George Foreman might have been fearless in the ring, taking on all comers as the swaggering heavyweight champ. But, when it came to allowing Hollywood producers to tell his life story in a movie biopic, the boxing icon readily admits that he had deep reservations.
“All of us celebrities go through our lives trying to hide everything,” the two-time world champ, now 74, tells Yahoo Entertainment ahead of the release of said biopic, Big George Foreman. “We live behind these big brick walls. No one can come in. Then when we do drive out, the windows are tinted. We have dark glasses. We spend a lifetime hiding our life. So it’s not easy to just reveal yourself, especially to Hollywood.”
Directed by George Tillman Jr. and starring Khris Davis (Judas and the Black Messiah, Space Jam: A New Legacy) as Foreman, the warts-and-all drama follows the Texas native from extreme poverty in his youth to discovering boxing at a Job Corps program to his shocking triumph over Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title belt in 1973. Of course, there are two championship arcs to Foreman’s story. Three years after he lost the belt to Muhammad Ali in 1974’s seminal “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, he retired and became a preacher — before mounting an staggering, unprecedented comeback, rising to world champ again in 1994 at the unlikely age of 45. (Not to mention those ubiquitous late-night TV spots shilling his namesake “mean, lean, fat-reducing grilling machines,” but we won’t go there.)
“I said, ‘Can I win the Rumble in the Jungle this time?,’” Foreman cracks when asked what he wanted to make sure filmmakers got right in telling his story. “They wouldn’t go for that. So I just left the whole thing along. But I just wanted everybody to understand something, how it doesn’t matter how far down you are, you can really climb up.”
Davis doesn’t think the boxer has always gotten his due when compared to other heavyweight legends like Ali, Frazier and Tyson.
“He does have one of the most impressive stories in boxing history, and I think that it was a travesty that his story was always being underwritten,” the actor tells us. “It feels almost intentionally, because he wasn’t the way we wanted him to be back in the day. So we just continued to play the tape on him taking a loss from Ali.”
While Ali has been been lionized in other Hollywood biopics (see: Ali, One Night in Miami), in Big George Foreman, Ali (played by Sullivan Jones) is relegated to the role of antagonist.
And just as Foreman’s boxing career had its ups and downs, so did his relationship with his fellow pugilist.
“Well, at first, he was a likable fellow, but then when it’s time to fight him, he was OK,” Foreman says about their real-life relationship. “Boy, when I lost to Ali, I was devastated. All I wanted was revenge, to get him into the ring and destroy him. … And just when I was about to do it, something happened into my life, I found salvation. I found another chance to live and got an acquaintance with God himself, and Muhammad Ali became the most wonderful friend I ever had in this life. [We had] a close, close relationship.”
Big George Foreman is the latest entry in Hollywood’s time-honored subgenre of boxing movies. Asked to name his favorite, Foreman cites Martin Scorsese’s 1980 classic Raging Bull starring Robert De Niro.
Foreman also loves Rocky, but he does have a shocking admission. Big George, who, like most great boxers, was known for his bravura in the ring, doesn’t think he could’ve beat Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion.
And there’s a specific reason why.
“His script,” Foreman says with a smile, “was all about beating all of us.”