing great and everything's okay," White said. "We know obviously that's all a lie, and he's smiling but you can really see the pain and the fear in his eyes."
Kerry died by suicide in 1993. That was after David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson) died of an ruptured intestine on a wrestling tour in Japan in 1984, and Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons) also died by suicide in 1987.
The film shows how Kevin struggled with the belief that his family was cursed, and that he could even bring the curse to his wife, Pam (Lily James) and their children. Efron said Kevin elaborated at length about his appreciation of Efron's portrayal and the film itself.
"We sat forehead to forehead talking for like an hour and a half," Efron said. "That's far and away the most important review to me on so many levels."
In order to convey the gravity of the Von Erich family drama, the actors also had to portray their family business accurately. White, Efron, Dickinson and Simons studied with Chavo Guerrero, who still appears at All Elite Wrestling events and coordinated the wrestling for shows like GLOW and Young Rock.
"The greatest thing about being an actor is you get to spend months learning and learning from professionals from these different worlds," White said.
Efron said it was important to him to get the choreography of matches correct, just as he is exacting when he does a musical.
"I'm specific about moves as well and movement on camera," Efron said.
Writer/director Sean Durkin said he filmed each wrestling match in its entirety, even if he only used a portion of it in the film. He also confirmed several matches in the film were amalgams of more than one actual historic match.
"There's a mixture of historical truth in them but then making them fit the narrative as well," Durkin said.