Joel Edgerton and Callum Turner Introduce The Boys In The Boat

Does the thought of a movie about rowing bore you? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

“My only concern when signing up for The Boys In The Boat was wondering just how cinematically exciting rowing can be”, star Joel Edgerton explained to Zavvi. “The thing that gave me faith was that The Queen’s Gambit made me enthralled to see chess onscreen – you should be able to make any sport exciting after seeing that.”

The Aussie actor appears in George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, a biopic of the unlikely university rowing team who competed for the US in the infamous 1936 Olympics, as Al Ubrickson, the University of Washington’s coach. Edgerton is no stranger to the underdog sports movie, having previously dazzled as an MMA fighter in 2011’s Warrior, and his love for the genre has endured ever since.

“I love stories like this”, he continued. “It was first told to me in the most simple underdog terms, about a bunch of kids starting from nothing, stumbling their way into a sport and going all the way to the Olympics.

“But more importantly, I didn’t have to do any training this time; I spent three months drinking wine with George and putting on a three-piece suit. I was just the observer this time, watching the cast in pain, learning how to row!”

Warner Bros.

Edgerton took playing the role of mentor to heart though, feeling a keen sense of pride at seeing his fellow cast members put through a gruelling training routine.

“Having been through the experience of Warrior, I appreciate how tough they have it, but I also know how much pleasure comes from that pain. You’re putting yourself through a physical challenge you begin to think you’re not capable of, and when you eventually pull it off, you feel such a sense of pride and satisfaction from it.

“Watching these guys from the sidelines, I knew that as much pain as they were in at that moment, this was an experience they’ll always remember – the satisfaction they’ll feel from doing this in the years to come will make it all worth it.”

Warner Bros.

The rowing team is led by Joe Rantz, played by Callum Turner, who was eager to sign on to play the college student for two reasons. One was, of course, working with Clooney – but the other was far more urgent.

“I was 31 when I got the part, so I was running out of time to make a sports movie!” he told Zavvi. “And then for the first two months after being hired, I was spending four hours a day on the water, it was excruciating.

“It was a really painful experience, but it wouldn’t be so special if it wasn’t so painful. It’s always frustrating when learning a new skill from scratch, and here there were eight of us on the water, trying to become a professional sports team in just a couple of months.”

Warner Bros.

Like Edgerton, Turner also worried that his efforts would be in vain. Would anybody possibly care about an underdog story based around the most unfashionable of sports?

“I’ve always wanted to work with George, and I would have done any movie he asked me to”, the actor continued, “but yeah, I did worry at first about whether we could possibly make an interesting movie about rowing.

“The thing that convinced me, weirdly, was when me and the guys went to see Top Gun: Maverick – it was a crowd pleaser just like the type we were aiming to make, and that motivated us to try and match it. Plus, George really leans into the old Hollywood aesthetic, where every detail transports you into another world; even the kissing scene feels different to how you see kisses in movies these days!”

Warner Bros.

Clooney has been open in the past about his desire to make the kinds of movies Hollywood doesn’t make anymore, but as his long-time producing partner Grant Heslov explained, this time he was dabbling in a genre that has remained persistent throughout the years.

He told Zavvi: “This is one of those stories that Hollywood does best: the underdog story about a group of kids who overcome every obstacle to get to the top. We both loves sports stories and rooting for the underdog, and we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel; we wanted to lean into every cliché of the genre, without apologising for it.

“I mean, this is a true story and it stays so true to the Hollywood formula. You don’t want to mess around with the facts too much, and that they’re as unbelievable as they are just made it more attractive for us.”

Warner Bros.

The story stays so close to this rags-to-riches tale, it takes a while to realise that the boys are fighting to compete in the 1936 Olympics – y’know, the one that took place in Nazi Germany. Hitler does make an appearance to watch their race, but ultimately, he’s an afterthought in this narrative by design.

“Hitler is the ultimate villain of the 20th century”, Heslov added. “We didn’t need to make him a character for people to know that – we didn’t want to detract from what was going on with the boys by overshadowing their race in any way.”

Heslov is also aware of just how boring the idea of a movie about rowing sounds, joking that it was either “making a movie about this or a crossword puzzle”, with the biggest challenge facing the production being the search for a way to make he races feel dynamic onscreen.

Warner Bros.

“What’s interesting is at the time, this was the largest spectator sport in America, and we needed to find a way to convey that to modern audiences. Working with our cinematographer Martin Ruhe, I think we managed it, as I’ve seen people watching those scenes on the edge of their seats.

“I was flicking through the TV channels here in London, and I saw that you guys love to watch snooker. After rowing, maybe that’s the next thing we can make really exciting in a movie…”

The Boys In The Boat is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 12th January.

Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.