LEGENDARY explores a teenage boy's journey to reunite his family ten years after the death of their beloved father, a state collegiate wrestling legend.
Cal Chetley (Devon Graye), a bright, undersized fifteen-year-old is an outsider in the blue collar town of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, known for its high school wrestling program. His older brother Mike (John Cena), a one-time high school wrestling champion with whom Cal is estranged, left Cal and his mother Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) behind years ago after the tragic car accident killed their father.
However, Cal is determined to put his family back together. With the encouragement of Harry "Red" Newman (Danny Glover), a charming, albeit mysterious man who has a way of appearing just when Cal needs him most, Cal joins the high school wrestling team hoping his brother will train him. What ensues is an emotional journey about Cal's drive to succeed and his unwavering pursuit to reunite his family.
In the tradition of acclaimed and popular films such as "Rudy," "Karate Kid" and "The Blind Side," "Legendary" is the inspirational story about overcoming adversity.
ABOUT THE STORY
Legends Are Made, Not Won
For many years, the screenplay for "Legendary" had the distinction of being considered one of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.
"It sounds like a good thing unless you're the writer," said the film's producer and WWE Studios Executive Vice President Mike Pavone. "Those Top Ten lists come out every year and it's kind of a prestigious thing, but on the other hand, these are ten best screenplays that have never been produced. It's very satisfying that after all this time, the film has gotten made and is coming out in theaters... I really thank the WWE for giving me the opportunity."
"Legendary's" story about family strength and unity, and the importance of forgiveness and redemption, as well as its clearly defined characters, led acclaimed actress Patricia Clarkson to commit to the project years ago when the producers were seeking financing.
"I read the screenplay and thought it was not only a great part, but the whole movie was spectacular," said Clarkson, who portrays Sharon Chetley. "It's a beautiful, very moving family film. I think it has everything that makes a movie great. There is something very special about this story that I don't know if I can quite put into words. I've been attached to it for several years and am very thankful that it has finally been made and I get to be a part of it. Sometimes, good things come to those who wait."
For co-star Danny Glover, who portrays Harry "Red" Newman, "Legendary" represents the type of movies that actors - and audiences-- really love. "Rarely do you find a situation when you get a chance to work, and do the kind of work you think is transformative," said Glover. "I use the word 'transformative' in the sense that whenever a story is able to take a specific sport or situation and translate that into some sort of life-affirming context, than I think it is something you are proud to be a part of and an audience enjoys watching."
WWE Superstar and actor John Cena, who portrays Mike Chetley, agrees. "When I read the story, it just made me feel good," he said. "I know it sounds really corny, but I felt a connection to it. I could see myself in the story, in any capacity. With the right cast and director, I knew it could be something special. I think audiences will enjoy the movie and walk away feeling inspired."
From Oxley's Road to Legendary
When screenwriter John Posey, who portrays Coach Tennent in the film, began writing "Legendary" nearly 10 years ago, he was inspired by an incident which occurred in high school with his younger brother. "It was after a wrestling match and there was a lot of tension and the potential for a brawl between two teams. And, my younger brother, who was a 98-pounder, broke a Gatorade bottle, and stood there with it in his hand, ready to defend the whole team. He was going to take on everybody and he weighed 98 pounds soaking wet! That image just stayed with me. …When I started writing, I wanted to set the story in the prep wrestling world and I wanted to go back to the younger brother. 'What if the child tries to teach the adults how to behave because the adults can't figure it out among themselves? What happens when the child is the real grown-up?'"
To that end, Posey avoided constructing the story around the more typical dynamics of parents and children. "There are so many father-son stories," he said. "I was thinking of something different. I had never really seen a story where a younger brother tries to pull the older brother back into his life again, so that's how it all began to mesh together."
Posey wrote the story of how a smart and resolute 15-year-old who uses the only connection he has to the men in his life -- wrestling -- to find out what happened to his family, especially his widowed mother. Inspired by sports dramas such as the "Karate Kid" and "Rocky," Posey wanted to use wrestling for its iconic and solitary qualities, similar to martial arts and boxing - where the competition is one-on-one.
The original screenplay, then titled "Oxley's Road," was read around Hollywood, optioned, developed, and then, as money and studio executives came and went, placed in turned around and sold again. During that time, Pavone read the script and became involved in the project, bringing it to Patricia Clarkson, who committed as well.
"Before I joined WWE, we were very close to getting it made until the people who were financing it backed out," said Pavone. "When I came over to WWE, I brought the script to Vince McMahon and he loved it. It was perfect for the WWE and had a wonderful part for John Cena, which also made it well-suited to what we are trying to do with our films."
Life On The Mat
Director Mel Damski says the film's themes of transformation, redemption and family relationships were the keys for him.
"I love the story," said Damski. "It's really not a wrestling movie, per se; it's really a family drama and coming-of-age story. I always lead with my heart and if I'm emotionally caught up in a movie, that's a home run for me. When I read the script, I thought, 'I really care about these people.' I think a lot of wrestling fans are going to get a pleasure out of seeing the wrestling, but I also think the story works on an emotional level and that's very important. That's what really attracted me to the film."
For Damski, a former high school and collegiate wrestler, the individuality of the sport combined with the team structure in schools, was a plus in terms of the story's strong dramatic pull. "Cal's very lonely and trying to find answers to why his family is torn apart," he said. "He's a bright kid, maybe a little geeky, and gets pushed around by bullies at school. He decides covertly to find his brother and get his family back together. And the way he does that is through wrestling. Wrestling is very individualistic, very demanding and a tough sport that's very hard on the body and mind. You may be part of a team, but you get on the mat by yourself. It takes courage and the ability to face your fears which is exactly what Cal does."
Cal's decision to wrestle is a "way for him to navigate the expectations and pressures he faces," said Glover. "By working hard and overcoming obstacles and his own fear, he is overcoming his own ambivalence and insecurities. Wrestling is the vehicle which gives him the opportunity to do all that."
It is also the way in which the brothers - and the family - reunite.
"The relationship between Cal and Mike starts from zero - - like two strangers meeting each other for the first time," said Cena. "They make wrestling their common bond. They not only re-create the connection of brothers, but they become best friends."
When Cal asks Mike to teach him to wrestle, the two brothers agree to meet at an empty steel warehouse, dubbed "the church."
"To be a good wrestler, all that you need is a wrestling mat and a well-fitting pair of wrestling shoes," said Cena. "I love places like a church. There is no chrome, no workout equipment, nothing fancy, just the essentials which is the breeding ground for success. You want to come because you want to be a better wrestler. There's nothing in your surroundings that can make up for lack of performance."
As Cal discovers, wrestling is a daunting physical and mental challenge, and in the squared circle, there is no place to run or hide. Face-to-face, winning or losing is all about leverage, about movement, and holds that break down all resistance.
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
"Great actors want great material, that's the most important thing," said Pavone. "They are looking to do challenging roles that they haven't experienced before -- an opportunity to do something special." The cast and filmmakers say that's exactly what "Legendary" offers - a well-crafted story that works on many levels and provides actors with interesting characters to portray. Read more
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Pavone says he did not realize Damski had an extensive wrestling background when he first approached him about "Legendary," but he and writer Posey were soon thrilled to have a director on board who understood the specifics of the sport.
"It was a great relief to find out that Mel understood the sport and had been around it for years," said John Posey. "He didn't have to make anything up or figure it out as he went along. Mel understands what the mat looks like and smells like and what the locker rooms are like and so on. He connected right away and that makes a big difference."
For Cena, Damski's experience and knowledge aided both the actors and the action. "Mel's background as an athlete, particularly in the sport of wrestling, has helped a great deal," he said. "He understands the sport and he certainly knows how to shoot anything. The reality of the scenes is that when they let us go into action, it's action. That's what is great about what we're doing here. Art does imitate real life."
"Legendary" was filmed in and around New Orleans, Louisiana where World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. established NOLA Studios in 2009. Since "Legendary" is set in Oklahoma, the filmmakers scouted and chose locations carefully, intent on re-creating the look of Tulsa and its surroundings.
"I think we've captured the atmosphere really well," said Pavone. "We went out of our way to get lots of extras and fill the gym with the kind of color and wild passion you actually see in major wrestling events." According to Cena, the enthusiasm and pride of the fans and extras, really set the stage for the actors. "It was awesome."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Director Mel Damski is a popular director, producer and executive producer who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary for the 1998 release, "Still Kicking: The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies." Damski is currently the co-executive producer of the USA Network's hit sitcom "Psych" and has directed several episodes of the series. He also served as a senior producer on the Emmy Award-winning "Picket Fences" and has directed episodes of many David Kelley series, including "Boston Legal," "Ally McBeal," "The Practice" and "Chicago Hope." His other directing credits include "Las Vegas," "Charmed," "Without a Trace," "Ed," "The Guardian," "Dawson's Creek," "Early Edition," "Sisters," "Lou Grant" and "Sweet Justice". Damski is also a former sports writer for Newsday and attended Colgate University on a football scholarship. He was an all-Nassau County (Long Island, New York) selection in football and baseball. Later, Mel taught journalism and studied film in the Master's program at the University of Denver. He was a directing fellow at the American Film Institute Center for Advanced Film Studies, where he studied under Frank Daniel and Jan Kadar. Damski has been an Assistant Professor of Film and Television at New York University. Mel has also taught cinema at the American Film Institute Center for Advanced Film Studies, University of Southern California, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Writer's Guild of America. As a longtime member of the Director's Guild of America, Mel has been chairman of the creative rights committee and currently is a trustee of the Guild's health and pension board. Mel has served on the negotiating committee of the DGA for over 20 years.
Writer John Posey, who wrote the screenplay for "Legendary," portrays Jim Tenent, the sympathetic high school wrestling coach who remembers Mike and is curious about Cal. A long-time actor, Posey's credits include recurring roles on "Boston Legal" and "Doc," as well as guest starring on "Cold Case," "24," "ER," "Crossing Jordan," "News Radio" and "From Earth to the Moon."
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING