Luca Guadagnino’s real challenge: to make tennis sexy.
The “Challengers” director, according to his cast, emphasized the sensual physicality of the sport for the upcoming romantic drama. Emmy winner Zendaya plays tennis player-turned-coach Tashi who oversees her husband Art’s (Mike Faist) career, which leads them to crossing paths with Tashi’s ex-boyfriend (Josh O’Connor) and igniting a tense love triangle with queer undertones.
The trailer for “Challengers” already produced an iconic image of Zendaya, O’Connor, and Faist having a threesome.
As O’Connor teased to Empire magazine, “The tennis is the sex. Those moments are so sexy. The film is dealing with the tension before and after. The sex they’re all desperate for is on the court.”
Co-star Faist added that Guadagnino “had no knowledge of tennis” prior to the film, but that the sport itself was besides the point.
“I think he had only a vague interest in certain tennis specificities,” Faist said of Guadagnino. “He was more interested in the bodies and sweat.”
The cast trained for three months with former professional tennis player Brad Gilbert, who served as a consultant on the film. Zendaya’s body double was not used in the final cut of the tennis scenes, with the actress telling Empire, “What Luca’s really good at is finding sensuality and desire. There’s so much in just glances. The tension builds. Not having the release is a good thing sometimes.”
The “Call Me By Your Name” director Guadagnino previously told IndieWire that he was interested in a “hyperkinetic” film. “I think those three characters in that movie are beautifully complex and really fucked-up people that I love very much,” he hinted. “And a sports film, why not?”
“Challengers” was set to open the 2023 Venice Film Festival but has a delayed release due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. “Comandante” will instead debut at the 80th annual festival.