HBO has two boxing-related films in its upcoming schedule. The first, the Stephen Frears-directed scripted feature “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight,” comes to the network after a premiere at Cannes. The second (and more exciting) is the Spike Lee-directed “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” a filmed version of Tyson’s Broadway one-man show with cinematography by Matthew Libatique that’s currently being edited and will premiere later this year.
Lee and Tyson, who appeared together at TCA, had an unexpectedly winning odd-couple dynamic on stage, with Lee playing the tough and being protective of his subject, scolding the crowd for not applauding when Tyson sat down, with Tyson scoffing “you don’t need to clap.”
When asked how much of the show was scripted versus outlined and improvised from, Tyson said “it’s pretty scripted, but I also ad-lib,” and Lee followed with the info that Mike’s wife’s Kiki wrote the script, saying that “Mike was not up there just winging it. We did this last summer on Broadway for two weeks. We had a four-week intense rehearsal period. This is not some willy-nilly stuff!”
The show started in Las Vegas, where a friend of Lee’s saw it and suggested he take a look. He helped shaped the show as it arrived in New York: “We didn’t need the band, we didn’t need the singer. For me it was about Mike on the stage.” (“I like the band, I like the singer, but Spike changed it so it was just me. But that rock band was just awesome,” countered Tyson.)
As to whether there would be framing material in the film and interviews with audience members, Lee said “no, noooo.” (“That would have been cool too,” said Tyson, to which Lee responded that for the press conference “Mike, on this one I’m your Cus [D’Amato].”)
“Mike Tyson is the most honest human being I’ve met in my life,” Lee told the audience. “Most human beings are not going to display the dark parts of themselves, the demons they have to the world. When you see this, he’s out there on this stage, naked, sharing his experience, his ups and down to the audience. To do that without thinking about whether people are going to like me, love me or hate me…”
Tyson noted he’d done some movies before, but never taken them seriously before this point. “I have such an affinity with boxing, and that inspired me to want to embark on this career. I felt just as if I was in a live fight. The only thing that was different, it came across more as a stand-up, like a comic in the show, that was the only thing that was different in the show. I expected it to be more gut-wrenching, but it didn’t come off that way entirely.” He added that also he didn’t “have to go the hospital after I perform. Just like in fighting, I wanted to kill everyone in the room — with my performance of course… What is reckless on the stage is splendor in the ring.”
“You’re looking at two Brooklyn boys,” said Lee, who’s from Fort Greene. “Mike from Brownsville — never run, never will…” (“What is the saying for Fort Greene?” broke in Tyson. “We don’t have one,” Lee admitted.) “We blew up at the same time. We’d see each other at premieres,” Lee continued. “One time I was walking up Dekalb Avenue and Mike almost hit me, driving his Rolls Royce.” “You’re not the world’s best driver,” he said to Tyson. “I didn’t have my license then,” Tyson admitted, “but I had a really nice car.” The difference between the two of them, Tyson said, is that “I hang out with a guy who might shoot you, and Spike hangs out with an erudite jazz player,” something Lee chalked up to the “diversity of the African-American experience.”