Big George Foreman and Khris Davis on Playing the Iconic Heavyweight Champion

Apr 27, 2023

Big George Foreman tells the extraordinary life story of boxing’s two-time heavyweight champion of the world. He became the oldest fighter to reclaim the title at an astonishing 46 years old. The moving film chronicles his journey from a poverty-stricken youth in Houston’s Fifth Ward to the pinnacle of athletic greatness. George Foreman suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Muhammad Ali, almost died in the ring, and lost his fortune to poor business practices. The irrepressible fighter used his strong religious faith to mount a comeback for the ages. He regained his wealth and fame as a lovable pitch man. What kitchen doesn’t have a George Foreman Grill?

Khris Davis plays the iconic boxer in an intense physical performance. He gained “50 pounds in 5 weeks” to portray Foreman’s incredible second act. This required eating an astonishing “7,000 calories” per day. Foreman was often mischaracterized as “angry” and a “brute” in his early days. Davis was keen to emote a “gentle” man who “smiles a lot”, always referring to “Mr. Foreman” with reverence and respect. He understood the role’s magnitude and responsibility of showing someone with “so much light inside of him.”

Foreman, still smiling and upbeat, praised Davis as “an excellent actor” who “brought out things that were lost forever.” The film reminded him of his childhood “without hope.” He wants audiences to “find the hope in themselves.” Foreman also extolled the “fighting” spirit and tenacity of co-writer/director George Tillman Jr. He spent many years trying to get the film produced. Foreman saw in Tillman Jr. “the same ingredients I had.” Both men were fighters who always got up after being knocked down.

Big George Foreman

Sony Pictures

MW: It is an honor to speak with you. Why choose George Tillman Jr. to write and direct your story?

George Foreman: George Tillman, he had the same ingredients I had in me — fighting. He fought to direct that movie. He fought to work on the script. I had never seen a guy so savage as George Tillman had been with this movie and script. He was offended and got up to keep telling the story. I’m amazed with him. That’s why I chose him. Not for anything else but his fighting ability.

MW: Khris Davis is incredible here. How involved were you with casting him? What does it feel like to see him play you on screen?

George Foreman: A true actor played George Foreman. In the movie, he was George Foreman. He brought out things in me that I thought was lost forever. In art, you can see things that weren’t written, that should have been written. He brought them alive — Khris Davis, an excellent actor. I was happy to have him play that part.

Related: Exclusive: Forest Whitaker and Director George Tillman Jr. on the Challenges of Big George Foreman

MW: Two aspects are really moving in the film. It shows the poverty of your youth and the savagery of the fight scenes. What message do you want audiences to take away?

George Foreman: As a young boy, I didn’t really have anything. I didn’t have hope. Can you imagine going through life without hope? When I saw that and realized where I’d come from, it made me shake off anything else that could happen to me today. I found hope. I want people to look at the movie and find hope themselves.

MW: I’ve spoken to fighters who have PTSD from their boxing days. You almost died in the ring. Do you look back now and wonder why put yourself through that?

George Foreman: Oh boy, fighting — what a career. Then losing a title. I worked so hard to get the championship and lost it in Africa to Muhammad Ali. That devastation […] you ask, how do I recover from that? It’s easy to recover from a boxing match, but to be devastated in that fashion. That was a fight. But for good reason, and I made it. He became my best friend.

MW: You’re such a remarkable person who has lived an extraordinary life. At this point, what is there left for you to do? Is there any box that remains unchecked for George Foreman?

George Foreman: I’ve done so many things I’m happy about. But every morning I put my feet on the floor and say, what’s next? I still got a lot of work and so many things I have to do. I haven’t scraped the surface yet.

Khris Davis on Playing the Champ

Sony Pictures

MW: Great performance becoming George Foreman. Talk about the physical preparation, your weight difference in the film is incredible.

Khris Davis: You can never become Mr. Foreman, you know? I can just do an honest interpretation of Mr. Foreman as I possibly can. That was always the goal. The transition from the younger years to the older years was the hardest challenge I had. He was a different weight when he was 17 to 32. I would have to fluctuate the weight week by week because we shot out of sequence. But then we took six weeks off, so I could gain the weight for his comeback. I gained 50 pounds in five weeks. I went from 225 to 275 in five weeks on a 7,000 calorie diet. The heaviest I got was 282.

Related: Best Movies About Boxing, Ranked

MW: Even though George Foreman is this big tough guy, there’s an innate gentleness that comes out. He was bullied and downtrodden. Talk about emoting that aspect of his personality?

Khris Davis: That’s something that I observed initially when doing my research. I personally wanted to bring that to the story. People were talking about anger and rage. I was looking at him in interviews and talk shows. I kept seeing this guy who was smiling all the time. Wait a minute…he’s smiling all the time…he’s got this glimmer in his eye. He’s got so much light inside of him, but everyone was tagging him as this brute, a menacing man.

Khris Davis: I thought it was much more interesting than playing anger. Playing someone who has gentleness inside of them. In a sense, his anger is being dictated by his circumstances. It’s not just anger. Perhaps it’s disappointment and fear or confusion. That’s what I wanted to play. It didn’t take a lot to find that. I personally wanted that.

MW: What’s the best and worst day on this film for you?

Khris Davis: The best day was the last day [laughs]. Every single day we worked required the same amount of focus, commitment, and sacrifice. I would also say there were no worst days. We just had to show up. We had to do the work. Everybody believed in that. It felt good to be part of a team willing to lift each other up during the process.

Big George Foreman will be released theatrically on April 28th from Sony Pictures.

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