Writer Justin Kuritzkes, producer Amy Pascal, Josh O’Connor, Zendaya, Mike Faist, director Luca Guadagnino, producer Rachel O’Connor and Mike Hopkins, SVP of Prime Video and Amazon MGM Studios, attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

(L to R) Writer Justin Kuritzkes, producer Amy Pascal, Josh O’Connor, Zendaya, Mike Faist, director Luca Guadagnino, producer Rachel O’Connor and Mike Hopkins, SVP of Prime Video and Amazon MGM Studios, attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

Preview:

  • Zendaya, Mike Feist and Josh O’Connor were among the talent attending the ‘Challengers’ press conference.
  • Zendaya talked about how her dance background helped with her tennis training.
  • Director Luca Guadagnino outlined the lengths he went to for the movie’s final sequence.

Luca Guadagnino (‘Call Me by Your Name’, ‘Bones and All’) is a director known for his grasp of sensuality and complicated, grown-up stories of relationships. And his latest, ‘Challengers’ marries that sensitivity with the competitive world of tennis, where curdled personal and professional jealousy causes issues for one woman and the men who share an attraction to her –– at the cost of their own formerly deep friendship.

‘Challengers’ stars Zendaya (‘Dune: Part Two’) as Tashi Duncan, a former tennis prodigy turned coach and a force of nature who makes no apologies for her game on and off the court.

Married to a champion on a losing streak (Mike Faist, ‘West Side Story’), Tashi’s strategy for her husband’s redemption takes a surprising turn when he must face off against the washed-up Patrick (Josh O’Connor, 'The Crown') –– his former best friend and Tashi’s former boyfriend.

As their pasts and presents collide, and tensions run high, Tashi must ask herself what it will cost to win.

Josh O’Connor, Zendaya and Mike Faist attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

(L to R) Josh O’Connor, Zendaya and Mike Faist attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Stewart Cook/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

The movie marks Guadagnino’s latest and potentially most mainstream crossover movie, with a script from relative newcomer Justin Kuritzkes and ‘Spider-Man’ veteran Amy Pascal among its producers.

Moviefone recently attended a virtual press conference for ‘Challengers.’ Taking part were stars Zendaya, Faist and O’Connor alongside director Guadagnino, producer Pascal and writer Kuritzkes.

Here are 10 things we learned from the press conference, edited for clarity and length.

Related Article: Movie Review: 'Challengers' 

1) Writer Justin Kuritzkes was Partly Inspired by a Particular Moment in Tennis

Writer Justin Kuritzkes attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Writer Justin Kuritzkes attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Stewart Cook/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

Kuritzkes says he wasn’t much of a sports fan before writing the script, but one moment during a televised tennis game gave him the initial kernel for ‘Challengers’, which hinges on a couple of dramatic games.

Justin Kuritzkes: I just happened to turn on the US Open and it was the final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. And there was this very controversial call from the umpire where he accused Serena Williams of receiving coaching from the sidelines. I had never heard of this rule, but Serena was saying, ‘That didn’t happen. I would never do that.’ Immediately this struck me as this intensely cinematic situation where you’re all alone on your side of the court and there’s this one other person in this massive tennis stadium who cares as much about what happens to you as you do, but you can’t talk to them. For whatever reason, it just clicked in my mind: What if you really needed to talk about something, and what if it was something beyond tennis? What if it was something that was going on with the two of you, and what if it involved the person on the other side of the net? How would you have that conversation and how could you communicate the tension of that situation using the tools that are specific to film? So yeah, that was really where it all started for me.

2) Amy Pascal Wanted to Produce the Film Because it Was a Grown-Up Concept

Producer Amy Pascal attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Producer Amy Pascal attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

Pascal was given the script by her producing partner Rachel O’Connor and knew it was something she wanted to shepherd to screens.

Amy Pascal: It is very rare that commercial movies are about adult relationships and about sex. I was sick of it, so I thought it was high time that people kiss in movies and more, and there was no better director to bring that to life than Luca.

3) Pascal Convinced Kuritzkes to Let Her Option the Script with One Compelling Offer

Director Luca Guadagnino and producer Amy Pascal attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

(L to R) Director Luca Guadagnino and producer Amy Pascal attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

Pascal brings enough of a heavyweight reputation thanks to her years in the business, which you think might be enough for most people. But thanks to her history with the ‘Spider-Man’ movies, she also had a secret weapon…

Pascal: I think what really locked it, and I don’t think Zendaya knows this, but I’ll say it now, is we promised we’d get her to do it. I said, I know there’s a lot of other producers, but I know Z personally and I will get her to do this movie, and that is why Justin chose us, I’m certain.

4) Luca Guadagnino Loved the Script –– But Had to be Cajoled to Read it at First

Director Luca Guadagnino attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Director Luca Guadagnino attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

Guadagnino said he’d wanted to work with Pascal for a while, so the script was a tempting one… Even if she had to keep at him to read it, since he was already busy on another film.

Luca Guadagnino: Amy and I, we have been courting each other for many years now. There is a sort of an unspoken love story between the two of us! But when Amy sent me the script I was working on something else, and she was calling me every half hour to ask me if I was reading it or not. Eventually I had to read it while working. The script was fantastic. The characters were amazing. The structure was so cinematic that I just immediately, instinctively felt that the company of Amy, the company of Zendaya and the company of Justin, the artistic endeavor that we could all gather together in this would be fantastic. So, I think I said I was in immediately.

5) Zendaya was convinced to do the film after a table read

Zendaya attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Zendaya attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

Zendaya is a busy actor, and obviously is offered a lot of scripts these days. So the producers decided to go an extra step to convince her to join ‘Challengers’.

Zendaya: We had a mock table read at my agent’s house and I just fell in love with the script. I mean, it was brilliant. It also made me very nervous as something to tackle because of, I think, how complicated these characters are. Also, I couldn’t define what kind of movie it was. It was funny. It was so funny, but I wouldn’t say it was a comedy. There was drama, but I wouldn’t say it was just a drama. It had tennis, but it wasn’t like a sports movie. So I think that feeling that it was just everything at once in this beautiful way was terrifying, but equally exhilarating and exciting.

6) Mike Faist thought he’d blown his chance to appear in the film.

Mike Faist attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Mike Faist attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Stewart Cook/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

Faist, who broke out big in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of ‘West Side Story’ admits he needs prodding from his agents to read scripts. But he loved the ‘Challengers’ screenplay when it was sent to him to read at home in Ohio and immediately agreed to a Zoom meeting with Guadagnino, which led to a screen test.

Mike Faist: They flew me to London to meet with Zendaya, and we did a screen test there. I remember I left the screen test, and I was walking around London, and I actually felt like it went atrociously wrong. I thought, "Oh, okay. Well, I did not book that at all." Then Luca gave me a call and he said, "Mike, where are you? Come back, have lunch with me." We sat down and had lunch and we just chatted some more and got to know each other.

7) Josh O’Connor initially worried he wasn’t up to the challenge of his role.

Josh O’Connor attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Josh O’Connor attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Stewart Cook/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

O’Connor, who plays strong-headed but down-on-his luck player Patrick Zweig, was concerned he didn’t have the chops to play such a complicated character, despite winning awards for playing ‘The Crown’s Prince Charles.

Josh O’ Connor: I’d read the script before. But then when Luca asked me about doing it initially, Patrick was, I thought, beyond my reach. I felt like this was a character that was so confident, so front-footed, so comfortable in himself, even though he has, as we all do, fears and insecurities. But really he completely lives life to the full and is very accepting of his flaws. All those things seemed like a reach and Luca very brilliantly accepted that and made me feel comfortable around that.

8) Zendaya found one of her own skills helped her with learning to look like a tennis pro.

Zendaya stars as Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino’s 'Challengers,' an Amazon MGM Studios film.

