“He was a bruiser in the ring but I wanted people to see that he had that gentle heart”: Khris Davis on Big George Foreman
With the release of Big George Foreman, the era in which the likes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier plied their trade is seen from the perspective of the titular boxer, preacher and entrepreneur for the first time. With that comes a certain level of responsibility, which the film’s lead, Khris Davis, is more than equal to in his first central performance on the big screen. He realises the character of Foreman with a sturdiness and vulnerability that, even as the film itself wavers from his pivotal presence, remains steadfast throughout.
The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking to Davis about his performance, his relationship with Foreman himself and his gruelling, 50lb weight gain to accurately portray the older Foreman. He also shared his thoughts on the broad and enduring appeal of boxing movies.
Does playing a real-life icon increase the pressure as a performer?
Yes. You know, being the lead of a film comes with its own amount of pressure and responsibility. But to play an icon like Mr George Foreman and be the lead of a major studio film comes with a lot of responsibility, and that’s what it felt like. I guess that is the pressure, right? Knowing that there’s a huge amount of responsibility at hand. I would say that the pressure didn’t necessarily increase because I put a lot of faith in the work that I was committed to doing, and I had a lot of faith in the work that George Tillman Jr wanted to do.
The characterisation of Foreman in this film is one of a friendly, somewhat vulnerable giant. What were the aspects of his character that you honed in on when developing your performance?
That was it, you just said it! You know, this jolly, friendly giant. This beautiful light of an individual. I wanted that to always be an aspect of his character, even through the early years when he was deemed a menace and a mean guy. When he was a bruiser in the ring throwing crazy bolos, I wanted people to see that he always had that gentle heart and that kindness inside him.
Was there any direct consultation with Foreman when you were preparing for the role?
I went and spent three days in Houston with him, just to get a sense of his energy and how he lived his life off-camera and the way he was with his family. I wanted to see those things because that’s the story we were trying to tell, not the story of a man who just did a bunch of interviews.
Was there anything that surprised you when learning more about Foreman and his life?
I was shocked to learn just how skilled and intellectual of a fighter he was. I think a lot of people bypass that and took it for granted because he made the decision to become a knockout artist, but that wasn’t because that was all he could do. Some fighters are knockout artists and they don’t actually have any skill in the ring: they’re not technicians in the ring, they don’t have any strong fundamentals in the ring. But Mr Foreman did, and that surprised me. It surprised me that it was a decision to become that hard-hitting, wide-punching fighter. So, a lot of respect for that.
Were there any specific performances throughout the history of the genre of boxing movies that were reference points in any way?
No, because none of them were going to be like this. We were telling the story of Mr Foreman, and Mr Foreman’s legacy stands alone and we all understood that we were coming in to create something new, and to make the sacrifices needed in order to ensure that this opportunity that we get to present this story is done right, because this is the first time we’re getting a chance to do it from his perspective. So I didn’t look at other boxing films to gain any reference because Mr Foreman is Mr Foreman, he is no one else. I don’t need to see anyone else’s fights or how anyone else fights, I just needed to watch how Mr Foreman fought and how he moved in the ring, I needed to see how Mr Foreman was thinking.
Speaking of Mr Foreman’s movement, there is an interesting physical transition that takes place after his retirement where he gets a little bigger and a bit out of shape. What was it like transitioning between those two registers?
Well, I have an extensive background in theatre, and being on stage for as many years as I have been, you learn how to tell these incredible arcs in stories and how to jump timelines. You learn how to change physicality as time goes on in one’s life. So, if we’re covering a couple of decades or even a year, based on a person’s experiences, that can really affect how they stand up, how they address people, based on their education, how they speak etc. So, when that transition happened, I initially already understood that that was the assignment. The bigger (no pun intended) work for me was to gain the weight and go from heavyweight championship, younger George Foreman bodyweight, to being much, much bigger. So, we took six weeks off to gain the weight, and I was on a 7000-calorie diet, and I went from 225lb to 275lb in five weeks, and the heaviest I got to was 282lb. You guys don’t use pounds, I don’t know how many stones 282lb is but it’s heavy! How heavy is Anthony Joshua? 14, 15 stone? So I was a couple more stones than Anthony Joshua!
That is quite something to think about, isn’t it?! On a broader note, boxing is something that cinema seems to keep coming back to. What is it about the genre do you think is so enduring?
I think that what’s enduring about it is what fighters have to overcome, we all can relate to. We all can relate to adversity, right? But in these boxing films, they are always faced with insurmountable odds, and they have to work for every ounce of everything that they get, and we get to see them fight for it, and then we get to see them become victorious. So, that’s always going to be a story that we can believe in and relate to. You end up rooting for the character when they’re in the gym going through that montage, working out because they had a big loss or something happened in their lives. We’re all rooting for that character because we’re all rooting for ourselves. Boxers in films represent who we are.
Big George Foreman is released nationwide on 28th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Big George Foreman here: