Maura Tierney Understands the Complexity of Bringing Dottie Von Erich to 'The Iron Claw' (2024)

The Iron Claw is less about characters like Jack “Fritz” Von Erich and Dottie Von Erich and more about the love that their boys had for each other, but it wouldn’t work if those characters didn’t have a cold edge to them. That’s why Holt McCallany’s and Maura Tierney’s performances work so well.

Talking with Tierney about bringing a character like Dottie to life, she had a lot of opportunity to explore a woman like her because there isn’t as much information on the matriarch of the Von Erich family out there. When I asked her about playing a character that has a cold edge to her, who consistently tells her sons to just figure it out on their own and who lets her husband do whatever he wants to their boys, she talked about coming at her from the specific time period she was brought up in.

“I think this character comes from a very specific time and place, and it was the late ’60s/early ’70s, and she’s very religious, and I think that society at that time or her world sort of had a premium on being very stoic and that the man ran the household,” she said. “And so I think that is how she lived her life for a long time until, by the end of the film and at the end of their about 40 years of marriage or something, she ends up leaving him.”

That was interesting to learn because that’s not explored in the film, though we do see her grow distant with Jack. So we talked a bit about what she learned about Dottie in the process of filming The Iron Claw. “I’ll tell you the interesting part is that there’s not much to research,” she said. “There’s loads and loads and hours and hours of film on the boys and the boys wrestling. I understand this, of course, they were in the ring, and the dad. There’s very little archival information on the matriarch of this family, and she was their mother; she brought them into the world. So, there’s very little. There was very little for me to be able to find out. Basically, the role I played was the role that Sean Durkin wrote. The most interesting part of research was the lack thereof because it’s just, again, this was a real dude-centric family. So that was challenging.”

Highlighting how the boys needed each other

Maura Tierney Understands the Complexity of Bringing Dottie Von Erich to 'The Iron Claw' (1)

One of the best moments in the film that highlights how Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron) was there and aware of what his brothers needed from his parents comes from Kevin going to his mother asking for help with Mike (Stanley Simons). When I asked about that scene in particular, she made it clear that she wasn’t sure if it was true but it “wouldn’t be surprising” if so. “I think he was the head of the family and she deferred to him for as long as she could.”

I went on to ask more about that dynamic between the boys and their parents because it is such a fascinating relationship—because while the boys struggled with their father, there was still a love and respect with their parents. They listened to both Jack and Dottie in the midst of how they were treated, so I asked how they managed to bring the family dynamic to life, bringing that care in without that loving, doting parent dynamic in the film.

“I think they all really loved both of their parents,” Tierney said. “I mean a lot. In a way that I was surprised. I would probably have resented a parent like that. In real life, the boys did. And these guys were super sweethearts. They were all really nice. A lot of the stuff was comedic. I don’t know if it reads in the movie, but they’d be like in the kitchen in their underwear or like teeny tiny shorts in a teeny tiny towel. It was just very goofy, a lot of it. So that was easy. And there was a ton of food always around. There was a lot of scenes like dinner or lunch or whatever. And so that sort of makes its own intimacy.”

One thing about the movie that I did instantly clock was the way it uses humor with the boys to lull you into this false sense of happiness with them. Tierney is right; it really does work:

#TheIronClaw uses humor to charm you to the Von Erichs & leaves you a wreck. I found myself sobbing within the final frames, it's a movie that really highlights how incredibly talented Zac Efron is. Just in awe of this movie & how it weaves wrestling history into its narrative

— Rachel Leishman (@RachelLeishman) December 12, 2023

That led us to talking about how it is balanced with the tragedy of this family. “Well, I thought that Zac did a great job,” Tierney said. “Sean (Durkin) really directed everybody to kind of not emote, the family’s very stoic. So then when you get to that scene in the end with Zac’s character, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is how sad he’s been. That they weren’t allowed to be sad.'”

The shell of a woman cracking

With a woman like Dottie, she is part of a family that is all about not showing emotions. It takes Kevin breaking at the end to show that he’s not going to continue the cycle, but it isn’t an easy thing to stop. The scene that really shows that Dottie isn’t completely immune to what is going on with her boys comes when she has to bury another son and she is complaining about her black dress. So I brought up her one moment of weakness.

“And she’s not even talking about what she is, which is the only time we see her be sad,” Tierney said. “That’s not what she’s caring about. She doesn’t really care about that. Anybody notices her dress. But she can’t even say my third son died. Even in her moment of vulnerability, she can’t even cop to it. She can’t even live in it.”

When I asked about playing a woman that is so sort of stunted in those emotions in that way, who isn’t necessarily cold but still not open in how she’s feeling, Tierney talked about how she approaches bringing that kind of woman to life. “She’s not cold, but she’s definitely not warm,” she said. “But I think what is not maybe entirely clear is she lost her first child when he was six years old, so when we first see that character, she’s already lost a son, which—I don’t know; I think that’s a lot what made her how she is. I feel like she experienced this tragedy of losing a very young child when she was very young and then set herself up to protect herself from that kind of pain and just get over it by moving forward, having more children, taking care of those children. So I think she was a lot about the household and that first loss. I think really that’s what my choice was as an actor. She’s not alive, and as I said, there’s not much to research. But I think having lost a child so young, the rest of her life was sort of a reaction to that. And then she just kept losing children with no way to process it—no way to process grief or express grief. So I felt sad for that character actually. But I usually play the warm person. So it’s nice for me to do something different.”

And when asked what the most rewarding aspect of a complex woman like Dottie is? Tierney said, “It was challenging. I think the whole project was challenging for me. I guess what’s rewarding, I think, is the movie’s gorgeous. I think it came out so beautifully. I think Sean, all the boys did an amazing job. So I feel very happy to be part of that product. But the process was hard. It was a little challenging because there wasn’t a lot to convey and very little material to convey it through. So it was hard. But I do think the movie came out beautifully.”

The Iron Claw is in theaters on December 22.

(featured image: A24)

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Maura Tierney Understands the Complexity of Bringing Dottie Von Erich to 'The Iron Claw' (2024)


Maura Tierney Understands the Complexity of Bringing Dottie Von Erich to 'The Iron Claw'? ›

Maura Tierney Understands the Complexity of Bringing Dottie Von Erich

Von Erich
The Von Erich family is an American professional wrestling family. Originally from Texas, their actual surname is Adkisson, but every member who has been in the wrestling business has used the ring name "Von Erich," after the family patriarch, Fritz Von Erich (Jack Adkisson). › wiki › Von_Erich_family
to 'The Iron Claw' The Iron Claw is less about characters like Jack “Fritz” Von Erich and Dottie Von Erich and more about the love that their boys had for each other, but it wouldn't work if those characters didn't have a cold edge to them.

Who plays Dottie in The Iron Claw? ›

In the butch weepie The Iron Claw, Maura Tierney plays Dottie Von Erich, matriarch of a family of doomed wrestler sons.

What happened to Dottie Von Erich? ›

Fritz Von Erich and Doris divorced in 1992, following the deaths of most of their sons, as depicted in the movie's ending. After the divorce, Fritz passed away in 1997 from brain and lung cancer, while Doris moved to Hawaii and died in 2015 surrounded by loved ones.

Why wasn't Chris von Erich in Iron Claw? ›

Chris was excluded from 'The Iron Claw' to keep the narrative tight. Durkin said in the production notes that aspects of the Von Erich story had to be omitted because of time constraints. "The reality is so much worse than what is in the movie," he said. "You can't make a movie like that.

How many Von Erich brothers were there? ›

But in real life, there were actually five Von Erich brothers who entered the ring. The youngest Von Erich, Chris, doesn't exist in Durkin's version of the story.

Who is Iron Claw based off of? ›

The Iron Claw, starring Zac Efron (Neighbors, Baywatch) and Jeremy Allen White (The Bear, Shameless), is about the rise and tragic fall of one of wrestling's most famous families, the Von Erichs. It's the latest from production company A24. The Von Erich family hailed from Texas. Their real name was Adkisson.

Why is Iron Claw rated R? ›

Parents need to know that The Iron Claw is a mature sports drama about a real-life team of wrestling brothers, the Von Erichs, who became champions in the 1980s but also suffered many family tragedies. Some of the wrestling-related violence gets pretty intense: There's stomping, slamming, tackling, head…

Is The Iron Claw based on a true story? ›

The new movie, now in theaters, stars Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White as two brothers in the Von Erich wrestling family that is haunted by personal tragedy.

Did Kevin Von Erich like Iron Claw? ›

As such, he wants viewers to know that his father was nothing like his cinematic iteration in "The Iron Claw. Overall, though, he was happy with how the film turned out and has had nothing but good things to say about the cast and crew since its release.

What happens to the brothers in Iron Claw? ›

The pro-wrestling family was plagued with a series of tragedies that became known as the “Von Erich curse”: David died suddenly in 1984 at age 25, and both Mike and Kerry died by suicide in 1987 and 1993 respectively.

How old is Kevin in Iron Claw? ›

Instead, the 66-year-old subject of the new movie The Iron Claw is again embracing the legacy of his late father and brothers—and even stepping back into the ring. Now in theaters, The Iron Claw tells the story of Kevin and the Von Erich family's rise to in-ring fame in the 1980s.

Is Iron Claw sad? ›

Movie reviews: The Iron Claw (2023) and Priscilla (2023) are sad but true stories. One is worth seeing.

How accurate is Iron Claw? ›

The Iron Claw is a work of fiction and, like plenty of good films, takes a few creative liberties, so it's inevitable that Von Erich would disagree with some of its conclusions. It's safe to assume that the truth probably lies somewhere in between. The Iron Claw is out in UK cinemas 9 February 2024.

Are any of the Von Erich Boys still alive? ›

The Von Erich family (from left to right): Kerry, Fritz, Kevin, Chris (front), Mike and David. Only Kevin remains alive as of 2024. By the time Fritz died of cancer in his Denton County home in 1997 at the age of 68, five of his six sons had predeceased him, three by suicide.

Did Kevin von Erich wrestle Ric Flair? ›

Kevin had several close matches with NWA World Champ Ric Flair, including the main event of the 2nd David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions at Texas Stadium, but never won the title.

How tall were the von Erichs? ›

Chris Von Erich (1969–91)

The youngest member of the Von Erich clan was also physically the smallest. Although Chris sported the same chiseled physique as his elder brothers, he was just 5 feet 5 inches (1.67 meters) tall (his brothers were all over 6 feet [1.8 meters]).

What happened to Kerry von Erich? ›

And sadly in 1993 Kerry Von Erich, like his brother Chris shot himself and died. Fritz Von Erich and his wife Doris had lost five of their six sons. Their grief was unfathomable. The only surviving son is Kevin who's still around today.

Did the Von Erichs get divorced? ›

The Von Erich Family Legacy

Fritz and Doris divorced in 1992. The deaths of his sons took a mental toll on the proud father, and lung and brain cancer eroded his physical well-being. Fritz died on September 10, 1997.

Is Iron Claw based on a true story? ›

“It's about the ideas of masculinity that we put into boys about what a man should be and how those can be crushing." The film is based on the true story of the Von Erichs but, like the world of wrestling itself, figuring out what's real and what's not can be tricky.

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