"Everything is difficult until it becomes easy."
It's one of the best quotes I've ever heard and it's so true. It was said by Dan Millman recently about his journey back from a tragic accident that nearly ended his gymnastics career.
Dan wrote the book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior based on his life 30 years ago when was on the brink of the Olympics and had a serious motorcycle accident. He worked his way back to compete after shattering his leg in 40 different places. Lionsgate has now made that book into a feature film, called Peaceful Warrior starring Scott Mechlowicz as Dan.
Dan was an outspoken, nationally-ranked gymnast for the University of California; he trained every day with the team in an attempt to make it to the college finals in his junior year, and eventually make it to the Olympics. One evening, Dan couldn't sleep, so he took a ride up to a gas station where he met a mysterious man who began to teach him a new way of concentration to better help his training.
Because of his crazy ways, Dan starts to call him Socrates (played by Nick Nolte in the film). Funny enough, Nick was up for the role of Dan 25 years ago when Dan first wrote the book. The screenplay was never written and Nick never had that chance, but he did talk about possibly playing the lead role. "Years ago when the book came out, there were a lot of people who wanted to do it. They handed me the book, but I thought it was too close to the 60's and we had already done that. All those feelings are there - you're not really who you are. It's all guided by the outside mind, you can't control the dang thing; you finally get the idea that it's a tool and it has limitations."
But it was Scott who got the opportunity to play Dan in this version. His first instinct was get as close to the real Dan as possible. "I got him in a room and grilled him And it really helped, and I could see the messages he conveyed."
And what about training for the gymnastics? That was another story; Scott had no prior experience at all in the gym before reading the Peaceful Warrior script. "I'm an un-athletic, Jewish boy; we were doing 4 hours a day. I'm a lot more flexible now; the first day, I went from shin touching to touching the floor. I was able to do a muscle-up. I did as much of it as I could, but my double is an Olympian, so he made me look good. I did a lot of the pummel horse; I did a good handful of it. I had to learn how to ride a motorcycle, but I didn't do the flip."
It was a little easier for Nick to adjust to playing Socrates. "With something like this, it's important you don't harp on it. Socrates was in a place; I know that place, but I just can't let go and be in Soc's place. It's all a matter of letting go and surrendering and acceptance; once you let that happen, than there's hardly anything that can touch you. My journey to Socrates was wanting to understand myself; Soc is a guru, but he's a real crafty one. He's waiting for one guy so he can pass on his knowledge. Soc's life is to pass on his knowledge, and he's got quite a bit of knowledge to pass on."
Working with Nick on the set was one of the most enjoyable times Scott has ever had. "Great! He's tops! It doesn't get any better than Nolte; it's pretty fantastic. He's such a great guy, and lived such a fantastic life so it's nice to be with someone as brave as him. It's so nice to see that it has an affect on him. It's undeniable presence; his eyes, it's so incredible to look in his eyes and you can feel his presence."
Even Nick got caught up in the story of Peaceful Warrior; he mentioned one scene in particular where it was challenging to just remember his lines. "I had one of those 'old actor' moments in this, just couldn't remember; we had lines written all over the set. I couldn't even remember the context of the scene so I couldn't adlib. And my son was at the set that night and he said, 'Boy, I hope he can get through that one.'"
"There's one light, but many lamps."
Another quote from the real Dan, and it was something Scott took to heart. When talking about playing Dan, he said, "I think he's everybody; gymnastics is his background. You just want to find that missing piece to the puzzle. I don't know how external it is, cause it's not supposed to change you drastically that way."
Dan's currently working on his second book, Journeys of Socrates, based on the early life of that mysterious man he met. And about Peaceful Warrior, Dan's never claimed everything is true; he says, "The movie is based on elements in the book which is based on elements from my life." But, he did meet that man one night and came back from that horrific accident.
Peaceful Warrior opens in theaters June 2nd; it's rated PG-13. The film also stars Amy Smart as Joy, a close friend of Socrates, who later becomes Dan's wife.