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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Exclusive: Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor talk ‘Challengers’

Amazon MGM Studios

This article contains spoilers.

When tennis ascends beyond mere sport and becomes intricately woven into one’s essence, the trials of securing victory in a match intensify. It extends beyond the trajectory of one’s career; it delves into the sustenance of one’s marriage, where the stakes involve more than just two individuals. This time involves three players: Tashi Dunca, Patrick Zweig, and Art Donaldson.

In “Challengers,” we are introduced to Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), a teenage tennis sensation whose talent catches the eye of Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor), a flashy player, and his more reserved friend Art Donaldson (Mike Faist.) Despite being the superior player, Tashi is entangled romantically with Patrick before ultimately marrying Art as she prepares to embark on her journey at Stanford University. 

After enduring an injury, Duncan takes it upon herself to guide her husband from a mediocre player to the heights of global acclaim as a grand slam champion. Tensions reach a fever pitch when he unexpectedly finds himself facing off against Patrick, a once-promising player who has since fallen into disillusionment. Adding to the situation’s complexity, Patrick is Duncan’s former boyfriend and his husband’s former best friend. As old wounds resurface and rivalries reignite on the court, the stage is set for a dramatic clash of ambition, friendship, and the unyielding pursuit of victory.

While “Challengers” doesn’t directly replicate real-life occurrences, it heavily mines the rich tapestry of the tennis world for its narrative inspiration. During a press conference, Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor delved into their respective preparations for the film. Zendaya, in particular, concentrated on leveraging her past athleticism to enhance her performance alongside her tennis stunt double as she learned the intricacies of the sport.

Reflecting on their initial nerves upon arriving on set as novelty tennis heirs, Zendaya highlighted the bonding experience of training together, emphasizing the privilege of sharing that time to hone their craft and build camaraderie.

“I’ve never been a great tennis player. I think I was incredibly nervous showing up.” Zendaya said. “We were all incredibly nervous showing up on that first day. And so we did tennis training beside each other. We worked out beside each other. We also had rehearsal beside each other, which was such a privilege to be able to have that time to work on the script and get to know each other.” 

Amidst the intensity of tennis training, Zendaya found herself grappling with the daunting task of embodying a skilled player. The pressure to seamlessly transform into a tennis aficionado weighed heavily on her mind as she navigated the demanding regimen. 

“During that tennis training time, I think I was driving myself crazy trying to become a tennis player,” Zendaya said.

Despite her doubts and insecurities, Zendaya’s determination to excel propelled her forward, driving her to push past her comfort zone and embrace the challenges head-on.

“Let me approach it like choreography. I’m a dancer, so let me dance this thing out.  We had amazing tennis doubles.” Zendaya said. “I just wanted to sync up with her. I wanted to understand her footwork, her patterns, her movements and just try to make it as seamless as possible. I wanted to look like her mirror.” 

Practice makes perfect. For Zendaya, recording herself beside her partner and reviewing the footage became her method of refining her technique.

“I’d record myself next to her and watch it back. ‘I could do that a little better.’ ‘Her arms a little more, her shoulders a little bit. She’s quicker on her feet.’” Zendaya said. “So that kind of became my entryway into looking like a tennis player. Because I knew that at some point, I wasn’t going to be one, but I could fake it.”

Part one of their preparation involved rigorous training for the movie. However, during the filming in Boston, Faist and O’Connor found their characters’ chemistry and development, crediting the city for shaping their performances.

“Josh and I would just spend any other time we had just running lines around Boston,” Faist said. “We would just run lines. We’d go to the park. We would just walk around the city and just run the lines.”

“Challengers” captures the essence of Massachusetts, featuring various towns. From the historic streets of Bedford to the coastal charm of Beverly, the cityscape of Braintree to the serene landscapes of Canton, each location adds depth and authenticity to the film’s narrative. 

“I have a playlist on Spotify which is called Boston Marathon. I started it because Mike and I went to watch the Boston Marathon while we were shooting Challengers, and it inspired me.” O’Connor said. “A year later, I did the London Marathon. I think it must have stemmed from making ‘Challengers.’”

While those six weeks were filled with training and preparation, Faist and O’Connor also got to catch the 2022 Boston Marathon, which inspired both their performances and their playlists.

“Josh and I also commuted every day together. More or less, we knew each other’s lines like that. So we were able to kinda just come in and be just like a tennis match.” Faist said. “As an actor, when you’re given the opportunity to work with another amazing actor such as Josh with such strong instincts and specific choices, Josh pings me something, and that gives me something to actually play with to throw him back.”

While the actors spent time connecting in Boston, accepting the role from the given script was a no-brainer for Mike Faist. The opportunity to bring a character to life, fueled by the unique storyline and collaborative spirit, resonated deeply with the actor. 

“I think for all of us at times, we kind of “ebb and flow” throughout our artistic endeavors to always strive to try to find those projects that pull something out of us that makes us feel compelled to conjure the things for ourselves, to pursue it to the fullest extent that we can,” Faist said. “And that just leapt off the page with me, genuinely, with this character. I thought, I understand this very deeply. I would be very lucky to be a part of it.”

Although O’Connor and Faist play rivals in “Challengers,” the two are friends first and actors second, contributing to the contrasting chemistry on screen. Their off-screen camaraderie and mutual respect’s craft laid the foundation for the dynamic tension between their characters.

“I think we both understood these people pretty well.  We understood the roles that we needed to play for each other. It gave us the kind of freedom in the space to play and make choices.” Faist said. “Luca was really great in terms of feeding us ideas and directing us in the position that we needed to go.  I think between, genuinely, the three of us, we just very much knew instinctually what direction we all kinda wanted the story to go in.”

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About the Contributor
Clara Faulkner
Clara Faulkner, Operations Managing Editor
Clara Faulkner wears multiple hats at the Beacon, serving as both the Business Director and the Living Arts Editor. Prior to assuming these roles, she demonstrated her expertise as an assistant editor, specializing in living arts—a domain she is deeply passionate about, fueled by her love for pop culture and entertainment. Additionally, Clara served as a writer for the Boston Globe, Boston.com, is a part of NBCUniversal Entertainment Group, and contributed to the music team at Intersect Magazine. In addition to her editorial responsibilities, Clara actively participates in various campus organizations, including SPJ, Associate Entertainment Producer at WEBN-TV, programming director at WECB. fm, and AEPHI. Outside of her writing pursuits, Clara immerses herself in culinary exploration, cinematic enjoyment, and language acquisition, consistently seeking fresh experiences and knowledge.

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