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'The Iron Claw' director breaks down the meaning behind the wedding dance scene

Sean Durkin tells why he decided to include the joyful moment amid the family's multiple tragedies.
/ Source: TODAY

Warning: This post contains spoilers for “The Iron Claw.”

There’s a scene midway through “The Iron Claw” where the Von Erich family experiences joy and laughter at Kevin Von Erich’s wedding.

Zac Efron portrays the oldest-living Von Erich son who weds Pam Adkisson, played by Lily James. Their love story is at the center of the film as the family experiences multiple tragedies brought on by what they called the “Von Erich curse.”

“The Iron Claw,” a real-life story, follows professional wrestler Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) and his four sons — Kevin, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson) and Mike (Stanley Simons) — in their attempt to become household names in the wrestling world and heavyweight champions. However, Fritz Von Erich and his wife, Doris, faced the death of five of their six children.

Seemingly out of place amid the family’s heartbreaking moments, the wedding line dance scene is a moment of levity in a dark film, director and writer Sean Durkin tells

Why 'The Iron Claw' director added the line dancing scene

Durkin, a wrestling fan himself, had been working on “The Iron Claw” since 2015. With so much heartache the family faces, he says he wanted to include a joyful moment.

“I wanted to have a really joyful wedding and I wanted it to be loose and pure,” he says, before things take a turn for the worse. “And then there’s this thing happening with David under the surface that’s coming (next), and I just wanted to have this very pure moment before things fall apart.”

The actual eldest Von Erich son, Jack Barton Jr., died at the age of 7 after he was accidentally electrocuted by a live wire. David Von Erich was the second brother to die suddenly from enteritis, an intestinal infection, at age 25 in 1984.

“The line dance felt like a fun thing (to include),” Durkin says. “That didn’t come from anything real, that was just preparing a little dance as brothers for the wedding. I thought it felt really real and fun, and we had a lot of fun doing it.”

Durkin adds that he felt the scene was “key” to making sure the family had “beautiful, loving, fun moments that go alongside the other side of the story, which is, of course, what happened to them.”

Mike Von Erich died by drug overdose in 1987 at the age of 23, followed by fourth brother Kerry Von Erich, who died by suicide in 1993. He was 33. The youngest and sixth brother, Chris Von Erich, died by suicide in 1991 at the age of 21. However, he was not included in the film.

Chris Von Erich's removal from the final cut was “one of the hardest decisions” Durkin had to make, he says. He explains there was a “repetition in the brothers’ deaths” that made the film seem unrealistic. “I just didn’t believe (the movie) could sort of withstand one more tragedy.”

As for the dance sequence — in which Efron shows off his well-known and impressive dance moves — Durkin says he wanted to keep joyful moments at “the forefront of the movie.”

“That’s also how the family, despite all the tragedy, lives on for people who both knew them and were fans of them,” he says.

During a Dec. 18 TODAY appearance, James told Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager that working with Efron was “the greatest” as they shared tender moments as on-screen husband and wife.

“We got to have such intimate sweet scenes where they’re falling in love and he’s opening up this whole other side of himself,” James said. “But then the rest of the time he’s doing all that wrestling.”

Additionally, White told TODAY’s Craig Melvin during a Dec. 20 appearance that they “tried to highlight the celebration and the love and the bond between the brothers. That’s important.”

“The Iron Claw” is now in theaters.