Four questions with Tyson director James Toback

You’ve known Tyson a long time; when did you first get the idea to make a documentary about him?

It probably happened, at least unconsciously, when I originally met him in Central Park, on the set of The Pick-up Artist, in 1985. We took a walk in Central Park; at the end of our chat, it was 5:30 in the morning, and I got a very good sense of the liveliness of his mind and of his sort of native adventuresomeness, and I kind of hit it off with him. And then when we shot Black and White, which was after he got out of prison, he was so good—he was good all-around—in that scene in the gym where he’s sort of meditative and self-reflective, I felt this would make a great self-portrait, if I could expand this Mike Tyson into a film.

Were you working toward making this movie from that point, or did it come together more recently?

What happened was, it just seemed all of a sudden like the right time. I felt a particular eagerness to start a movie, and the only way to know that I could begin a movie right away would be to finance it myself, and that’s what I decided to do. And this was the only movie that I could afford to finance, structurally. And also, he had just crashed, and had been in rehab, and I thought that was probably the ideal place for him to be if we were going to shoot this.


Review of Tyson (5/14/09)

Did you at any point consider opening the film up to other points of view besides Tyson’s?

No. I always thought that it would work in an original way as a self-portrait, filtered through the prism of whatever aesthetic I could develop for it, but the idea was to have his unalloyed presentation of himself. … The only person I ever thought that I might want to include in the documentary was myself. And then I thought that that would become in a way a film about myself, and I thought if I’m going to do that, I should do that. If it’s going to be about Mike, it should just be Mike.

What was Tyson’s reaction to seeing the film?

He said, “It’s like a Greek tragedy; the only problem is I’m the subject.”


Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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