‘The Iron Claw’ Is Finally Holt McCallany’s Time in the Spotlight


Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for ‘The Iron Claw’.

The Big Picture

  • Holt McCallany’s role as Bill Tench in Mindhunter showcased his emotional depth and acting range.
  • In
    The Iron Claw
    , McCallany brilliantly portrayed Fritz Von Erich, balancing his abusive nature with glimpses of genuine pride and warmth.
  • McCallany continues to thrive in various roles, stealing scenes and working with prominent directors like David Fincher and Guillermo del Toro.

Holt McCallany had been knocking at Hollywood’s door for so long that he finally decided to just kick it down. He’s been dependably lurking in the background of numerous productions, ranging anywhere from awards season fare like Sully to eyebrow-raising titles like Monster Trucks. It’s a hard life, living up to the “working actor” title and not getting much recognition, but Holt never gave up. He stuck it out and put himself in enough good roles that he capitalized on his classic masculinity and caught the attention of two key projects. In 2017, he became a co-lead for the hit Netflix show Mindhunter, which permanently boosted his profile, leading to him finally getting some meatier film roles. This culminated in his most recent turn as the family patriarch in The Iron Claw, finally gifting him a role that could put him front and center in a major film production, and showcasing the range that he’s been keeping on tap for ages. These two roles serve as the apotheosis of Holt’s lifelong pursuit of mainstream recognition, and they’re roles that incisively display all that has made him so great.

The Iron Claw

The true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s. Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach, the brothers seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.

Release Date
December 22, 2023

130 minutes

Bill Tench Was the Emotional Anchor of ‘Mindhunter’

Holt McCallany as Bill Tench sitting at a bar in Mindhunter
Image via Netflix

In the all-too-quickly canceled gem Mindhunter, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (McCallany) are two FBI agents who serve in the Behavioral Sciences Unit. Their mission is to interview convicted serial killers so that they can build psychological profiles to catch ongoing serial killers. The show builds off of their dynamic as a buddy cop partnership, with their drastically different personalities and philosophies frequently clashing. Ford is the ambitious newbie with bold ideas on how to better gain insight into killers, while Tench is the wiser veteran who is both intrigued and put off by Ford’s nature.

While this is initially a standard affair, the show gradually flipped the dynamic on its head by showing how their respective personality traits didn’t align with their stereotypical archetypes. Ford’s drive to catch criminals belied a potentially sociopathic nature that left him disconnected from other humans and thriving more when exploring the muck of the human mind. This leaves Tench to be exposed as the more emotionally attuned one, and his gruff demeanor belies an earnest drive to protect people and intelligence about how to get what’s needed from other people.



Why ‘Iron Claw’ Director Needed Creative License With the Tragic Wrestling Tale

Sean Durkin also reveals the easiest Von Erich to cast, and the toughest.

This is where Holt McCallany comes in and solidifies his importance to the show. Despite Ford being ostensibly the “main character,” his standoffish demeanor means that he can only hook the audience so far, and the audience needs a stronger emotional anchor. Tench steps up for him, and McCallany makes him a tractor beam of charisma that gives the audience the energy to roll with Ford as long as Tench is around. From his introduction scene, Holt radiates confidence and security when welcoming Ford to the agency, and he knows what to say to entice Ford into joining him on what will eventually become their behavioral science work. Not only does it establish Tench as an authority figure and an easy hang, but it also helps clue us in to Ford’s underlying insecurity and need to prove himself to his higher-ups through the contrast between McCallany’s performance style and Jonathan’s. It sets the table for the push-and-pull tension that they will have throughout the show, with Ford’s unblinking impulse to dive into darkness being constantly tempered by Tench’s attempts at tying him back to the people they’re trying to protect.

This was the main challenge that McCallany had to deal with for each episode: how to make Tench his own engaging person without becoming a total square gawking at all of Ford’s worst tendencies. He overcomes this hurdle by having Tench’s pushback be filtered through a sense of concern rather than outright anger. He’s only chastising Ford because he doesn’t want to see him killed, and any noted animosity that Tench displays is a direct result of Tench’s underlying fear that the “evil” of serial killers is in himself and those he cares for. It helps the audience believe that these two grow to become more than just partners who tolerate each other, and are two people who look out for each other in their own disparate ways.

It also speaks to the underlying flaw in Tench’s outlook, that there’s only so much he can do to protect people from a malady that could affect anyone. It’s due to McCallany’s performance that it hits so hard when he has to suspect that his young son could have disturbing violent tendencies, to have to acknowledge that serial killers were once innocent young children too. This conundrum exposes the limitations of being the classically tough patriarch and how sometimes you need to use your softer emotions to reach out to your children, and Holt McCallany takes us on that journey beautifully with his arc as Bill Tench.

‘The Iron Claw’ Shows the Meaner Side of McCallany

Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, Stanley Simons, Zac Efron and Harris Dickinson sitting in church in The Iron Claw.
Image via A24

Holt McCallany’s role as the fearsome Fritz Von Erich in A24’s dramatic retelling of the legendary Von Erich wrestling dynasty (minus one real life brother) is the perfect vehicle for audiences to witness the full range of emotion that Holt can bring to what’s not an easy task. Selling Fritz as a functioning human being is a juicy role, as Fritz was widely remembered for being one of the great villains of wrestling history, an emotional tyrant who ruled over his wrestling sons with…well, an iron claw. For Fritz, his sons following in the family tradition of professional wrestling was their ultimate show of love for Fritz, and to go against that was to break a sacred bond.

He proudly barks out the stats of his sons’ wrestling resumes and exercise routines the way other fathers brag about their kid’s report card. Not to mention the ways that he would incentivize their wrestling involvement by reminding them how which son he loved the most was defined by how well they each did at wrestling. Every ounce of honest familial feeling he had for his children had to be filtered through his passion for wrestling, and The Iron Claw makes clear how his toxic drive is what destroyed his family. With that burden at the character’s feet, it’s up to Holt to make the audience feel like they’re seeing the underlying reasons that are driving Fritz to be so harsh. Most abusive fathers in film history have a tendency to come off like abject monsters, seemingly full of nothing but contempt and hatred for their victims. Fritz is not like that, as you do feel his sense of genuine pride and warmth towards his sons when they achieve the accomplishments he wants them to.

Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, Jeremy Allan White as Kerry Von Erich, Stanley Simons as Mike Von Erich and Harris Dickenson as David Von Eric sitting on a fence in The Iron Claw
Image via A24

One particular scene that highlights these contradictory emotional impulses is when President Jimmy Carter pulls America out of the 1980 Summer Olympics in protest against the Soviet Union, since the Olympics would have taken place in Moscow. Kerry Von Erich (Jeremy Allen White) was training to compete in those Olympics, and now his (and, by extension, Fritz’s) chance to prove himself has been robbed. While the rest of the family sits in a stunned silence that evokes disappointment, Fritz sits separately from them, brimming with contained fury. Holt shows just in his eyes and the tightness of his face that he is both upset about his son’s missed opportunity and also is taking this protest as a personal attack on his own ego, showcasing how deeply he has intertwined his love for his kids within his selfish need to carry out his dreams.

As the noted Von Erich opponent Ric Flair once said, “to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” and that speaks to the power Fritz could hold over his family. He carried himself like he was the man, and lorded it over everyone that his kids couldn’t do anything to overthrow him. This is the truth that Holt McCallany projects at all times, holding maximum force by how little he has to raise his voice or throw his weight around to instill terror. If any of the Von Erich boys do poorly in a match, McCallany doesn’t come in screaming or whipping his belt. Instead, he dry ices them with that dreaded “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed” energy, signifying that having to be around them is enough to shame them into submission. Above all else, he displays Fritz as a product of both his toxic masculine ideals and the trauma of his past, still unhealed from the death of his firstborn son and the disappointment of his own professional wrestling career. It’s not a simple task to play an abusive person, and Holt McCallany triumphed by tapping into the idea that Fritz couldn’t see how damaging his love was for everyone else, because it made so much sense to his tough-minded soul.

Holt McCallany Continues To Thrive in Every Role He Touches

If recent results are any indication, Holt McCallany is here to stay. Both pre and post-Mindhunter, he’s had the chance to work with prominent directors who know just how to use him. Be it Guy Ritchie trading on his natural charisma in Wrath of Man or Guillermo del Toro bringing him on as menacing muscle in Nightmare Alley, McCallany has carved a great niche for himself playing side roles that let him steal every scene. For auteur validation, look no further than his continued creative partnership with David Fincher, Fincher casting him in small roles as far back as Alien 3 and Fight Club, long before their team-up on Mindhunter.

McCallany’s previous career saw him travel through many a classic masculine role, from brutal boxers to high-ranking prisoners to hardened cops, and he always managed to make himself stand out. He’ll keep that train a-rollin’ as he’s set to appear in The Amateur, the next film starring Oscar-winner Rami Malek, and the possibly final installment of the Mission Impossible series, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two. We shall continue to be blessed with the presence of a man who will always make himself known, no matter how big or small the role.

The Iron Claw is now available on VOD in the U.S.

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