I took me a long time to persuade Joe to watch the Manila fight. I was amazed when I heard he'd never seen it since the day he stepped out of the ring.
It's said that history is written by the winners, not the losers. But with this film you flip that paradigm.
It's true. We all know that Muhammed Ali over the course of three fights with Joe Frazier, technically, came out the winner. He lost the first one. He won the second one in rather controversial circumstances, and then won the third in even more controversial circumstances. So telling Joe Frazier's story from his point of view was, as you say in America, a no-brainer.
When we first approached him with the idea, we didn't really know what Joe was up to. So I went to Philly and spent some time hanging out with him. The first time I met him I was pretty nervous. He's an extraordinary character. At times he was infuriating to film. But those are often the best characters. He's an iconic figure, a good, old fashioned, stand up American kind of hero.
He shuffled out of the back room of his gym, all resplendent. He likes his suits and hats and he kind of looked like a sort of black Jay Gatsby; just immaculate. And his opening gambit to me was, where have you been? And I said, well, what do you mean? He said, I've been here since 1964. What took you so long? It was a great opening line, because it's true: he has been around that long. I felt slightly embarrassed, but I'm like, well, I'm here now. And over the course of several months we just started filming.
I took me a long time to persuade Joe to watch the Manila fight. I was amazed when I heard he'd never seen it since the day he stepped out of the ring. It took me several months to persuade him, and I'm so glad I did because it adds an extra layer of drama to the film. He doesn't really have to say anything. You just look into his eyes. It's all there.