EXCLUSIVE: Ahead of the Cannes virtual market, VMI has picked up world sales rights to doc biopic Tough Love: The Lennox Lewis Documentary, narrated by Dr. Dre. Check out the film’s stirring first trailer above and our interview with the former three-time Heavyweight champ below.
Directed by Rick Lazes and Seth Koch, and produced by The Irishman exec producer Chad A. Verdi, the Tribeca Film Festival title charts the fighter’s rise to the top of the sport from modest East London roots and a challenging childhood. It will include extensive interviews with Lewis, his family and entourage, and some of his toughest opponents, including Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. The Olympic gold medal winner is still the last heavyweight to hold the undisputed title.
Josh Dubin and Seth Koch wrote the script. Lazes, Nick Koskoff and Tom DeNucci also produce. Emma Tillinger Koskoff (Joker) and Michelle Verdi (Wander) are executive-producing.
Director Lazes told us: “One of the things that makes this film important is that it’s very current in the period of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Lennox grew up during the Brixton riots and was alone in London for several years when his mom moved to Canada to get a job. The movie is about overcoming obstacles, passion, forgiveness and Lennox’s compassion, but it also questions who we heroise. It’s interesting how someone like Mike Tyson gets so much attention while someone like Lennox, who was disciplined, dedicated, honest and worked so hard, hasn’t had quite the same spotlight.”
Producer Verdi said: “I met Lennox at the premiere of my film Bleed For This at the Toronto Film Festival. I am a longtime fan of Lennox’s boxing career and was honored to join the producing team for Tough Love. Lennox is living proof that greatness comes to those who never give up.”
“Tough Love is about tolerance, forgiveness, and redemption. Above all, it’s about the strength and conviction we all need to reach for our dreams in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. It’s a triumph of the human spirit against all odds,” added VMI CEO Andre Relis.
Here’s our talk with Lewis:
DEADLINE: Lennox, why did you want to tell this story?
Lennox Lewis: This is a story that needed to be told. It’s a long time overdue. I’m very glad we were able to do it. A lot of people were telling me I should do a movie biopic but I thought a documentary would be better. I was inspired by the great documentaries about boxers like Muhammad Ali.
There isn’t much information out there about me. I’m not like a Mike Tyson, so it’s a look behind the curtain at things that took place in my past. There are sad stories out there about kids of single parents – or maybe even no parents at all – who may feel like they can’t make it in life. But I am proof that you can.
DEADLINE: What will people learn about you?
Lewis: They’ll see a different side of me. Everyone knows the story of the tough kid who rises to the top in America. This is slightly different in that it is about a kid from the UK. I was alone when my mother moved to Canada for work. The impact of that was significant. Most people who played a part in my life are in the movie. Not everyone, but many of them.
DEADLINE: Evander Holyfield is one of them. You’ve said in the past that he was your toughest opponent…
Lewis: Yes. He gave me a lot more to think about. I told him one time that he came closest to figuring out the puzzle.
DEADLINE: What are your favourite memories from your time at the top?
Lewis: Honestly, it was difficult. There are a lot of people against you on your way to the top. You need people to fight with you on your side and you need luck.
DEADLINE: Looking back, is there anything you would have changed?
Lewis: Everything happened for a reason. If I got a bad decision, there was a reason for that.
DEADLINE: Your film touches on the need for tolerance. What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and recent events in the U.S., UK and beyond?
Lewis: I look at it and think of the times cops would beat up kids when I was growing up and I would hear people excusing that. Now, we have cops with cameras on them to try to help avoid that. It’s sad that it has come to that. This is the time for change and to get things straight because everyone is fed up. For peaceful protesters to be met with rubber bullets and battle gear, First Amendment rights are being trampled on. Why have Amendments if they’re only going to be trampled on…
DEADLINE: Do you think there is racism in boxing?
Lewis: Racism is everywhere. It shows in different ways. But boxing is not a good sport to be racist in. I don’t think it’s there among the boxers in the ring.
DEADLINE: There has been much talk in recent days about Tyson Fury potentially fighting Anthony Joshua. Who wins that fight?
Lewis: Well, the next fight is Fury vs Wilder. The other fight isn’t made yet. They’re hoping Deontay takes ‘step-aside money’ but I know he hasn’t taken that and his fight with Fury is still on. They have a contract. Joshua has a fight lined up too.
DEADLINE: The division has become a lot more exciting in the last couple of years but I’m not sure there is quite the same level of skill or technique as when you and your adversaries were in your prime. Those fights were such big events…
Lewis: I agree, absolutely. Heavyweights today are more about the money and less about the glory. We were about the glory. But every era is a new era. Anthony, Tyson, Dillian…there are a lot of good heavyweights in the UK at the moment. There are some good fights coming up.
DEADLINE: Do you want to explore other film and TV opportunities?
Lewis: I’m looking at some TV parts now. I’m talking to the director of a popular American series at the moment. I’m also open to movie parts. I enjoy doing cameos.
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