Josh O’Connor Modeled Challengers Character After Tennis Star Nick Kyrgios

Josh O'Connor in Challengers
Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

In the upcoming sports rom-com Challengers, Josh O’Connor plays Patrick, an aging tennis player who must face Mike Faist’s Art Donaldson in a pro tournament. To play a tennis star, O’Connor modeled his Challengers’ character after one of the most polarizing professional athletes in the sport, Nick Kyrgios.

“There was the tennis side of it, which I think all three of us had to kind of go deep,” O’Connor told his co-star Zendaya in an interview with VMan. “I really enjoyed watching players and the temperaments of those players. For me, the big one was [Nick] Kyrgios, who has this kind of fiery temper. Literally, his mood can change on a dime. So watching him was really helpful to me.”

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O’Connor underwent training beforehand to master the physical nature of the role. Though difficult, O’Connor credits a conversation with director Luca Guadagnino for understanding the importance of physicality.

“The big thing about the physicality stuff is–and I give credit to Luke on this,” O’Connor said. “But it doesn’t matter who you are or how little you may care about how you look, if you’re in really good shape, it does affect your confidence. I just think it was definitely a thing, and I’m so glad we did all that training.”

What to Expect in Challengers?

Zendaya headlines Challengers as Tashi, a former tennis player who becomes a coach after a devasting injury. She guides her Grand Slam Champion Art (Faist) in a match against her former lover Patrick (O’Connor).

“Tennis player turned coach Tashi (Zendaya) has taken her husband, Art (Mike Faist), and transformed him into a world-famous grand slam champion,” the official synopsis reads. “To jolt him out of his recent losing streak, she makes him play a “Challenger” event — close to the lowest level of pro tournament — where he finds himself standing across the net from his former best friend and Tashi’s former boyfriend (Josh O’Connor).”

Guadagnino directs Challengers on a script written by Justin Kuritzkes. Guadagnino and Zendaya produce alongside Rachel O’Connor and Amy Pascal. Originally slated for a Venice Film Festival premiere and September 2023 release date, MGM pushed Challengers to April 26, 2024, due to the SAG-AFTRA strike.

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