ORLANDO, Fla. - When last we met Sean Faris, star of "Never Back Down," he was having a rough day. The temperature was pushing 100 on the shores of Lake Monroe. Faris was sweating another lake where he stood, panting in between takes, scenes that involved wind sprints. And that was just the running part of the movie, a mixed-martial-arts drama set in an Orlando high school.
"Every day, for weeks, I'm getting beaten up by somebody," he said at the time. "But it's an awesome experience."
The running was only part of it. It turns out, that sultry August day was one the young star will always remember.
"That was the day we found out my back was broken."
Ouch. He was the star of a movie, opening Friday, about a hotheaded teenager who has to learn how to defend himself in a rough new school, a school that's into mixed martial arts. But Faris was suffering for his art. And how.
"We did the running, and then another exercise scene, where we're flipping these huge truck tires as training, and I couldn't walk. Found out I broke the L3 spinous transverse process," a part of the vertebrae that juts out from the bone. All he could do was "lie down for a few hours, take a lot of pain killers and fight through. I didn't want to miss a day."
Faris, who turns 26 later this month, may be best-known for the short-lived TV series "Reunion." "Never Back Down," which was titled "Get Some" when he was shooting it, could be his big break, no pun intended. The years of "young Tom Cruise" comparisons, from the likes of People magazine and even Craig Baumgarten, a producer on "Never Back Down," are fine. Faris knew that this film could launch him to stardom if he could only tough it out.
"How hot was it in Orlando last summer? As hot as hot gets, man," he laughs. "I'm from Texas, so I'm used to it. But making that movie there was like shooting in a steam room."
The movie paired him up with the great Djimon Hounsou as a martial-arts teacher and life guru, and Faris saw Hounsou ("Amistad," "In America") as a role model by the time filming was over.
"The most honorable, down-to-Earth person I've ever met in this business," Faris says. "Classy guy, professional, you can learn a lot from someone like him, and I did. Shows up ready to work, and that's what you want in a colleague.
"I don't blame him for breaking my back! Not holding it against him. Not me!"
It wasn't just the filming that was grueling. The cast went through six weeks of intense mixed-martial-arts training, "12 hours a day," learning bits of Muay Thai, jujitsu and taekwondo do for the film.
And the break that he hoped for? "We've already got a couple of offers on the table for what I'll do next, thinking that next move over. My manager and I are producing this movie, 'The Glass Eye,' a suspense thriller about a guy who can get video from crime scenes before the cops or the media and sell the tape. He starts tracking this serial killer, just working from his car."
But it's not as if Faris can leave the mixed martial arts behind any time soon.
"I was talking with Kimbo Slice and Tank Abbott (MMA stars), and they were telling me to come back and train with them. Because once this movie drops, who knows how many people are gonna try to start something with the guy that beat up the other guys in 'Never Back Down."'