Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World is out in cinemas April 28th and so FILMHOUNDS sat down with actor Khris Davis who plays George Foreman as well as director George Tillman Jr to hear about boxing and faith in the new biographical sports drama.
One of the things I enjoyed most about your performance is that you portrayed George Foreman without doing an impression of him. How did you approach that? And was it a conscious decision to perform that way?
Khris Davis: It was a conscious decision to portray him that way. Coming from a theatre background, I understood that it's good to do an interpretation and not an impersonation. And I can never be Mr Foreman. I don't live in his body. I live in my own body. So I didn't want to put that kind of pressure on myself and try to trick the audience into believing that I have transformed into George Foreman, so it was definitely from the door, approaching it from the aspect of okay, all I can do is and an interpretation, and the way that I approached that, that interpretation should be honest, it should be as authentic as possible, and I found key elements that make Mr Foreman noticeable and recognisable, and really honed in on those and utilise those to emulate, if you will, the essence of Mr Foreman.
This film has some amazing relationships, but none are more important than the one between you and Doc Broadus, played by Forrest Whitaker. What was it like working alongside a legend like him? And how did you work together to create that father-son bond on screen?
KD: It was incredible. Watching Forest Whitaker do his thing. You know, initially, when he first spoke when we were doing our scenes, I was enamoured by his ability to be so smooth with it. You know, he wasn't forcing anything. He wasn't using any extra energy. And it was magnificent what he was doing. And I was like, oh, man, what was that? What is that? I don't even know if I had that at that time. But I'm glad that I was able to observe that. And Mr Whitaker and I honestly, after that moment, I wanted Mr Whitaker to know that I had him in the scenes too, that I was going to do my best to support him as a scene partner. And I wanted him to feel as though he could rely on me as a scene partner. Rather than feeling like all I have to pick up the slack for the young kid, the young guy, you know what I mean? So I wanted to show up for Mr Whitaker as well.
One thing I noticed is that in the scene after George finds Jesus and finds faith, your performance opens up even more. It's like, George seems like he's free. And then there's more charisma, and he becomes more relatable. Did you feel like you were able to unleash even more of your personality and pour it into the role after that?
KD: I think that you said it right. George was free after that. He was free to do that, because that's always who he really was. And I understood that when it came to telling the story, that him being bright and loving and caring and a gentle person in life was always a part of his characteristics. But he's given circumstances and the elements that he was facing in his life that created someone who was a bit jaded and angry. But that doesn't mean that he wasn't a good person deep down inside. So you said it correctly. He was free. So yeah, when telling the story, I understood that when that happened, those other things can be shared. And now we have the freedom to completely lean into being the kind and gentle and giving person that we all know Mr Foreman to be.
George Foreman has lived an incredible life! How hard was it to pick which moments should go into the film? Because any one of the eras of his life could have filled a whole movie.
George Tillman Jr: It was such a huge task to choose, because everything in his life was a really big roller coaster ride, and I really was very excited. But it came down to what were the important moments to tell the story of a young boy who wanted this approval, you know? This young man who felt like, if I win the championship belt, everything would be solved, and it wasn't solved. He had to find approval within himself. Those are the things that I felt were important to tell the story. That made it very important: what fight to use, what era to stay in. I knew I wanted to stay in 1960 to 1994, I felt like I needed the entire story. But that was a difficult task because he had a great fight when he fought Lyle. Lyle versus Foreman and it was five knockdowns. I wish I would have got that in the movie, but I didn't really need it! Those are the things you have, when you have such a wonderful life.
Sullivan Jones's portrayal of Ali is the best I have ever seen on screen. You depict him in a way that George would have seen him as this unstoppable force of nature, almost supernatural. How hard was it to portray that from George's perspective, and was it complex filming the Rumble in the Jungle?
GTJ: That was even tougher. There's been a lot of portrayals of Ali, and everybody in the world knows him. But you know what happened that was so amazing? I got this beautiful tape, from Sullivan Jones. It had him doing Ali, with music, dancing to James Brown, singing, moving around boxing, he had all that, and it just got me excited. I was like, wow, this is my guy! That's just based off the video that I got. So what eventually happened is I got a chemistry test with him and Khris Davis and that chemistry was just great. Sullivan was awesome. He played Ali before on stage. He was very connected to one of Ali's daughters. Also in the rehearsal period, we were able to adjust and really refine who Ali was. And we started realising we were doing Ali in the early 1970s, late 1969, we had to make adjustments. Our movie takes place in 1974, when Ali's a little slower, when he moved a little differently, when he talked a little differently. Those are the adjustments that we were able to make. Sullivan is a great actor. I can't wait to work with him again.
My father converted to Christianity in a similar fashion to George Foreman, and when people go through that type of transformation, there is often an urgency, like they are on a mission. How important was it to show the urgency of George's spiritual awakening?
GTJ: That urgency was very important, because I remember reading the book early on and George said that when he first became spiritual and religious, everybody would see him and run. Nobody wanted to listen to him! He would be in malls, and everybody would wave and keep going Because they knew he was going to start talking about his new joy, and I felt that urgency I needed to put in the film.
But it wasn't going to be easy. I felt like I didn't want to preach to the audience. I didn't want them to feel like, here comes a message, how do I do it in a way that's organic? And me being a guy who's very spiritual, I felt like this was the best way to do it. Because here's a character who just became a minister, so he's going to talk about religion organically; it's not going to come out of nowhere. That's not what I was trying to do. You can make a mistake doing that. George made a mistake that caused him to open up the centre. So those are the messages; that sometimes you have to believe in things other than yourself; it could be spirituality, it could be from someone else. George got it from multiple places, especially with Doc Broadus, who was the first person who ever saw something in him. That's the thing I wanted to get across as a filmmaker.
Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World is out in cinemas April 28th.