Since the 2011 smash-hit Warrior, we haven’t seen as many mixed-martial-arts dramas popping up on TV as we would have expected. That’s about to change with DirecTV’s Kingdom, starring Matt Lauria, Nick Jonas, and Warrior alum Frank Grillo. Lauria is the odd man out, in both his role as an excommunicated ex-con and his status as the sole vegan actor on set. But as he demonstrates, you don’t have to eat flesh to get muscled.
Kingdom has quite an eclectic cast—what happened when you were all suddenly thrown together to do the show?
Jonathan Tucker, Nick Jonas, and I went through an intensive two-week fight training camp prior to shooting. So every day we’d all carpool out to Pomona [CA], where the gym was, and spend the day together having this crash course basically “intravenously injected” into us: wrestling, Muay Thai, boxing, jiu-jitsu. I think the exertion and the hours we spent together really bonded us, so when we started shooting, we were like brothers.
Take us through a typical day of MMA training camp.
We trained with Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, who’s a notable MMA fighter and revered coach and trainer. We’d start with 10 minutes of jumping rope barefoot...If you’ve ever been cracked on the tip of your bare toe with a jump rope, you know [that’s] something you’ll try not to do again. Every day was a different tactic; we had a day of just wrestling takedowns, we’d have a day of just cage defense.
Did you get any flack on the set for being a vegan?
Absolutely. I would constantly catch shit from the guys, some more than others, but it was all in good fun. I’d started out a little depleted because of the vigorous training; and during those two weeks, there was no time to go lift and eat a lot. But as the season rolled on I remember Tucker saying, “Dude, you’re really turning the myth of veganism on its ear.” A lot of people think vegans are just these skinny, scrawny, weak, gray-skinned little people—but I did great.
You were a football player in the Friday Night Lights TV series. How is that different from playing an MMA fighter in Kingdom?
It’s exhausting. Lights was a different type of show and a completely different type of character. When we were in pads and helmets, we had extraordinary doubles who could raise the level of authenticity with all the physical stuff. But on Kingdom, when it’s just you and a pair of shorts, you really can’t fake it, so more responsibility falls on your shoulders. They were hoping for guys who had some physical aptitude and were game to fight. I think all of us really approached the fighting with a sort of “all-in, all the time” attitude. We wanted not only to serve the characters in the story but also to do justice to the sport.