What do you look for in a project?
I look for a story that seems to be interesting, and worth spending the time on. And one that I think audiences will be interested in. And here was a story that hardly anyone knew, about one of the most famous men in the world. And it’s a story that books about the Supreme Court scarcely mention.
The use of archival footage gave the film a ‘reality’ it would not have had had you cast an actor in the role of Ali. What did you discover when you began working with that footage?
Well the first thing was relief, in that I didn’t have to cast an actor to play Ali. It was presented as archival footage in the script. Once that was decided then you just slowly work it out. What you discover is that it’s just another story you have to tell. And so you slowly find pieces that tell you what you need to know. And so it really just builds and builds. And then you’re trying to find material that isn’t the most familiar material in the world.
You must have pored through a tremendous amount of footage?
Yes. It was a matter of finding the bits of material that tell the story most clearly and most dramatically, and entertainingly.
Were you familiar with Ali’s trial?
Not entirely. This is the first time I’ve ever fully understood that this is the way in which Ali was punished; that his license to fight was taken away, and his titles stripped from him. And during those years he couldn’t fight. His passport was taken away so he couldn’t go abroad, because there was a court case going on. So he really had no means of earning a living. And those were some of his peak earning years.