You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Will Smith

Re-creating the world's Greatest


PROS: Hard to imagine anyone doing a better job of portraying Ali.

CONS: Some say biopic falls to capture emotional impact of the champ.

Early in his career, by taking the role of a con artist in the film version of John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” Will Smith made it clear that he was not to be pegged.

In other words, he was not to be “The Fresh Prince” for long. Even a string of comic heroes in sci-fi and action blockbusters would not turn Smith into someone that could be easily pigeonholed.

Then along came “Ali,” which meant that Smith would work under the exacting scrutiny of director Michael Mann. For what would arguably be his finest role, every body part had to be pumped up and in place, even if that meant taping Smith’s ears back to his head to more closely resemble the Greatest.

“He’s a lot like me, in that if you’re going to do something at all, you’re going to do it better than anyone else in the world,” Smith says. “When you do something, you’re going to have one of two outcomes. You’re going to succeed in your mission, or you are going to be dead.”

To be Mann’s idea of Muhammad Ali, Smith had to train for 13 months before shooting and spend eight months gaining 30 pounds on his trim 192-pound frame, which meant eating seven times a day. Then, there was the matter of the ear, and mastery of Ali’s distinctive Southern Baptist-tinged chanting vocal delivery.

That’s just the outer shell. Ali’s inner life was something else, which Smith took on with serious reverence.

“The emotion that people felt towards Muhammad Ali was always a little frightening to me,” he says. “It’s much beyond respect for a fighter.”

Despite that, Smith believes, “This role is in my DNA, the role I was born to play. I used more of my tools in this film than I’ve ever used.”

More Film

  • Kevin Tsujihara

    Kevin Tsujihara's Ouster Kicks Off a Week of Major Disruption in the Media Business

    The sudden ouster of Warner Bros. Entertainment chief Kevin Tsujihara kicked off what is likely to go down as one of the most extraordinary weeks in Hollywood history, spelling enormous turmoil and transition across the media landscape. In addition to the news about Tsujihara, which comes amid a wider shake-up of leadership at AT&T’s WarnerMedia, [...]

  • Buddha in Africa

    More than Half of Films at Hot Docs Film Festival Are Directed By Women

    More than half of the films playing at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, are directed by women, the Canadian event said Tuesday. The festival’s 26th edition, which runs April 25-May 5, will screen 234 films, with 54% of the directors being women. In the competitive International Spectrum program, notable films receiving their world [...]

  • Korean Distributors Fight for Box Office

    Korean Distributors Fight for Box Office Market Share

    Korean distributors are having to fight ever harder for their share of Korea’s theatrical market share. Threats on the horizon include a slide in the performance of local movies, consolidation, the arrival of new players and the challenge from streaming services. South Korea’s theatrical box office is now bigger than that of France or Germany despite [...]

  • Korean Distributors Learn to Downsize in

    Korean Distributors Learn to Downsize in Saturated Market

    In 2018, the Korean film business stumbled, as local films made with blockbuster budgets and targeting the usual high seasons of Chuseok and Christmas last year failed to deliver blockbuster earnings.  So Korean distributors have embraced some tactics to enhance their bottom lines.  Genre films “Monstrum,” “Fengshui,” “The Negotiation,” “Take Point,” “Swing Kids” and “Drug King” [...]

  • 'Boonie Bears' Creator Fantawild Producing 'Realm

    FilMart: 'Boonie Bears' Creator Fantawild Skews Older With 'Realm of Terracotta'

    Fantawild, the Chinese entertainment group behind the widely popular “Boonie Bears” animated franchise, is for the first time planning to target slightly older viewers with a new IP, “Realm of Terracotta.” Intended for teenagers, the adventure story is expected to hit theaters this summer. Fantawild has produced six “Boonie Bears” films in just seven years, [...]

  • Hong Kong Industry Executives Seek Clarity

    FilMart: Hong Kong Industry Executives Plead for Clarity on Mainland Chinese Tax Policies

    At a time of heightened scrutiny of tax affairs in China’s entertainment sector, even industry veterans in Hong Kong are struggling to figure out how to operate in the new financial environment and pleading for more clarity from the Chinese government. Hong Kong produces about 60 films a year, three-quarters of which are typically co-productions [...]

  • IQIYI Plans Summer Release for Animated

    IQIYI Plans Summer Release for Animated 'Spycies'

    IQIYI Motion Pictures, the film production and investment arm of Chinese streaming leader iQIYI, will release animated feature “Spycies” in China this summer, and overseas shortly afterwards. “Spycies” is a Sino-French co-production – a rarity as far as animated films are concerned – and the first animated film that iQIYI has co-produced with foreign filmmakers. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content