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‘The Iron Claw’ is the story of a Texas family dynasty — its triumphs and tragedies

Zac Efron holding a giant belt in a wrestling ring.
Courtesy of Brian Roedel
Zac Efron stars as Kevin Von Erich in The Iron Claw.

The new A24 film The Iron Claw is not just about wrestling.

It chronicles the story of the Von Erichs, Dallas’ first family of wrestling. But it’s just as much a tragedy about the family dynamic and the brother’s love for each other than it is about action in the ring, according to its writer and director Sean Durkin.

However, wrestling still is a central part of this movie. And to get it right, the filmmakers turned to Chavo Guerrero Jr. — one of sport’s brightest stars during his time in the ring, and a member of another Texas wrestling dynasty.

He spoke with the Standard about getting the actors ready for the ring, his own part on screen and the joys of being from one of El Paso’s great wrestling families. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Courtesy of A24

Texas Standard: Before we get into your work on the film, for those who don’t follow wrestling, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family’s background in the business?

Chavo Guerrero Jr.: Yeah, man. So I am from a third-generation, professional wrestling family, Texas wrestling family. So, you know, wrestling has really been feeding my family for 85 years, I believe. And we’ve made our living wrestling. Still making my living off of it, just in the different aspect. But, you know, I wrestled with the WWE for over a year, WCW for 20-plus years.

So I’ve been around a little bit, you know.

What was it like growing up in a family that is just steeped in wrestling?

For us, it was different back in the day. You know, that’s how we paid our bills.

We had my grandfather’s wrestling promotion and, you know, everyone had a little something we had to do in there: sweeping up or selling popcorn or selling 8x10s. The older men in the family wrestling on the promotion, and that’s really how you made your money.

And it wasn’t like they made huge crazy money. Wrestling wasn’t like that back in the day. We were celebrities in El Paso, Texas, and that little area. But once you got out of that, sometimes, if you weren’t a wrestling fan, no one knew who you were. You just kind of had a regular job, you know? 

Right. There was no TNT to watch you guys on.

Yeah. TNT, USA … There was no cable back in the day. It was all, you know, very small. You know, little local networks.

Brian Roedel

Well, do you remember hearing about or watching the Von Erichs when you were a kid growing up?

Oh, yeah. Because they were one of the other Texas wrestling families who had a promotion as well.

So there was a professional rivalry between the families for sure. We would wrestle for their promotion, they would wrestle for our promotion — the older gentlemen in the family. I was younger, of course. But, you know, we’d be in Japan and Europe wrestling against them.

So there was definitely professional rivalry. And especially in a wrestling family, you know, you always think that you’re the best. So, “We’re better than them,” or “They’re bad,” you know. “They think they were better than us.” But we absolutely had a knowledge and a rapport with the Von Erich family. Grew up with them, really.

» RELATED: When Dallas — and the Von Erichs — ruled the wrestling world

From left to right: Harris Dickinson, Zac Efron, Stanley Simons and Jeremy Allen White star in “The Iron Claw.”
Eric Chakeen
From left to right: Harris Dickinson, Zac Efron, Stanley Simons and Jeremy Allen White star in “The Iron Claw.”

Well, you were the wrestling consultant on this movie. In addition to being in the movie, which we’ll get to, I’m curious: What’s your process of getting wrestling novices up to speed to be able to perform in a movie like this?

Well, it depends what I’m doing. Am [I] training a wrestler to be a wrestler, or am I training an actor to look like a wrestler in a wrestling scene? Two completely different things.

And then in this movie, I’m not just training an actor to play a fictional character. I’m actually training them to play people and develop mannerisms of wrestlers that wrestling fans in the world know. So it’s a little bit of a challenge in a different way.

And the way I get into doing it is getting them to look like wrestlers in a wrestling scene. I’m not training them for WrestleMania, I’m not beating them up like you do a normal pro-wrestling training. I’m getting them to love coming to practice and love what we’re doing.

So it’s wrestling, yes, but it’s definitely something different.

» RELATED: ‘Cassandro’ is the triumphant story of El Paso’s legendary luchador

When you get people into the ring who haven’t been there before, what surprises them the most? 

How hard the wrestling ring actually is. That’s what surprised them the most. And I usually try to soften it up as much as I can for them, like in a shooting ring.

I have a ring here that specifically I use for shooting. You know, I have a double mat on there. You know, the ropes are wrapped and padded, but it’s still a wrestling ring. It’s still wood and metal, and you can’t really cheat it all that much. So they always trip out when they’re like, “Oh, we want to hit the ropes. We want to, come off the top rope,” and they start hitting the ropes with their back, and they’re like, “Okay, we’re done,” because we get welts on their back and stuff.

So I really don’t want them to do that, especially big A-list actors that the production studio, A24, is putting their trust in me to keep them ready but keep them safe, too.

You are in the movie, as I mentioned. You play the Sheik, which is one of the, I guess you could say, antagonists for the Von Erich family. How’d that opportunity come about?

Well, they hired me as the wrestling consultant and when Sean Durkin, the director, we had a first meeting together, he was like, “Hey, you know, can you please help me make this movie?” We’re like, “All right, let’s let’s do it.” You know, once I heard his passion for the project and him being a wrestling fan and really just his vision for the film, I was all in.

When we started getting kind of closer and casting stuff, Sean asked me, “Hey, can you play the Sheik?” The Sheik is a very pivotal role in the movie because it’s the very first real action that we see and sets the tone of the movie. And he goes, “I really need Zac to look amazing.” And if you see the film, you know, we kind of start with wrestling a lot and we kind of start tapering down. Even though still wrestling, it’s not as much. You start getting into story. So I was like, “Yeah, okay.”

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It’s a different dynamic for me doing that. Sure, I’ve been on camera a whole bunch with wrestling for 20 years and then a bunch of different films and TV shows we’ve done. But when I do that, I can’t see the action. So usually when we’re filming the action ring, I’m right next to the director behind the camera looking and tweaking things as we go — you know, tweaking choreography, tweaking movement, facial expressions, actually working with the DP or like how he’s going to shoot it. But when I’m in the ring, it’s very hard to do that.

So I’m normally kind of going on feel a lot. And I’ll ask for replays and that kind of stuff and, you know, that’s time and money. So a lot of times I got to have to trust the director on things.

So there’s times that I don’t want to be on camera because the fact that I can’t do my real job, which is wrestling coordinator and making the wrestling scenes look as authentic as possible, but on this one it was definitely a different story because Sean was really needing this. It was something that he wanted. So I was absolutely, “Let’s do it.” And I think it turned out great.

Brian Roedel

Now that the movie is out, what do you hope audiences take away after watching it?

I do hope that they take away that, you know, it’s just [an] amazing movie. And the movie is about a family and the family dynamic and family triumphs and tragedies. But that can tear you apart or it can bring you closer together. And we all have family and we’ve all had, like you said, triumphs and tragedies. But sometimes, you know, it’s how we deal with adversity that really makes your family. And I think hopefully that people will take that from this movie.

But it is a wrestling movie as well. I heard your opening, you know, Sean saying it’s not a wrestling movie. But after seeing the premiere, and I kind of explained that to my wife, too, and when we got done, she was like, “Oh, by the way, you are all over this movie. There’s a lot of wrestling scenes in this movie."

So if you’re a wrestling fan, you’re going to dig it, too, because we try to authenticate and really mimic the wrestling that was in the '80s, especially the World Class Championship Wrestling with the Von Erichs and the Freebirds and Ric Flair and all the stuff that they went through. I tried to get it really authentic as possible.

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Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her: