By Kim Hughes
BORG/MCENROE (Gala Presentation + Press Conference)
Friday, Sept. 8 (4 pm), ScotiaBank 1
It’s a testament to director Janus Metz that Borg/McEnroe — a film where everybody knows the ending going into the theatre — is still riveting. Credit also deeply researched performances by leads Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf as the high-strung tennis pros Björn Borg and John McEnroe who faced off during an incendiary and seemingly never-ending match at the 1980 Wimbledon Championships.
Even non-sports fans are likely to be dazzled by the film. But as director Metz noted at a press conference Thursday, his movie is more about people than tennis.
“As a filmmaker coming to this story I knew it had to be universal, to transcend simply tennis. I was captivated about how these two individuals from very different worlds drove themselves to the edge and beyond,” he said.
And there were some revelations to be found. For instance, as children it was Borg who was the hothead prone to tantrums on the court, a role perfected by McEnroe as an adult.
Also interesting: Borg’s real-life son Leo Borg was cast in the movie as a younger version of his father but not without some hesitation. “We were concerned that if the film didn’t turn out, there would be problems for Leo at the dinner table,” Metz chuckled. “At the same time, we didn’t want to Borg family on the set dictating the action.”
Actor Stellan Skarsgård, who plays Borg’s coach in the film, heavily researched his character who died in 2008. And both Gudnason and LaBeouf spent months learning to look like lean, mean tennis machines once film was rolling. “You had to live that life as an athlete to really understand what propelled Borg,” Gudnason confirmed.
Asked if John McEnroe is misunderstood, LaBeouf — who had previously been approached to play the Queens, NY-reared athlete-cum-art dealer in another film — said simply yes. “It’s a bit like watching the film Amadeus. He is a Mozart character,” LaBeouf said.
“I don’t think he really understood what propelled him while all this was going on. Everything was loud and fast at that time and I just don’t think he was searching. That came much later when he wrote his memoirs.”
Be sure to stick around for the credits which show real-life images of Borg and McEnroe who, despite their rivalry, went on to become dear friends, a relationship that still flourishes.
An entertainment/lifestyle writer and editor of an exquisite vintage, Kim has written about film, music, books, food, wine, cosmetics and cars for the Toronto Star, NOW Magazine, Report on Business, Amazon.com, hmv, Salon, Elevate, CBC, Spafax and many other marquee properties. She lives in Toronto and is a proud volunteer with Annex Cat Rescue.