Challengers’ Mike Faist is a former Brokeback Mountain star who once campaigned for equal marriage

Mike Faist shirtless in a still from Challengers. He looks solemn.

With Luca Guadagnino’s steamy Zendaya-led sports drama Challengers set to open in cinemas, film fans are going to be left thirsting over one of its stars: Mike Faist.

In the horny new film, Faist stars as Art Donaldson, a tennis champion on a losing streak, seemingly unable to get himself back to winning ways.

He’s married to Zendaya’s character, formidable and cutthroat coach and former player Tashi, who threatens to leave him unless he rediscovers his mojo.

Throw Tashi’s former lover – Art’s one-time best friend – and fellow tennis star Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) into the mix, with the two men forced to go head-to-head, and you’ve got the recipe for one of the most tense and, hopefully, homoerotic films of recent times.

While Challengers is undoubtedly one of the biggest films of Faist’s career so far, he’s got a pretty big filmography under his belt, and has won a Grammy, and a daytime Emmy, as well as Tony and BAFTA nominations.

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What has Challengers star Mike Faist been in before?

Faist, 32, began his professional acting career in 2011. Although he’d been acting in school productions since he was five, his first big break came when he starred as Morris Delancey in the Broadway production of Newsies.

He continued focusing on his stage career, starring in Appropriate and A Month in the Country, but he landed what is arguably his defining role as Connor Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen in 2015, also joining the production following its transfer to Broadway between 2016 and 2018.

It was his lauded for Dear Evan Hansen performances, eventually landing a best actor in a featured role in a musical award nomination at the Tonys, before winning a Grammy for best musical theatre album in 2018 for his part in the production’s soundtrack.

He also won an Emmy for his part in the performance on The Today Show of the track “You Will Be Found.”

West Side Story actor Mike Faist and Oscar-nominated Lady Bird star Lucas Hedges star as sheepherders Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar in west end stage production of Brokeback Mountain.
Mike Faist (L) starred opposite Lucas Hedges in the stage version of Brokeback Mountain. (Manuel Harlan)

Around the same time, Faist began picking up the pace when it came to his on-screen roles: following a few minor film parts, he was in 2018 horror flick Wildling and police drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

But it wasn’t until 2021 that his big film breakthrough came about, when he starred in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of West Side Story, playing Riff, alongside Ariana DeBose, Rachel Zegler, and Ansel Elgort.

That landed him a BAFTA nomination, as well as nods at 20 other award ceremonies.

Most recently, Faist starred in the West End adaptation of Annie Proulx’s gay cowboy love story, Brokeback Mountain, playing Jack Twist opposite Boy Erased star Lucas Hedges.

Mike Faist campaigned for gay marriage before he became famous

Away from stage and screen, Faist has previously demonstrated his support for the LGBTQ+ community through activism. In a conversation with AnOther recently, he reflected on his experience of moving to New York aged just 17 to pursue his acting dream.

While there, he had a job that included “collecting signatures campaigning for same-sex marriage”, several years before it was legalised in the US in 2015.

Despite starring as a gay character in Brokeback Mountain, Mike Faist has kept his personal life private, and has never publicly discussed his sexuality. He has been previously linked with Broadway dancer, Tilly Evans-Krueger.

In Challengers, Faist’s character Art is portrayed as straight and in a relationship with Tashi, but there is palpable sexual tension between him and Patrick.

Mike Faist (R) and Josh O’Connor star as rivals – in more ways than one. But there is chemistry between them. (MGM Studios)

In one flashback scene, the men begin kissing Tashi, but she directs them to kiss each other, which, after some hesitation, they do – and seem to enjoy it quite a lot.

God’s Own Country star O’Connor has gone as far as to say that the sexuality of both characters is “fluid” and their relationship is “platonic and non-platonic”.

Speaking to Variety, O’Connor said: “I think they’re obsessed with each other. I think it’s stronger than love, we need each other to feel complete.”

Challengers opens on Friday (26 April).