'Ali's' L.A. Premiere!
December 10, 2001
After months of anticipation, 'Ali' is drawing closer to a box-office knockout at a theater near you! ET was at the movie's ritzy Los Angeles premiere and caught up with its proud star, WILL SMITH, who revealed that MUHAMMAD ALI would actually be seeing the film for the first time that evening!
"I've gone places I've never gone before and potentially never will go again," Will reflected. "Physically, emotionally, spiritually, the level of discipline I had to search for on the days where I didn't have it in me ... it's a miracle it just worked!"
JON VOIGHT, LIONEL RICHIE, MAGIC JOHNSON and a whole sea of celebs were on hand to watch the story of this living legend.
Will was also in fighting shape when he sat down with ET's MARK STEINES to talk about taking on the role of Ali, from training 24/seven to adding 30 pounds of muscle.
MARK STEINES: Shooting that on-screen love scene with that wife (JADA PINKETT SMITH) of yours ... was that easy?
WILL SMITH: Other than 'Six Degrees of Separation,' I have never had a love scene. That was my full-on first love scene, but having it be with my wife was great!
MARK: Did you rehearse at all?
WILL: (Laughs) We have two children together, so we practice this all the time. We are still practicing. In fact, we just practiced this morning. Jada has done love scenes before, so she coached me. She was the professional.
MARK: Let's go back to something that Jada said before, about watching you take on this role and not knowing at first if you could really do it.
WILL: That is what was really scary about the entire concept of playing MUHAMMAD ALI. The boxing had to be perfect, the speech had to be perfect, the hair had to be perfect, everything had to be perfect! There was no margin for error.
But MICHAEL MANN, the director, had really put my mind at ease. For five or six years, I had been turning the role down out of pure respect for the Champ and his family, but Michael really created the intellectual path that I was able to travel in order to become Ali.
MARK: Do you have a newfound respect for him outside of the ring now by having played him?
WILL: The thing that is really interesting about Muhammad Ali is what I refer to as his complex simplicity. [He is] really basic but is really profound.
MARK: You had to assume not only the dialect but the physicality. You put on how much?
WILL: About 32 or 33 pounds. Michael Mann created a sort of "Ali course syllabus." At 6 a.m. we would run three to five miles and then go in the boxing gym for technical training. Then we would train from 11 o'clock to one. Then I would go into dialect training; next, Islamic studies.
Then we would have a neurobiologist [in]. He was teaching me how the human brain works. We would make loops of Muhammad Ali's moves, and I would sit in a dark room and watch it for half an hour, just watch it over and over.
MARK: Tell me about the wrap party that you all had in Africa.
WILL: We had a great time, and it was the craziest thing -- at the end of the actual fight at the "Rumble in the Jungle," they announced the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Muhammad Ali.
Then lightning struck and there were torrential downpours; it was monsoon season. As soon as we yelled "wrap" on 'Ali,' lightning struck and it was just pouring. I was like, "You know what? This is real scary."
Thunder and lightning like I have never seen it in my life, like in 'Jurassic Park' when the glass was vibrating. I was sitting there looking at the thunder make the glass move on the table!