“I may get hit by a car tomorrow. Anything could happen. But I sure would like to have my story out there,” says George Foreman, the former two-time world heavyweight champion.
Big George Foreman, which is in cinemas now, tells the incredible true story of Foreman’s life and career. Foreman was a successful boxer who retired after a near-death experience, but made a triumphant comeback later on in life, becoming a champion once more.
Foreman’s story is almost too good to be true for a filmmaker. Although Big George Foreman takes creative licence in adapting the boxer’s life to the big screen, the most unbelievable plot twists all happened to Foreman, such as a near-death experience following a fight.
It’s the stuff of dreams for any filmmaker and for director George Tillman Jr., making the film was a no-brainer.
“Something that stuck with me when I first read [the script] was this idea of a man who starts off being angry, a man who uses his fists, and then you see this change within the character to a guy who becomes selfless, a guy who completely changes his life around,” the director says.
Tillman Jr., who also directed The Hate U Give and Men of Honour, was already a huge boxing fan when the opportunity to adapt Foreman’s life to the big screen came about. His passion shows in the film; Tillman Jr. worked closely together with fight coach Darrell Foster and actor Khris Davis, who portrays Foreman in the film, to recreate Foreman’s iconic fights. He describes Foreman’s biggest fights as “iconic” and they are all available for the public to watch on the Internet nowadays, creating a unique challenge for Tillman Jr.
“I felt I had to honour that, not only for George, but for the other boxers and the fans. So that’s something that we took a lot of time with. You know, Ali’s 8th round knockdown of Foreman in Zaire, that three punch combination and the way Ali moves – the way we filmed it is consistent to the real fight. We also did that one about 30 to 40 times and Khris took punches to the face each time.”
Tillman Jr. is of course talking about actor Khris Davis, who plays George Foreman in the film. Playing such a legend in a biopic was a unique opportunity for the young, relatively unknown actor and Davis fought hard to get it.
“I have no idea how many people auditioned for this, but all I know is I gave my heart in the audition and I gave my heart when it came to filming.”
The filming was split into two blocks; first to shoot scenes where Foreman is at his prime and later for when he’s in his forties. The crew took six weeks off so Davis could bulk up for the latter part of the filming; Tillman Jr. was adamant they wouldn’t use visual effects or a fat suit to showcase the character’s ageing and changing body.
Davis had pretty strict instructions on how many calories to eat per day, depending on his training regime, but the actor went above and beyond, consuming 7000 calories a day to gain the necessary weight.
“I gained 50lbs in five weeks, going from 225 to 275. In total I ended up getting to about 280, 282.”
It wasn’t for nothing as Foreman eagerly approves of Davis’ performance.
“I always said if there’s ever a movie done about me, I would hope it would be a real actor. Not some ‘celebrity.’ Someone who could really act. And boy, they got an actor for this. I was so impressed with him. I met him a couple of times. He took it on and he was George Foreman as far as I’m concerned.”
Foreman also gave Davis some unusual and slightly intimidating coaching on how to find the essence of his performance.
“I told him to look me in the eye. And he looked me in the eye and I said: “No – look me in the eye until you find me… a reflection of me in your eyeballs. And don’t look away until you do.” I guess he’s thinking, “What is he trying to do to me?” But I made him look me in the eye until he said, “I see you… I see you.” I said, “That’s it.” That’s what I was doing to boxers in the ring. I wouldn’t stop looking at them until I saw myself in their eyes.”
The most useful piece of information Foreman gave Davis was one word; recklessness.
“That’s the way that he fought when he was younger. He fought with “recklessness.” Meaning, when you have that kind of recklessness, it doesn’t matter who you hurt or how you hurt them – as long as they’re hurt, as long as they’re down.”
For Davis, Big George Foreman is a film about finding yourself and “living in your truth no matter the cost.”
He adds: “What I hope that people can take from this film is finding the beauty in finding yourself and holding onto that at all costs. That’s the most valuable thing that we can mine in our lives and hold onto.”
Tillman Jr. wants the audiences to be able to relate to the film’s story and to be able to find the strength for change within themselves.
“Some people can find it in spirituality. Some people can find it in family. Some people can find it in sports. Wherever that is, we have that ability to better ourselves. That’s sort of the core of the film. That we can better ourselves… And that’s what I want to be able to give to the audience.”
Big George Foreman is in cinemas now.