The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

“Challengers” Press Conference: The Actors, Director and Producers behind Amazon MGM’s latest sports drama

Maya Oclassen

Before the theatrical release of “Challengers,” a sports drama distributed by Amazon MGM Studios, a virtual global press conference was convened on Saturday, April 20 with the filmmakers.

Set within the world of tennis, the film follows Tashi, played by Zendaya, as a tennis player turned coach who has transformed her husband Art Donaldson, played by Mike Faist, into a world-famous grand slam champion. 

Hoping to pull Donaldson out of his recent losing streak, she places him into a challenger event, one of the lowest-level tournaments on the pro tour. Tensions soon run high when he stands across the net from the once-promising, now burnt-out Patrick Zweig, played by Josh O’Conner. Both Donaldson and Zweig are former best friends who wield complicated histories of courtship with Tashi. “Challengers” follows their match and the complex relationships leading up to it.

Among the film’s stars, director Luca Guadagnino, screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes and producer Amy Pascal also attended the conference. 

With a moderator forwarding questions pre-submitted by attendees, this 45-minute discussion covered the film’s origins, interest and potential impact on evocative filmmaking. Among many reasons for joining the project, Pascal cited the film’s distinct style as its largest draw.

“And one more thing I want to say, and then I’ll give it up, is that it is very rare that commercial movies are about adult relationships and about sex,” Pascal said. “And 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.” 

Known for his recent successes with 2017’s “Call Me by Your Name” and 2022’s “Bones and All,” Guadagnino’s work often uses sensual moments to express broader themes of love, lust and the volleys between. After reading the script, Guadagnino was drawn to the potential team efforts that the project had to offer.

“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’ve been fantastic,” Guadagnino said.

Although the film follows its three stars through a blend of romance and heartbreak, Zendaya’s time in the industry has positioned her as a rising star. From Disney Channel origins to blockbuster movie roles and even edgier styles of storytelling, her headlining status places her at top billing for the film.

With this support, relative newcomers Mike Faist and Josh O’Conner worked on their own character dynamics to flesh out the film’s layering of emotional weight. Over time, they learned each other’s acting moves like the back of their rackets.

“And as an actor, when you’re given the opportunity to work with another amazing actor such as Josh with such strong instincts and specific choices, Josh pings me something and that gives me something to actually play with to throw him back,” Faist said.

This teamwork, as with Guadagnino, was the same reason Faist cited for joining the project. Learning how to be a team player, the easy parts came with connecting to the role.

“We kind of ebb and flow throughout our artistic endeavors to always strive to try to find those projects that pull something out of us that makes us feel compelled to really conjure the things for ourselves, to pursue it to the fullest extent that we can,” Faist said. “And that just leapt off the page with me, genuinely, with this character.”

“Challengers” was released theatrically in the United States April 26 and will move to Amazon Prime following its run in theaters

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