Challengers Star Josh O’Connor On The Crown, Hot Air Balloons And Male Friendships

How The Crown star became the internet's favourite boyfriend.

With a buzzy press tour, a streamy love story from the mind of the esteemed Italian director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) and a star studded cast, Challengers has all the ingredients to make it the most talked about film since Barbie.

Following Tashi (played by Zendaya) a former tennis prodigy turned coach who is married to a champion on a losing streak (Mike Faist) who must compete against his former best friend and Tashi’s former boyfriend (Josh O’Connor).

Ahead of the global release, marie claire sat down with Josh O’Connor to talk the importance of male friendships, finding his King Charles in The Crown and his love of Hot Air Balloons.

You played a young King Charles in The Crown. There’s endless material out there did that prove challenging?

I spent two weeks trying to get a voice and physicality that left audiences feeling safe in the knowledge that I’m playing Charles. After that, I just dropped it all, because I’m never going to know who Charles is. So rather than try to speculate or try to make things realistic, I tried to find a way of telling a story in the same way I would [a fictional character].

Josh O'Connor
Josh O’Connor in The Crown.

You have a fascination with hot air balloons. What sparked your interest?

Here’s the problem: I am heavily enthusiastic but I don’t ever want to step in one. I’m afraid of heights. I joined the Bristol Hot Air Balloon dropped it all, because I’m never going Appreciation Society, but then I realised that everyone in the group had joined because they’ve been in them and enjoy them. So when I did a meet up, I lied about being in one. I like the idea of them, the shape of them, literature written about them. They’re very romantic to me. And I just don’t want to ruin that. The only chance of me getting in a hot air balloon is the day [someone] spreads my ashes off one.

Your new film, Challengers, offers a refreshing portrayal of male friendships through a steamy love triangle. What resonated with you about the story?

I’m not an avid tennis follower but I don’t think it’s a tennis movie. It’s a story about competitiveness, rivalry, jealousy, love, passion and lust. I really liked the idea of a film that captures the friendship between the two men, and later Tashi [played by Zendaya], as well, and the complications around three characters who are all in different ways obsessed with each other. To me that
is really fascinating.

Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O’Connor.

What was the physical prep like ?

It was intense. Mike Faist and Zendaya, were actually doing a fair bit of tennis in preparation. I was on another film set, so I was kind of stuck on the side of an Italian mountain and not able to play tennis or necessarily get fit. But then, as soon as I arrived, we were doing full-on training and then rehearsals for the rest of the day.
It’s definitely the fittest I’ve ever been. We wanted to be specific about the physique of an athlete, and particularly the tennis player. You had to go to those places to influence the character.

How did you find your grunt?

Initially, I didn’t want to do any grunting, partly because my dad does love tennis and he always complains about tennis players grunting. I thought, my dad’s gonna be so disappointed if I do a grunt. But I can see why they do it because it gives you an extra bit of energy.

Josh O connor

You said that you’re not going down the Marvel route yet. Why?

I think Marvel films are great and there’s some really brilliant movies from that studio. But I think my resistance is that it seems like it could be quite restrictive. The thing that interests me is playing different characters, so the idea of playing one character for 10 films over 10 years doesn’t excite me.

Challengers is in cinemas now.

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