James Beard is one of the most respected referees in the history of professional wrestling. While primarily based in Texas, he has also traveled to Japan, and was honored by the Cauliflower Alley Club with its 2016 Charlie Smith Referee Award.

But at the moment, he’s bigger than life on the big screen, a part of The Iron Claw movie on the Von Erich family, opening in North America on Friday, December 22. It stars Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich, and Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich.

Beard has told this writer about it again and again, and his enthusiasm was always contagious.

And James has not been shy about sharing his insights on social media, especially on Facebook.

“Being involved in making The Iron Claw was an incredible experience. The stars, the crew, my friends from wrestling who were a part of it were all so wonderful to work with. And director/writer Sean Durkin was amazingly dedicated to getting it right,” he posted.

Chavo Guerrero Jr. was the wrestling coordinator, and Beard said he “did a masterful job of staging the action scenes.” Guerrero is also on the screen in an early bout against Fritz Von Erich (portrayed by Holt McCallany) as The Sheik. Stunt Director Hiro Koda made sure everyone was safe.

Guerrero wasn’t shy about asking for input, said Beard. “Chavo leaned on me for advice about how the real-life wrestlers would have acted and reacted and the actors playing the Von Erichs were very open to taking suggestions.”

That was true throughout, said Beard. “Everyone was very diligent about it being as realistic as possible. Every detail I suggested to Zac Ephron was taken and utilized. He was determined to be as ‘Kevin-like’ as possible. I think he really nailed it.”

Though not active as a full-time wrestling referee, Beard is still in shape and does work matches here and there. He’s in the movie as a referee, which he thanked Luke Hawx, the veteran wrestler and movie stunt coordinator, for making happen. [Watch for our interview with Hawx about The Iron Claw.]

“We did the wrestling scenes just like they were spots in a real match. Even for myself, Sean [Durkin] told me to work it, both physically and vocally as I would in an actual match. That helped make things so much more realistic,” wrote Beard.

In a world of spoilers — and wrestling fans already know the fate of the Von Erichs — Beard said that he wasn’t in on the whole plan. “When you do these scenes, you only see parts of the script, so while you could read into those small examples a sense of where the movie was headed, you really don’t know the whole story.

Harris Dickinson, Jeremy Allen White, and Zac Efron in The Iron Claw.

Harris Dickinson, Jeremy Allen White, and Zac Efron in The Iron Claw.

Aaron Dean Eisenberg (The Deuce, Public Morals) plays Ric Flair in The Iron Claw. It’s not a major role, as it is about helping the storytelling of the Von Erich story along, though he gets to cut a memorable promo, have a funny backstage moment, and, of course, drops the NWA World title to Kerry Von Erich at the first Parade of Champions after David Von Erich’s death.

Beard said that Eisenberg “was another actor who was totally professional and willing to listen to advice. The first day I met him we worked with him on some of Ric’s physical movements, including the strut and he was diligent in getting it right. In the ring, he did his own stunts and worked those spots like a pro.”

There’s a Kevin Von Erich versus Ric Flair bout with Beard as the referee. “I did my last scene with him and Zac and both of those guys were really getting the feel of what it was like to have Kevin Von Erich vs Ric Flair,” wrote Beard. “Not only was Aaron very professional, but he is one of the friendliest guys you could ever ask to work with.”

Leaving the set was bittersweet, said Beard. “One of the most cool things of my professional career came after filming my last scene, which was a match between Kevin and Ric Flair. After a long day of filming, we left the ring and Sean Durkin had them make an announcement that this was my wrap. The crew and those on set gave a truly flattering response and Zac Efron came back out, gave me a hug and personally thanked me for helping him in the scenes we shot together. It was a classy thing to do and a moment I will always treasure.”

Then finally Beard and colleagues got to see the movie at a pre-screening in Dallas.

His post:

Having lived through and experienced much of it in real life it was a bit surreal watching a movie version of the story unfold on screen.

Obviously, a 2 hour movie has to make some creative decisions that vary somewhat from how the true history played out, but the essence of the story was very well told. Some fans and those of us who knew and personally experienced some of it might nitpick this or that, but the point of the movie was well developed and obvious.

Kevin was the focal point of the story and how, as the older brother, he dealt with the continuing tragedies and the fact he was mostly overlooked when the major opportunities to be featured were there is really what the movie is about. Regardless the accuracy of every detail, how he navigated life, love, family and the wrestling business is the point and that was well presented and developed. The acting and production was definitely top notch.

Because the Von Erich story is full of both extreme highs and almost insufferably low moments the retelling of it could be so depressing that it could have left you totally bummed. But, Sean found a way to bring it together with some closing scenes that were absolutely necessary. Regardless how you feel about faith, the way the movie reaches its ending was definitely a satisfying creative decision that movie fans and wrestling fans (especially Von Erich fans) will be pleased to see. Honestly, for me, it was almost like a relief from some of the painful memories the movie brought back.

I talked to director/writer Sean Durkin as we left the after party and he was extremely pleased with how the movie turned out and the response so far.

The premiere experience itself was unbelievable. Reconnecting with the actors and some of the crew after a year of waiting to see the final product was like a family reunion. Being afforded the honor of walking the red carpet and sharing that with those folks as well as [his wife] Cindy and my son, Cody, was like truly fulfilling that impossible dream. I am deeply thankful and blessed.

PS: Seeing my name on a major motion picture credit roll was freaking awesome!!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch for more on The Iron Claw this week on SlamWrestling.net

TOP PHOTOS: Left: James Beard as the referee as Aaron Dean Eisenberg portrays Ric Flair; right: James Beard and Zac Efron. Facebook photos.