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That ‘Challengers’ Threesome Had an ‘Element of Improvisation,’ Says Josh O’Connor, Who Was ‘Not Holding Back’

Sure, Luca Guadagnino knew exactly what he wanted the already-infamous “Challengers” threesome to look like. But just like many great sensual sequences onscreen, there was a certain je n’ai sais quoi improvised layer to it, according to actor Josh O’Connor.

The “Challengers” star told Vanity Fair that there was a “fairly organic” amount of “improvisation” during the intimate scene, which just about broke the internet when the film’s trailer debuted on April 26. O’Connor stars in the movie as a tennis pro who gets entangled with a rising star, played by Zendaya. She becomes a coach and eventually marries O’Connor’s tennis rival — Player 3 in the group-make-out scene — played by Mike Faist.

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“Luca had a very clear idea of what happens on the bed. The idea of me and Mike, with Zendaya in the middle — this idea that it’s kissing, kissing, and then it turns into this three-way kiss — and then suddenly Mike and I are kissing. That was very clear,” O’Connor said. “We all kind of figured out, how are we going to do this? How does this work?”

Guadagnino was open to the actors toying with their respective takes on the characters and just how muddled their love triangle would get.

“There is an element of improvisation with it. It was fairly organic,” O’Connor said. “We did little things, like, when they’re sitting on the floor and she goes onto the bed, I was up in a flash and not holding back. That came from us knowing our characters well, and knowing the dynamics between the three of us.”

O’Connor, who also stars in indie adventure film “La Chimera,” admitted that he found the process of connecting with his “Challengers” tennis-pro character Patrick “really hard” — especially the physicality of it.

“The truth is, Luca had to take me aside after about two weeks and was like, ‘Josh, you can’t hide. You have to be all out,'” O’Connor recalled. “I’m not brilliant at that. I like to be in the corner, hiding away a little bit. One thing that I definitely think helps with that: I’d never spent time in a gym in my life. When I went over to Boston to do this film, Luca was like, ‘We’re in the gym.’ We did three or four weeks of: two hours in the morning, tennis; two hours gym; rehearsal every day. I was forced into going to the gym. There was no option.”

O’Connor added that him and Faist kept up their physical training between takes — especially during the tennis scenes.

“Mike and I would be doing laps of the tennis court or doing push-ups or burpees and just properly sweating. Put two actors on basically what is a stage, where there’s sweating and you’re feeling boisterous, and it’s like, if you plant two male actors in that scenario, you’re going to have a bit of swagger,” O’Connor said. “That really helped. It’s not a space I’m necessarily natural with, but I loved it. It felt good.”

O’Connor is set to reunite with Guadagnino for queer romance “Separate Rooms” based on Pier Vittorio Tondelli’s novel of the same name. O’Connor will play the lead role Leo, an Italian writer who is mourning the death of his musician boyfriend. Similar to Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name” and “Challengers,” “Separate Rooms” hinges on the jealousies when one partner embarks on a relationship with a woman.

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