“Cash was not an enjoyable character to play every day”: Stephen Dorff on starring in MMA sports drama Embattled
If like this writer, you’ve seen 1998 movie Blade over thousand times, you’ll more than likely know Stephen Dorff most readily as Deacon Frost, the vampiric arch-nemesis of Wesley Snipe’s iconic daywalker. Now over two decades on, and many a TV and film role later, from Roland West in True Detective to starring opposite Elle Fanning in Sofia Coppola’s drama Somewhere, he’s returned to our screens transformed, playing an MMA fighter with a troubled past.
Embattled is the debut feature of Georgian director Nikolay Sarkisov and follows Cash (Dorff), an MMA World Champion fighter (who bears a resemblance to real-life fighter Conor McGregor). Having suffered abuse at the hands of his father as a child, Cash channels his aggression into his fights but has also become brash, arrogant and abusive himself. When his second son, Quinn (Colin McKenna), is born with Williams Syndrome, Cash flees his responsibilities, which fall to his eldest son Jett (Darren Mann), who also supports his mother (Elizabeth Reaser). Jett then decides to follow in his father’s footsteps as a fighter, leading to the pair going head to head in a fight that can only end badly for all involved.
Screenwriter David McKenna (American History X, Blow) and his son together bring authenticity to the story, with Colin McKenna himself suffering from Williams Syndrome and taking on the role of Quinn. And while Dorff’s Cash acts despicably, the brutal elements of the film are balanced with heartfelt moments. Beyond being just a sports drama, the movie tackles themes such as cycles of abuse, raising a child with a learning difficulty, father-son relationships and toxic masculinity.
The Upcoming spoke to Dorff over Zoom about the intense training it took to achieve his character’s ripped physique, how he approached playing an undeniably despicable man and how underneath its tough exterior, Embattled is an emotionally wrought family drama. He told us: “It’s just a very intense family drama set against the backdrop of a sport that’s kind of taken over. So that felt like a movie I should make. It was a really hard character for me to play but I’m proud of the movie.” Watch the rest of the interview below.
Embattled is released digitally on demand on 5th July 2021.
Watch the trailer for Embattled here: