Find out how Shia LaBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason and more prepared for their roles in the tennis film.
Based on a true story, Borg vs. McEnroe chronicles the high-profile 1980 Wimbledon match between tennis greats John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg (played by Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason, respectively).
McEnroe had already made a name for himself because of his tennis skills and his temper and the high-pressure tournament didn't help. The film follows the dramatic buildup through the end of the historic moment in tennis history. It also features Borg's tennis coach Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgard) and Borg's wife Mariana Simionescu (Tuva Novotny).
Borg vs. McEnroe premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in 2017, becoming the first Swedish movie to open the festival.
The main characters are all based on real people. Below, read more about the cast and who they set out to become in Borg vs. McEnroe.
John McEnroe went by several aliases during his career as a tennis player. Some nicknames, like "Superbrat," weren't as nice as the casual "Johnny Mac." Now, he'll have a new name associated with him: Shia LaBeouf.
The tennis pro has achieved the no. 1 rankings in the world for both singles and doubles. He finished his career with 77 singles titles and 78 doubles titles, a record that still holds today. And he's just as well-known for his confrontational attitude on the court. Playing him in Borg vs. McEnroe is someone with a similar public image.
To prepare to play McEnroe, LaBeouf first had to lose some muscle, according to his castmate Gudnason. The two men had to memorize 35-40 duels. Although it seems LaBeouf's spitfire attitude is the reason he was cast, Gudnason can't help but praise his skills as an actor.
"He’s a very skilled actor," Gudnason told GQ. "I think he’s actually the best actor I've ever worked with. I think he’s great. He’s good with using his energy and he’s very true."
As for whether or not LaBeouf is a loose cannon like his character, Gudnason said, "he is a loose cannon but he’s a nice loose cannon."
Bjorn Borg is a former no. 1 tennis player and the first man to win 11 Grand Slam singles. Five of those are consecutive Wimbledon wins. He earned the last one against McEnroe at the 1980 Wimbledon final. Several of Borg’s records still stand today. After becoming the first tennis player to earn more than one million dollars in endorsements, Borg retired – two years after the Wimbledon final against McEnroe – at age 26. He came back briefly in the early '90s but didn't have as much success.
Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason already had the roots to play Swedish tennis star Bjorn Borg. To further prepare for the role, he "played tennis two hours every day with a trainer ... worked out and ate like seven meals a day," he told GQ, adding that he needed to gain a lot of muscle. Once he matched Borg's physical fitness, Gudnason watched videos to learn his walk, tennis stroke and actual moves from real matches. As for Borg's signature long hair, Gudnason grew his own locks out to match the look.
Another Swedish native, Stellan Skarsgard, plays Bjorn Borg's longtime tennis coach Lennart Bergelin. For Skarsgard, it was enough to put on a bald cap and combover to become Bergelin.
At the Toronto International Film Festival, he said that, in acting, you should "always chose fiction before fact because you serve the film."
"That’s number one," he continued. "But there are two things you have to think about: don’t hurt anybody and also do not lie about history."
To get a true sense of what Bergelin was like, Skarsgard did do a little research.
“I read Mariana’s diary, about their time together, which was towards the end of Borg’s career and how they lived together, the three of them, for years," he told The Independent. "They lived a very boot camp-like life, in the midst of all the money and all the press.”
Mariana Simionescu was much more than just Bjorn Borg's wife. Originally from Romania, Simionescu won the French Junior Championships in 1974. In 1977, she reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, her career best. She and Borg married in 1980 but separated after four years. To this day, she considers Borg "the love of [her] life." In the film, she is portrayed by Swedish actress Tuva Novotny (Annihilation).
Despite all the exercise, tennis lessons and reading the other cast members went through to prepare for their roles, the actor who showed up the most prepared for his part in Borg vs. McEnroe might just be Leo Borg. As Bjorn Borg's oldest son, he knows a thing or two about his father.
Director Janus Metz said, at TIFF, that Leo Borg simply responded to a casting call in Sweden for a young athletic actor.
"When we cast him, he was just undeniably true," the director raved. "I mean it's Bjorn's blood and it just lends itself an undeniable authenticity. Then of course, he's also the best tennis player for his age group in Sweden, so the tennis was easy – we'd just point and shoot."
Even his castmate, Stellan Skarsgard, praised him in The Guardian.
"He’s a very good tennis player, but he’s never been in front of a camera before and I was thinking: ‘What is it that makes him so good at acting?’," Skarsgard explained. "It’s because the focus that you have to have to be a good tennis player is the same focus you have to have to be a good actor."