Zendaya stars as Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino’s 'Challengers,' an Amazon MGM Studios film. Photo credit: Niko Tavernise. © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The actor recalls having trouble with the tennis training, and that even when she thought her skills had clicked in, she couldn’t remember them.

Z: I’d be, Yeah, I got this. Okay, and then you come in the next day, and you can’t recreate it and you’re, ‘Damn, back to square one.’ I once said, ‘I want to try to see what it feels like to return a serve. Someone hit me a real one.’ The way that thing flew by me so fast, and at the time I still had glasses, so I couldn’t even see the dang thing!

But she figured out that something she was already skilled at might help.

Z: At some point I realized, "Okay, my approach has to be different because whatever this is, isn’t working." So I said, "Okay, well, let me approach it like choreography. I’m a dancer, so let me dance this thing out."

9) Faist and O’Connor developed a close bond before shooting and enjoy joking about their connection on and off screen.

Josh O'Connor, writer Justin Kuritzkes and Mike Faist attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios' 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

(L to R) Josh O'Connor, writer Justin Kuritzkes and Mike Faist attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios' 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Stewart Cook/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

It’s clear from hearing them talk about it that Faist and O’Connor are good friends. But that doesn’t stop them having fun at each other’s expense. Such as when they’re asked to define how they developed the toxic bromance between Art and Patrick in the movie and Faist answers: “Well, we hate each other.”

Mike Faist stars as Art and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in director Luca Guadagnino’s 'Challengers,' an Amazon MGM Studios film.

(L to R) Mike Faist stars as Art and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in director Luca Guadagnino’s 'Challengers,' an Amazon MGM Studios film. Photo credit: Niko Tavernise. © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

JOC: Mike does this joke sometimes and sometimes he follows it up with the punchline of, "Just kidding. We’re great friends." But in the UK last week we did an interview where he committed so much to this joke that it sounded like I bullied him. It was extraordinary.

Josh O’Connor, Zendaya and Mike Faist attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

(L to R) Josh O’Connor, Zendaya and Mike Faist attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios’ 'Challengers' at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios.

MF: Josh genuinely in the middle of the interview, was screaming at me, "Please tell them that you’re joking!"

10) Luca Guadagnino and his team worked hard crafting the kinetic final tennis sequence.

Director Luca Guadagnino on the set of 'Challengers', a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.

Director Luca Guadagnino on the set of 'Challengers', a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Niko Tavernise / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The movie jumps back and forward in time, but hinges on one particular climactic match between Faist’s Art and O’Connor’s Patrick. Guadagnino and his team knew that would need a lot of preparation to make work on the different emotional and physical levels.

LG: We rehearsed the dramatic part of the movie many, many, many days. Then we were on the court every day, few hours watching the points, understanding how those sports action had to be reflective of the dynamic between the characters. We understood that the final sequence, the final moment, had to be basically a silent sequence or a non-dialogue sequence, that was going to be very clear to everyone in the audience, to understand the emotional ramp up that had to be built there. It took a long time in the conception, planning and shooting. I think that sequence, the last 10 minutes, took us eight days to shoot, more or less, which is incredible.

'Challengers' is in theaters on April 26th.

Challengers

"Her game. Her rules."
74
R2 hr 12 minApr 26th, 2024
Showtimes & Tickets

What is the plot of ‘Challengers’?

Art (Mike Faist) and Patrick (Josh O’Connor) are college tennis players with dreams of turning pro who both unexpectedly fall for fellow player Tashi (Zendaya). Patrick ends up dating her, but as their careers take different paths, it’s Art and Tashi who eventually get married. Yet Tashi’s plan to snap Art out of a losing streak and get him to the U.S. Open are disrupted by the return of Patrick, as tensions sexual and otherwise run high.

Who is in the cast of ‘Challengers’?

Mike Faist as Art, Zendaya as Tashi and Josh O'Connor as Patrick in 'Challengers', directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.

(L to R) Mike Faist as Art, Zendaya as Tashi and Josh O'Connor as Patrick in 'Challengers', directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.
Credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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