There’s a long history of movies about boxing, but how about a TV show about mixed martial arts? The DirecTV series “Kingdom” puts a twist on the cinematic pugilism we’re used to seeing, focusing on the denizens of a MMA gym in Venice, Calif. – but it doesn’t spare on the brutally realistic ring action. (Or, in many cases, cage action.)
Frank Grillo stars as the owner of the gym, with Jonathan Tucker and Nick Jonas playing his sons and Matt Lauria playing an ex-con trying to get back in the game. The night after a late shoot, Grillo, Tucker and Lauria showed up at TheWrap offices to talk about their literally hard-hitting drama.
TheWrap: How much of a toll does the show take on you physically?
Matt Lauria: I think generally we leave the set with the gas tank pretty empty. It’s a show that requires a level of investment and commitment. It’s sort of like an all-in thing.
Jonathan Tucker: Last season we said, “All in, all the time.”
Lauria: That was our mantra.
Tucker: This year Matt coined us a new one, which is…
Lauria: “Unreasonable commitment.”
Frank Grillo: And by the way, it’s not just the guys that do this. We have an extensive number of background players, some ex professional fighters, amateur fighters, and these guys go full out all day long too. By the end of the day they are drenched and exhausted…
Tucker: It is physical, and it’s also deeply spiritual.
Why go to those lengths?
Grillo: It’s a matter of being as authentic as we can possibly be. We didn’t want to be a TV show about fighting, we wanted to really show people these men and woman, what their lives and struggles are on a daily basis.
Lauria: You shoot for 12, 14 hours, and then you go home, try and scrape up a dinner and hit the gym. You’re dead lifting until 11 o’clock and go home and have your smoothies and then you get up in the morning.
When the season is over, do you let yourself go, trade in the broccoli smoothies for donuts?
Lauria: I did this year, but I won’t next year.
Grillo: It’s one of the by-products of doing a show like this – if you want to, you get in amazing shape, and you tend to look better and feel better.
What is it about the fighting genre that makes it so great for drama?
Grillo: Great drama is born from conflict. And the world of combat sports is just filled with conflict. Personal conflict, professional conflict. There are so many stories to be told on so many different levels.
There’s usually poor economic conditions, you’re really fighting for very little money, and usually there’s something amiss with fighters. To be able to do this, there’s something wrong somewhere.
Tucker: And combat sports touch on the primal nature of being human. What it means to fight, to watch fighters, to make the sacrifices that people have been making since the dawn of time.