It seems redundant and pointless to talk about how intimidating Mike Tyson is, but I admit that I was nervously excited when Cinematical was offered the opportunity to interview him in conjunction with the release of The Hangover. Having spoken to Tommy Lee Jones, the toughest of tough celebrity interviews, I'd survived gauntlets far more fearsome than dealing with a former heavyweight, especially since I'd recently seen Tyson, which offers a portrait of him at his most reflective, self-aware and lucidly articulate. But I did want to get a good, and more importantly real interview with him, not just lob softballs in his direction and be yet another guy who was too scared to ask a substantive question.
Tyson's cameo in The Hangover is just one great moment in a film with plenty of other ones, but it seems to mean more for him, if not also to him: while the film's $45 million opening-weekend haul means higher paychecks and better roles for co-stars Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, its visibility and success gives Tyson a sense of humor, and moreover, a humanity that he's never quite achieved on such a significant scale. Cinematical spoke to Tyson on May 17 in Las Vegas, where the former prizefighter discussed what it meant to appear in the movie, looked back on the experience of making Toback's documentary, and talked about what the future holds for him following his recent adventures on the silver screen.
Cinematical: Having recently saw Tyson, it seems like your role in The Hangover was a good bookend to demonstrate after all of that self-reflection that you don't take yourself too seriously. Was that part of the appeal of this?
Tyson: No. I was just happy to work in it. My agent called and said this is going to be the hottest movie of the summer, so I said alright, let's check it out. It was wonderful – it was an incredible experience. I had a great set of guys to work with.
Cinematical: What did Todd say to you to convince you to sing the song?
Tyson: I thought it was a joke at first. He told me to try to sing this song, and I said okay – it's just a movie. I didn't think nothing of it, and the next thing I know, the Spike TV Awards wants me to sing it on Spike TV. I'm like, this is really getting crazy.
Cinematical: At the peak of your career, you were such an intimidating figure. How do you feel about the fact that your appearance in this film is certainly not a joke on you, but it is a great punchline?
Tyson: I thought it was awesome, I thought it was great. I thought that the guy I hit was an awesome guy, and it was fun.
Cinematical: Have you had a lot of situations where you've had to fake punches for the camera?
Tyson: Yeah. One movie in particular, Black and White, I had to smack Robert Downey. The director [James Toback] would keep telling me, the director and Bijou Phillips would tell me, Mike smack the sh*t out of Rob. Smack the sh*t out of Rob! I said okay, and smacked him and I kept smacking him in the mouth, and [Robert said] "stop hitting me!"
Cinematical: I really loved Toback's documentary because you demonstrate this amazing lucidity about yourself. After watching it, Ebert described you as a little boy who didn't want to be bullied, but did that experience inspire a new sense of self-awareness? Or was that something you possessed before sitting down in front of the cameras?
Tyson: Basically, that's just what it was. I didn't even think he came to that conclusion, but I didn't want to be picked on again. In my mind, when I express it to people, they never understand: I created this Iron Mike guy in my head. This is the kind of guy this guy is going to be and I just lived that life.
Cinematical: Whether after doing the interviews or seeing the finished film, did you feel any sense of catharsis for having done it?
Tyson: No, but looking at the movie, I realized that I was human, and that I'm allowed to make mistakes in life. Sometimes I got too entrenched in this particular character because that guy was my savior in a crazy way; he got me in a lot of trouble, but he got me out of trouble that I didn't want to be in. I didn't want to be subject to trouble, but the kind of guy he was, he became the guy who influenced that guy to be like that – the rough guy, the bully guy, the no-nonsense guy that takes himself too serious in an omnipotent way. It was interesting when I perceived that from watching the movie.
Cinematical: Do you feel like consequently you are more yourself now?
Tyson: Oh, man – I don't know who the hell I am now, I've been that guy for so long. I'm in my house five days out of the week with a baby and a girlfriend, and maybe I'll go to the movies with her and she's with me, and I just can't believe I'm not with her now. It's been that kind of repetition to keep my ego and everything in check. I try to get some kind of order, but sometimes I wonder – I wonder who the hell I am.
Cinematical: One of the things you said in the film was that you can't live in the middle – you need to have extreme highs or lows.
Tyson: Yeah, that's why I live my life this way now, because it doesn't give me any leeway to fool around on my girlfriend, to start using drugs again, to start drinking again. It's just I can't have one drink; that's not going to happen. I can't have none. I can't have one girlfriend unless I put my nose to the grindstone, and I have to work on it, because if I don't work on it I'll cheat on my girlfriend and then I'll feel so bad and guilty that I cheated on my girlfriend that I want to kill that pain by getting high or do something bizarre like that. So everything has to be extreme to those levels, do you kind of understand what I'm saying? It can't be right here where I'm hanging out with girls and we're silly and dancing, and then it's "hey guys, see you tomorrow – bye!" No, no. I have to be understanding this is who I am, this is what I have here, and I can't jeopardize that. And it sounds so infantile, because it's like, who are you that you can't spend time without taking this to the extreme? No – I don't know, it's just not who I am.
Cinematical: When they put you in a movie like this where you're playing "yourself," how clearly is the connection between the actual guy you are, and the character in this film who has a tiger?
Tyson: Well, it's me playing the Mike Tyson that the world's familiar with. I'm an irritable kind of guy, and you have to be crazy to even break into my house, let alone steal my tiger. You broke into my house. I can't even say what happens because I haven't seen the movie, but the other things those guys did were so outrageous, and then they take my prize tiger after doing all of that? You would think that after that, Mike's going to kill you, so that's why slugging Zach plays into the whole scenario.
Cinematical: How was it working with these actors?
Tyson: Bradley's just a brilliant guy, but what I didn't know, I didn't know who Zach was. When I came back, everybody told me who Zach was; I didn't know who Zach was, I thought he was some new guy making a name for himself and this was the movie that was going to break him out. Everybody was talking about this guy who was so funny. Jimmy Kimmel was talking about how crazy, how hilarious he was. I was like, really? But the word is that this guy is the new, up and coming comic, let alone movie star. He's a comic and he's an extremely funny stand-up.
They've already more or less greenlit The Hangover 2. Have they talked to you about coming back for the sequel?
Tyson: Well, I don't know. Whoever handles that, the studio, that would just be an honor just to come back. That would just be an honor.
Cinematical: Would you like to have a bigger role?
Tyson: I just would like to work with the guys again. I loved working with Todd Phillips – he's just an awesome guy, and the guys that I was working with were just great. I never knew who the hell Doug (Justin Bartha) was until I happened to meet the guy today, the guy who portrayed Doug because I didn't know who the hell Doug was.
Cinematical: Does an experience like this give you more aspirations to act?
Tyson: Um, yeah, but I have to get along with the people like I got along with these guys so well. It would have to do with chemistry; it would be pretty difficult for me to work with somebody I guess I didn't really like. But I adored these guys – they were awesome.
Cinematical: You had such a dominance and degree of control during your days as a boxer. In order to feel comfortable in these roles, are you now more able to integrate yourself into an environment controlled by others?
Tyson: I allow myself to have a great deal of gratitude and be humble. I work hard on it.
Cinematical: What's next for you?
Tyson: Quite a few things, but I'm just taking them one step at a time. For EA Sports, I'm doing Fight Night 4 with Muhammad Ali.
Cinematical: Will there be any throwbacks to Mike Tyson's Punch-Out?
Tyson: I don't know. I'm not allowed to say that word.