BIG GEORGE FOREMAN
Released April 28th
In this film about a celebrated boxer who was born into poverty, rose to stardom with little experience, and after retiring, ran a youth program to give positivity to kids in need, casting directors Mary Vernieu and Lindsay Graham Ahanonu performed an extraordinary feat as well. They cast a difficult true story about a known celebrity that doesn’t seem forced. Every member of the ensemble embodies their character candidly, which is difficult when portraying well-known contemporary figures.
Director George Tillman Jr. has framed the establishing backstory as an integral part of the timeline, not a flashback or an afterthought. Tillman is very attuned to young actors, and his portrayal of George Foreman’s youth displays that skill. I had the chance to work with a young actor who starred in Tillman’s touching 2013 film, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. Tillman drew an outstanding performance from young Ethan Dizon and his costar. And it’s not just the kids in “Big George Foreman” who are outstanding. Khris Davis as George Foreman, Sullivan Jones as Muhammed Ali, Sonja Sohn as Nancy Foreman, and Forest Whitaker as Doc Broadus have combined their talents to tell the gripping story of Foreman’s life, which has not been given the attention it deserves, perhaps because he was a fighter more likely to communicate with his punch than his words. Tillman’s fight choreography is excellent, and the camera work and editing are fluid so that you can feel yourself in the fights.
Sohn is an incredible actress and adds an emotional touch as Foreman’s mother. You can also see her as Detective Amanda Wagner in the new series Will Trent. Before she was an actress, Sohn was a trailblazing veteran of the slam poetry movement. She wrote, directed, and co-starred in the film Slam (1998.) Whitaker brings reality to his role as Doc Broadus.
Khris Davis is the heart of this movie as Foreman. Davis spent 5-6 hours a day of intense training learning Foreman’s specific and unique boxing style, having never been a boxer himself. Davis is an accomplished theater actor and realized from this experience that to tell a “fleshed-out story on film…requires immense, immense work and discipline.” He watched a huge library of Foreman interviews, but they were professional, not personal. So, Davis felt compelled to travel to Foreman’s home in Texas for three days just to see what his everyday life was like, how he interacted with his wife and kids, and who he was as a person.
Davis has about the same natural height and weight as Foreman, so the transformation in the first part of the movie was relatively easy. For the later part of the film, the filmmakers wanted to put a fat suit on him, but he insisted on making the change for real. Davis told them, “’…come back in five weeks. Look at my body. If you think I need a fat suit, let’s put it on.” Davis went from 225 pounds to 275 pounds in five weeks. Watching the movie, I thought at first that this was a different actor, the change in weight and character is so astounding.
What you can feel from Davis is his absolute respect for Foreman. No one can describe how Davis was able to channel Foreman better than Davis himself. As he puts it, “I didn’t become George because I’m not Mr. Foreman. I could never be Mr. Foreman. What I could do was try to give a proper representation of his experience, to emulate some of his essence as best I could…The thing about Mr. Foreman is that he’s like a deep, deep lockbox. You open up one box, and there’s another one. You open up another one. There’s another one.” This explains the depth of the personality that everyone missed during the famous bouts with the much more gregarious Muhammed Ali.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. firstname.lastname@example.org