It would be fair to say that what makes a movie really stand out is the emotion behind it and what the film makes you feel right along with the characters. To achieve this, actors have to undergo some serious conditioning to prepare for a role, especially when an actor is playing a historical figure who has overcome major physical obstacles. This is true for Will Smith back when he played boxer Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali in 2001; apparently he even “fell to his knees” during the brutal regimen needed to prepare for the role.
Boxers undergo some serious damage doing what they love, both physically and mentally. Brain injury is pretty common in the sport, reportedly occurring in about 20% of boxers, and plenty of boxers have died resulting from injuries they have sustained in the ring. In retirement, many boxers still have lasting effects on their bodies attributed to the profession. Muhammad Ali, for example, sustained a broken jaw and an estimated 29 THOUSAND blows to the head during his career. He later died in 2016 after having suffered from Parkinson's disease for a number of years.
Muhammad Ali famously went 15 rounds in a fight with Joe Frazier, which Will Smith had to imitate in the film Ali. To really get the scope of how Ali felt while in the match and the risks every boxer takes when entering the ring time and time again, Smith underwent some serious training with boxer trainer Darrel Foster, and it wasn’t just about seriously getting into shape.
In an interview with NME, Foster recalls the time he took Smith 10,000 feet into the Rocky Mountains to recreate the feeling of fighting without being able to breathe. Smith apparently fell to his knees during the experience, finally understanding just how much strength Muhammad Ali had to have to persevere. This is how Foster tells it:
It sounds like that was some seriously brutal training - although, nothing like Muhammad Ali really had to go through when he was in the ring with someone who had gone through the same type of physical battles (and mental too). Even so, it does take a sort of courage to take on the responsibility of portraying someone who was so influential and an image of such perseverance to so many people.
Muhammad Ali fought professionally for 21 years; while it’s pretty impossible to train for that amount of professionalism for a film, it sounds like fighting 10k miles above sea level would be the next best thing. While it doesn’t sound like much fun at all for Will Smith, Darrel Foster seems to have done his job in helping Smith recreate an icon like Ali.
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Constantly thinking about books, coffee, and the existential dread I feel from Bo Burnham’s Inside. While writing I’m also raising a chaotic toddler, who may or may not have picked up personality traits from watching one too many episodes of Trailer Park Boys.