How much work did it take to get into shape?
We trained for 12 months. We would run at 6am, three to five miles, depending on the day. We'd go to the gym from 10.30am to 1.30pm and do technical boxing training, jumping rope, and sparring. And in the evenings we'd do weight training. That was five or six days a week for a year, so your body will definitely come into shape with that kind of regimen.
What did Muhammad Ali mean to you?
I'm 33-years-old, I was born September 25th 1968, so by the time I was even paying attention to fights, he was already finished boxing. By that time he had attained icon status. I knew he was a fighter, I knew he was an icon, and I knew he was important, but I didn't know why. That was part of what inspired me to want to tell this story, because anyone who's younger than me has no idea what Muhammad Ali had to endure in his life. They just know that their parents love him.
Did it take you a long time to decide to do the film?
I turned the script down for years, I think I was around 27 the first time it was presented to me. But I couldn't see the road from Will Smith - Fresh Prince of Bel Air, to Muhammad Ali. If someone said that I had to become Ali, I wouldn't have known what to do that first day. [Director] Michael Mann was the first person who illustrated what he called the course syllabus for becoming Muhammad Ali.
What did it involve?
He said we would run the way Muhammad Ali ran, in the cities that he ran in, and the routes he ran. We would eat the food that Muhammad Ali ate, we would spar the way he sparred, we would train the way Muhammad Ali trained. And by "we" he meant me. Then there was the mental and emotional development of Ali. The third part was the spiritual development, where I would understand the convictions that Muhammad Ali developed during the period we were shooting in the film.