Forest Whitaker Discusses 'Big George Foreman'
The world will finally witness the greatness of George Foreman, one of the best boxers of all time, through the upcoming biopic Big George Foreman. The press release describes it as a remarkable true story that showcases the power of second chances and one of the greatest comebacks in history.
The film will take us through Foreman's journey of channeling his anger to become an Olympic Gold medalist and World Heavyweight Champion. After a near-death experience, he leaves boxing to become a preacher. However, when he sees his community struggling financially and spiritually, he returns to the ring and defies all odds by becoming the oldest and most unexpected World Heavyweight Boxing Champion.
In an interview with BET.com, Foreman, along with the film's stars Forest Whitaker and Khris Davis, discusses the process of preparing for the movie, his desire to relive a career bout, and his well-known fight with Muhammad Ali.
BET.com: Reliving these moments in your life, which one was the most challenging to watch Khris re-enact?
Foreman: I built these big walls around my home and had dark glasses, even in my car so nobody can see my life. It’s not easy to go out there and reveal a few things you want to keep a secret. I watched the film and I don’t think anybody could’ve brought my story to life like [Khris Davis] did. He had me on the edge of my seat pulling for him and being angry with him – the movie was good for me.
BET.com: Portraying a 2x Heavyweight champion is not an easy task. What was one scene that was challenging that George helped you work through?
Davis: I went to go see Mr. Foreman in Houston and before we started filming, he talked to me about recklessness as it pertained to his early years in his career. He gave me that nugget and that insight into what it took for him to become the heavyweight champion of the world and why he fought the way that he did in the ring. It wasn’t that he wasn’t skilled – it was more on how skilled of a fighter he was in the ring. He was always in control, except for the Ali fight where he wanted to just destroy somebody who got under his skin.
BET.com: Is there a boxing match that you would say is your favorite or you would relieve again?
Foreman: In the Olympics – I was a 19 years old boy who never had a dream come true. I won that gold medal standing on that platform and receiving it and having it put around my neck is something I will never get over. I relived that all the time and there should’ve been more about that moment in the film but then it was enough because then they would’ve captured my fear of getting in the ring as well.
BET.com: You’ve portrayed many public figures in the past — what was unique about portraying Doc Broadus that you loved the most?
Whitaker: I think the fact that it's a real character, and you're watching him try to help change somebody's life. He recognizes that he has to let go, let them become whatever they're going to be, and continue on his path. I think that's really a good lesson for me.
BET.com: You never got your rematch against Muhammad Ali — if you did, do you think the result would be different?
Foreman: People ask me that all the time and after I lost the title, I realized his “rope-a-dope” tactic – I had revenge in my heart. When I got close to getting him, I was on the doorstep of God Almighty and became a minister – a good thing I did because at that time, I developed a love for him and we became the greatest of friends. His friendship with me was one of the most wonderful times in my life. We talked all the time on the phone and visited one another, what a wonderful person he had become in my life.
BET.com: Fans will witness your journey with your spiritual connection with God —even having a near-death experience. What’s your relationship with him today?
Foreman: I’m still a minister at the Church of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and you can come on Sunday mornings where I would have to come up with another sermon and hopefully not the one they heard the week before [laughs]. I didn’t have any hope, got home and became the champion of the world. I couldn’t have done it a second time without faith in God – I found as well.
BET.com: If you had to describe George Foreman in one word, what would you use and why?
Whitaker: Giant because he’s somebody who likes to show others you can break through all the negativity and still find your potential – also how he was the heavyweight champion of the world twice and to never give up or stop achieving your dreams.
BET.com: Many may deem this film as a huge breakout role for you — did you have a goal in mind that you wanted to fulfill for this role and did you achieve it?
Davis: The goal was to be truthful and authentic – it was always to bring every ounce that I had to the role. I’ve done theater for a long time and I wanted to bring that to the screen – all I have is my theater background and I don’t know how to tell stories any other way. I wanted to bring that to this magnificent story and I gave everything that I had – I didn’t cut any corners, did all my fights, my stunts, gained all the weight, that was my afro and my bald head [laughs]. I left it all on the floor and that’s what matters to me.
BET.com: Boxing has changed drastically since when you started. While it has improved in many ways, is there anything you would like to see implemented in the sport that you didn’t have as a resource during your tenure?
Foreman: I recently saw a matchup between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury – I realized boxing is in a good state. I would like to see more matches like that – 12 rounds is a good number for boxing championship matches.
BET.com: You wanted to become the Heavyweight champion of the world, you did it twice. You opened up a successful grill line. What would George like to do next?
Foreman: I like the word potential. I wake up every morning and I think about what I want to do next. There’s still a lot to the George Foreman story that can happen. I heard a lady say that her father told her if she knew how to sell, she would never starve. I’m looking for another vocation all the time [laughs].
Suit up with your friends and family and go see Big George Foreman, which swings into theaters on April 28th.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Ty Cole is a New York-based entertainment reporter and writer for BET.com who covers all things pop culture, entertainment, and lifestyle. Follow his latest musings on Twitter @IamTyCole.