Before he was shilling culinary appliances on infomercials, before he devoted his life to the Lord and became a preacher, before he donned a Venus flytrap costume and crooned on The Masked Singer, George Foreman was one of the most feared men to ever pull on a pair of boxing gloves. The bruiser who served the great Joe Frazier two knockouts, ending 66 other bouts in similar fashion. A man made of muscle and powered by rage. Yet Khris Davis, the rising actor tasked with depicting the two-time heavyweight champion’s incredible life story in the new biopic Big George Foreman (out today), saw something deeper while researching the legend.
“What stuck out to me was his smile,” Davis says of the boxing great. “The glimmer in his eyes when he talked to people. I watched him on talk shows or TV shows like Sanford & Son… he had all this light and he was having so much fun. People think that energy was reserved for the second half of his life, but it was always there.”
The 6-foot-4 actor channeled that blend of gentleness and ferocity in the new film, directed by George Tillman Jr. and executive produced by Foreman himself. For Davis, it’s a breakout of sorts after a theater career that includes playing Biff Loman in a Broadway production of Death of a Salesman; film roles in Space Jam 2, Detroit, and Judas & the Black Messiah; and, perhaps most recognizably, as Tracy, the shoplifting, wave-sporting, hilariously lovable ex-convict who pops up in several episodes of Atlanta’s second season.
I wasn't the baddest guy on the block like [George] Foreman was, but I could identify with being in a space where you rock or you get bopped.
Khris Davis sat with LEVEL at Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta to speak about the steps on his journey from a young boy growing up in New Jersey to a young man pledging Omega Psi Phi to his transformation into Big George Foreman. The recurring theme: Trust the process. Oh, and there are definitely no shortcuts. —As told to John Kennedy
As far back as I can remember, I was fighting. You really didn't have a choice. I mean, sure, you did, but it just depended on how many times you wanted people to come after you. So you always had to make a statement—you know, put somebody down—because they’re going to keep coming.
There was a saying when I was coming up in Camden: Don't let nobody take your heart. That means if somebody steps to you, even if you are the bigger person and walk away, they took your heart. Now everybody's gonna come and challenge you. I wasn't the baddest guy on the block like [George] Foreman was, but I could identify with being in a space where you rock or you get bopped.
My family is a fighting family—and I got a big family. We fought people, fought each other. It’s just what it was. It really didn't change for me until my mid-20s. I was like, I should probably stop doing this.
My dad had us stepping in church. His friend was an Alpha, so we’d [slaps thighs and chest, imitating stepping] do all that stuff. But it didn't really feel like me.
I remember when I was a kid watching ComicView; at that time, comedians wore different color zoot suits. Rickey Smiley, who was the host, had on these fatigue pants, ripped and tattered at the bottom with these gold boots, purple shirt, and purple bandana. And then he went [imitates Que barking] and all of a sudden, all you hear is [imitates more Que barking and stepping]. The bruhs came hopping out from each side of the stage. I sat forward and I was like, that's me! My love for Omega [Psi Phi] stayed true from that point on. When I got into college and had an opportunity to become an Omega man, it was no question.
Atlanta put more eyes on me. Before, I was just a theater actor, trying to figure out how to translate what I was doing on stage on camera, which is not easy to do.
I connected to a lot about Mr. Foreman’s story. When I initially read the script, I connected to this kid inside of him—this kid that was always seeking love, always seeking approval. So many of us experienced that in our lives, and we never get it. We try to force it. I could identify with that.
I could relate to stepping outside of my familial unit, outside of my environment, to go somewhere to learn more about who I am. To learn more, period. To step into a new path and a new journey. From the time I went away to college, that was it for me.
It took Mr. Foreman 10 years to gain weight. I gained 50 pounds in five weeks. A fat suit was an option—actually, they wanted to put one on me. I told them no, I'm going to gain the weight. Because I wanted every part of the story to be as authentic as possible. I bumped up my calorie intake to 7,000 calories a day. I went from 225 [pounds] to 275 [pounds] in five weeks. The heaviest I got was 282.
By week three, I hated looking in the mirror. I hated putting my clothes on. My shirts weren't fitting right. My pants weren't fitting. I was starting to get depressed. Starting to feel bad for myself. I cut off my hair. Shaved my beard off. I took off my shirt, looked in the mirror, and I saw what my body was becoming—it was becoming Mr. Foreman. That gave me a lot of courage and strength to keep on moving.
I understand on a cellular level what disappointment feels like. What it feels like to work for something and then completely lose it all and have to find it again. To lose yourself and find yourself.
I didn't ever think [playing George Foreman] was going to be a dream role, but it is. It has become a dream role.
I hope I live a long life. I hope I get to have peace and serenity. I hope that I get to enjoy the stories that I'm telling. I hope I get to take care of my future family one day with the work I do.
I just want to be happy.
Stay open to whatever happens and allow God to make the moves.