‘When the Game Stands Tall’s’ Alexander Ludwig: Learning Football Moves Was Most Tedious Career Experience

The actor tells TheWrap about the rigorous process to learn 90 football plays for role in new sports movie

Last Updated: August 22, 2014 @ 8:05 PM

Hollywood rising star Alexander Ludwig gets plenty of time on the big screen in “When the Game Stands Tall.” Ludwig plays the role of Chris Ryan, a star football player at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., who has a chance to break the state record for touchdowns. The Sony Pictures release tells story of how the Spartans handle adversity and come together after 12 straight state titles and 151 consecutive wins. “When the Game Stands Tall” also stars Michael Chiklis, Jim Caviezel and Laura Dern.

TheWrap sat down with Ludwig after a screening of the film. Ludwig, a 22-year-old actor who appeared in the box-office blockbuster “The Hunger Games,” discussed the challenges of training for the role without having played football, the film’s main messages and his character’s relationship with his father.

TheWrap: What was the hardest part of learning to play football, specifically running back?
Alexander Ludwig
: The physical aspect, I was used to (that) from playing sports all my life. I grew up freestyle skiing in Vancouver, and hockey obviously. The hardest part was learning all the plays for the movie. We had about 90 plays we had to learn. Our stunt coordinator, who is exceptional at what he does, wouldn’t let you get away with anything — which I loved. He wouldn’t baby you, so if you didn’t know your stuff, he would break you down. So it was great.

Also read: Michael Chiklis on Classic Sports Movie Comparisons: ‘When the Game Stands Tall’ Is Not About Football

Can you talk about the training you had to go through for this, and did you guys all have to go through it together to form that team camaraderie?
It was phenomenal. Our producer, David Zelon, has a passion for this project that is just unmatched. Right away, he put us all through a training regimen at The Duke Academy in New Orleans. Duke Rousse has trained a lot of NFL players, so he took us and we’d train twice a day every day for about a month. Immediately, we all grew very, very close and we’d all push each other as much as we could. A brotherhood like that, you really can’t fake. I think it really translated to the screen, and we’re all very close friends.

Alexander Ludwig

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Your character has an interesting and often volatile relationship with his father (Clancy Brown). Can you talk about playing that type of character, and what the message is to all the kids out there with parents who are obsessed over their sports involvement?
Sports is such an amazing way to bring people together, but sometimes you can get caught up in all the hype. I think a lot of great talents in the sports industry have gone through similar things either with their family or close friends — someone who thinks they’re pushing you for the right reasons, then loses sight of that. That was a really interesting dynamic to play, and I’ve seen it first-hand from playing sports all my life. It does come from a good place, at least from the start. I had a great actor opposite me, Clancy Brown, who had no problem going there with me. It was a pleasure working with such a great talent.

How were the football moves rehearsed to make them seem so realistic?
This is absolutely the most tedious experience, in terms of rehearsing something, I’ve ever gone through. As an inexperienced football player, I had a big weight to carry the second I got on the set. That was probably the hardest part — making sure anything I do, I do right. De La Salle — they’re not just your everyday football kids. These guys, they play football because it’s their future. That’s all they had, so that was their way of getting out and doing something great. They had to be the best they could be. Luckily, we were paired up with some incredible ex-NFL players who would stand by us and tell us if we were doing anything wrong.

Also read: Why Sports Movies Like ‘Million Dollar Arm,’ ‘Draft Day’ Have Become Their Own Underdog Stories

One central theme in the film is playing for the team and for the person next to you. With your character getting a chance to break a pretty remarkable record, what was the message for the audience when he decided to not go for that record? (Editor’s note: Spoiler alert!)
I think the message is that they got so caught up in the hype that they lost sight of why they were there in the first place. Chris doing that was his homage to the coaches, saying, “This is for you and for all you’ve done for us.” I think the most exceptional part of this whole story … is that Bob (Ladouceur) and Terry (Eidson), in spite of all their success, never lost sight of why they were there: to shape these young men into men who can be depended on, accountable and good people. Ironically, I think it’s because their goal wasn’t to win, is why they were winning.

Was Chris Ryan actually a real person, or is he a composite character? And did that touchdown record really exist?
He and his father are composite characters; he’s loosely based off of many students that went through De La Salle. Of the things that Chris did in the film, a lot actually did happen in real life through other characters. He definitely serves to show the essence of all the De La Salle students.

Loosely, the record is based on Maurice Jones-Drew — very loosely. His somersault into the end zone did happen, and Chris did that, and he did get in a lot of trouble with the coach for showing off. I love that scene. In terms of the record, I know a lot of people sacrificed the records they could have had, but nothing to that extent. I never met Maurice (who has a cameo) — the day he came to set; I was out of town. I’ve heard great things and I’m so happy he did it.

“When the Game Stands Tall” opens nationwide in theaters Aug. 22.

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