Interview By: Rocco Passafuime
The exciting thing about teen pop culture is that it often gives its objects of admiration not only a chance to be adored as idols by a devoted following, but it gives an opportunity for new, fresh talent to be discovered. One such new face to come out of such a success story is Sean Faris.
A former model, Faris had appeared on failed TV drams such as Life As We Know It and Reunion and in films like Sleepover and Yours, Mine And Ours. However, he made an unexpected breakthrough with his role in the unusual action/drama Never Back Down, which was critically panned, but moderately successful, even garnering Sean a surprise shared win at the MTV Movie Awards for Best Fight.
Now hoping to capitalize on his turn of fortune, the 26 year-old Faris now stars in the new sports drama Forever Strong. As we sat down to talk with the clearly very enthusiastic young actor, he says it is that very enthusiasm, which was obviously very revelatory during our interview, that helped convince him he could carry both the lead in both Never Back Down and now this film.
“Forever Strong was my first lead in a significant film,” he believes, “I learned how to be a leader there in the sense of having the confidence that I can carry the job. But then, I went and did Never Back Down. It was there that I learned different aspects of being a leader, like showing up regardless of being in a good mood or not, always being in a good mood because you affect the entire set, they’re all there for you.”
Sean shared with us the kind of character he plays in Forever Strong.
“My character is Rick Penning,” Faris explains, “He’s definitely got some issues, his dad’s very hard on him, and it’s very, very much a tough love situation. And Rick’s very confused growing up and he doesn’t receive very much from the father figure that’s guiding him through life.”
“He turns to alcohol and drugs and what not to take his aggression out,” he continues, “He’s a very angry person and he escapes the reality of that by drinking heavily and wanting to hurt people. Along the way, he gets into a car accident. Alcohol-assisted, it’s the second one. This is all based on a true story. This is real fact.”
The real crux in Rick Penning’s evolution comes in when the troubled youth gets the opportunity to play on a rugby team.
“He ends up going to a juvenile detention center in Utah,” he says, “They offer him an early out by playing for this team, the Highland rugby team, under Coach Gelwix, because it’s known that Coach Gelwix is phenomenal, still is phenomenal with young boys, as far as his mentality and getting through to them. Coach Gelwix’s motto is that he coaches champion boys, not champion teams, even though all his teams are champions. That’s why though because he gets through to their hearts. Rick was very, very against it. He had walls up, he had barriers, and that needed to be broken down.”
“The moment that he finally opens up and he accepts who he is, the team accepts him instantly and they’re always there,” Sean continues, “It was up to him to accept them first and with all those walls up, he just thought they did not want him there. And the moment he accepts that, they embrace him and you just see him do a complete 180. He has a major change of heart and he still has his issues there, his trials and tribulations. He lives with one of his best friends right off the bat, the guy that got him to make those changes, but the lessons are there and they stick with him. As far as what I think, it’s a beautiful story because he carries on and he lives through it and he stayed the course.”
Sean says he developed a real appreciation for the sport, which is of British origin that combines Australian rules with both American and Canadian derivations of football. He felt he got a sense of the real camaraderie of the team in Forever Strong, especially after he got to play against the current roster of the real-life Highland rugby team.
“The team, I was fortunate enough to play with some of the actual alumni, the current players, and they really have such a sense of loyalty and love and brotherhood for each other,” he says of them, “That’s why they are so good. They can read each other on the field and that also plays off the field into life.”
However, Faris, despite having done mixed martial arts in Never Back Down, reveals that rugby was an unimaginably physically taxing sport for the highly athletic actor.
“I never played rugby before in my life,” he claims, “It was a rough time, I’m not going to lie, but it was fun. Yeah, it was tough to learn on the legs. Genuinely, the thighs were so sore that I had inner-contusions, not from being hit, but from running. I run like five to ten miles a day on my own.”
“But you know what it was, it was that sprinting thing, that quick up and go, and I’ve played sports all my life. I mean, I’ve played American baseball, American football, soccer, I played all these sports. I was a diver,” Faris adds, “I played sports year-round growing up. It takes a bad man to play rugby and that’s no lie at all.”
The demands of playing such a physically taxing sport like rugby really took a toll on Faris, he said, after the actor had gotten pummeled during a rugby-playing scene.
“I had a moment when I had a stunt was that I was supposed to tackle one of the rugby players,” Sean recalls, “The way the tackle was supposed to be was that I was supposed to barely get an arm around him, but he’s barely running at me and this is the camera and he was supposed to get at me and take him over my body and just slam him really hard.”
“Well, rugby players aren’t stunt guys,” he adds, “This is the difference, a stunt guy falls with you, so if I get him, he’s just supposed to fall with me. This is guy, up close, is a rugby player and naturally just he barreled down into me and I couldn’t get up quick enough, so we ended up colliding shoulder to shoulder. He’s a rugby player and I’m not. I took it in the neck, too.”
Sean very candidly also revealed to us the extents of his rather frightening injury.
“I got what they call a ‘stinger’,” he says, “I swear I got a minor concussion, because I’ve got concussions before and I know what they feel like. I didn’t get any nausea, but everything went instantly black. It came right back, but there’s a moment when, if you get in a fight, and you get hit in the face, everything turns black for like a second. But when I came to, there was like a ringing in my ear and I was on all fours crawling because I was in so much pain.”
“I was likeâ€¦ (making grunting noise),” Sean adds, “I was on the ground rolling around. I lost all the feeling. I could feel it actually leave my arm, like it just tingled all the way down. Then, I couldn’t move my arm and that tripped me out and I never had any of that. I thought I paralyzed part of my body or something. I never had a ‘stinger’ before. The first time you get one, it’s scary, because you don’t know the experience. Once it was explained to me what it was, I was fine, well, actually I was quite loopy the rest of the day. But it’s quite a trip.”
A trip that said not only a very harrowing experience for Sean, he notes, but for the crew as well.
“I was out for like five or ten minutes,” Faris recalls, “It’s hard to say, because I was on my back on the field. The trainers were all concerned. There was silence. It was like, goodness, our lead actor’s down. I was out for the count there. You didn’t see no tears. I was a tough guy. It’s rugby. But they talked me through it and suddenly, all that tingling that I felt leave, slowly tingle back. It’s really interesting what happens with your nerves when the feeling leaves and comes back.”
“It’s all tingly,” he continues, “I had quite the injury after that. The tendons underneath the muscle swelled up real bad. I had to go get an MRI after that actually. The deltoid muscles were like popping out because the tendons were so swollen underneath. It was a Mormon shoot, so it was like, painkillers, there are no painkillers, what are you talking about? We don’t do that. They gave me some anti-inflammatory, some Ibuprofen ID, equivalent of Ibuprofen 800 or 4 Advil. Every day, massive pain, I was in some massive pain. But I finished the shoot, got through it.”
Faris says that despite the physical toll rugby often took on him, he says that the experience gave invaluable knowledge of the lengths of his own physical endurance.
“I learned a little about how far the body can physically push itself, how far beyond your limits you can go,” Sean believes, “Your mind puts traps on you, blocks you in there, and you can really go on further. I learn, not my choice, not without those painkillers, but that wasn’t happening.”
Sean contrasted for us the experience of this film versus having done mixed martial arts for Never Back Down.
“Never Back Down was very specific in the training, particularly MMA,” Faris recalls, “The workouts were to shape the physique, which was always very specific, six hours of fight training a day, two hours of lifting everyday, and the stretching, oh my goodness! I will lift all day long. I will run fifteen miles, I don’t care. Stretching, no. I don’t hate to stretch, but I hate to stretch to get more flexibility, that’s tough. Stretching itself feels great, but when you’re pushing yourself through the pain, it’s so painful, I hate stretching. If you want to see me sweat, forget about me doing a sport, just have me do yoga, it’s like a waterfall coming down on me, it’s ridiculous.”
“With the rugby stuff, I had played football before, so I already had an understanding of the feel of the sport,” he continues, “With Never Back Down, MMA was something I had never done before, so it was completely foreign to me, where as with rugby, I had played soccer, I had played football. I played sports that involved the same kind of physicality, just not the brute, kind of ridiculous toughness that’s required by rugby. So the training for that is something I’ve done many times over.”
Directing the film is Ryan Little, who has scored plenty of acclaim in the independent film for the war drama Saints And Soldiers, which recounts the Malmedy massacre of World War II. Faris explains what makes Little’s latest film a cut above the typical sports drama fare.
“It’s a very clean film. It’s wholesome,” he says, “In the end, it’s got a lot of action and fun stuff going on and deals with real-life issues, but in a very clean manner. You can show it to any kid and they’re not going to walk away with bad influences at all, so I don’t think you’ll see a single swear word. Ryan Little, you know, he made a war film without a single swear word.”
“It was phenomenal and it won independent film awards,” Sean adds, “So it was definitely not a bad direction for us to go in. Don’t get me wrong, I love my swear words in movies. Especially if I got free rein, I’d be dropping f-bombs all day long. It’s just fun. But it gets a little repetitive to see in a movie. I swear a lot. I’m not going to lie. Sometimes you can’t leave a better word.”
“I love being an actor,” he enthuses, “I love my job. I’m really grateful. I live my dream. I kind of fell into it, didn’t know it was my dream, always would have liked to have done it, never thought it was possible. I’m very competitive, especially with myself.”
“It’s hard to watch my own work because I’d rip it apart,” Faris continues, “My goal is to always do better, every job that I get. And if I can’t get better, so to speak, learn something, because every job has different challenges, whatever it may be.”
It’s that experience and good time that he says he hopes very much will only continue down the road, as Faris shared with us some of what he has in store for the movie-going public in the future.
“It’s just crazy right now,” Sean says, “I flew in from Ireland for the premiere, where I’m making a movie called Ghost Machine, absolutely love that, having a good time with it, great crew, great people, laid-back. I’m the only American on set. America shows up and like, wow. That’s what character, I am.”
“I’m the American asshole, very deceitful,” he adds, “He creates like a virtual simulation program with a computer with the Army like Black Ops. It creates a video game world. It’s really wicked cool. I have a few others that I’m possibly in the running to do. I really want to do them and I can’t wait to do them all. Every actor is going to hate me for saying this, but I really could end up working in films for the next six months straight. We’ll see.”