HBO presented several new series and films at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in LA Thursday with heavyweight directors, including Stephen Frears and Spike Lee, and a literal heavyweight champ, Mike Tyson, takes on a different kind of theatrics. Spike Lee, executive producer and director of the one-man show “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” promised critics we’ll see an extremely honest, raw portrayal of the former heavyweight champ. “He’s out there on this stage naked, sharing his experience, his ups and downs, to the audience,” he said, calling it “the most courageous thing” he’s ever seen. Tyson’s background as a fighter in part prepared him for being on the stage, but there are certain differences. “What is reckless on the stage is splendor in the ring, and what is sometimes great in the ring is pretty reckless on stage,” he said. One distinct difference: “I don’t have to go to the hospital after I perform.” The script was written by Tyson’s wife Kiki, who, after seeing a one-man show by Chazz Palminteri, was inspired to write one for her husband. “She has never had the platform for people to observe her skills,” Tyson said, and he’s thrilled with the results. As for Spike, when he documents live performances such as this his team “doesn’t like to cheat.” “When we cut to somebody laughing, it’s to that exact line they’re laughing to… And we also try to use unique camera angles.” He used a total of 11 cameras for this one. Regardless of form, however, Spike said for him it’s all about the story. “I don’t get tripped up like, oh, this is commercial; oh, this is documentary; oh, this is narrative. For me, no, it’s all storytelling.”
 
The HBO film “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight” (premieres October) dramatizes the heavyweight champ’s 1970 battle in the Supreme Court to obtain conscientious objector status. Director Stephen Frears said he finds US Supreme Court interesting, as if differs from England’s system. “It was just the delicate weighting of the three branches… of the government: the executive and the legislature and the Supreme Court protecting the Constitution. That seemed to be just very, very interesting and, of course, completely different,” he said. Actor Christopher Plummer said prior to the film he knew little of Ali’s case. Nor was there much material to research about his character, Supreme Court Justice John Harlan. Instead, he followed Shawn Slovo’s script, which gave him “warmth and humanity,” he said. “I thought, how wonderful that we are not just looking at an ultra-conservative member of the Supreme Court. We are seeing the human side,” Plummer said. Slovo remarked that the character fascinated her because he could have accepted the majority decision of the court but did not, despite having a terminal illness and near retirement. That fact “made him extraordinarily heroic to me and interesting,” she said. On working with a talent like actor Frank Langella, who plays Chief Justice Warren Burger, he likened it to “two friends having a conversation with each other.” “Frank and I have known each other for quite a long time, but I’ve never worked with him,” he said. “And to work with him was as natural as falling off a log.”
 
Stephen Merchant’s “Hello Ladies” (premieres Sept 29) follows the 6-foot-7 Brit as he takes Los Angeles by storm in a swell of awkward glory. “He’s just a loser in England who is a loser here, but even more out of his depth because, you know, his Britishness is even more pronounced,” Merchant explained. But the fantasy of living a life of glamour in LA “never quite comes to life for him.” Many of Merchant’s comic influences are American, critics learned. Woody Allen and Bob Hope are two. “They were always kind of underdogs who were using either wit or something else… to sort of battle their way through,” he said. On whether it was challenging having the director star on the show, executive producer Lee Eisenberg, who also worked with Merchant on the American version of “The Office,” said it’s actually helpful. “Stephen knows exactly what he wants as a director,” he said, and, impressively, he’s able to make adjustments mid-scene to other actors, “or notice extras deep in the background while also having to memorize four pages of dialogue.” There’s a focus on physical humor in the series, Merchant told critics, a la John Cleese, one of his comedic idols. “There is something awkward and sort of out of place about being this tall,” he said. But there are some advantages: “I’ve been all of your heights at some point… There’s a certain arrogance about that that comes with it.”
 
The film “Seduced and Abandoned” (premieres Oct 28) follows writer/director James Toback and Alec Baldwin on a quest to finance a film in Cannes. Along the way, the duo interviews big name directors and actors on the topic. “We got Bertolucci and Coppola and Scorcese and Polanski to sit and talk to us, and it was really a thrill,” said Baldwin via satellite. “What we really wanted was for people just to tell us how they feel about what they’ve been doing in this business… What have been the victories for them and what have been the tough times and why do they keep going?” Baldwin was most inspired by Martin Scorcese, who spoke about raising money from people who aren’t moviemakers. “We have to find ways to make movies around them, was his phrase that he used,” Baldwin said. Whether or not the film they were looking to finance scored funding was not the point of “Seduced,” Toback told critics. “It was always meant to be a separate entity that would have its own integrity,” he said. Nor was the outcome made clear. “It was in the pure sense an existential film… a film whose existence created itself from day to day.”

The Daily

Subscribe

RDOF Broadband Projects Taking Shape, Questions Remain

Broadband providers winning support in Phase 1 of the RDOF auction have years to complete those projects, but work is already getting underway.

Read the Full Issue
The Skinny is delivered on Tuesday and focuses on the cable profession. You'll stay in the know on the headlines, topics and special issues you value most. Sign Up

Jobs

Seeking an INDUSTRY JOB? VIEW JOBS

Hiring? In conjunction with our sister brand, Cynopsis, we are offering hiring managers a deep pool of media-savvy, skilled candidates at a range of experience levels and sectors, The result will be an even more robust industry job board, to help both employers and job seekers.

Contact John@cynopsis.com for more information.