At the end of round one he was telling how Mike Tyson, the
subject of his new documentary, choked up as he explained his willingness to kill
A sensitive guy
PK: In your 23 years knowing [Mike Tyson], have you ever
felt physically intimidated or threatened?
JT: Never for a second, and the only abrasive moment we had
was in this restaurant on Columbus Avenue in the upper sixties which used to be
owned by DeNiro and Paul Herman and Baryshnikov and Regis Philbin, it was a
hotspot for a while, actually it was the night that John Gotti was there
playing on the jukebox over and over and over and over again that, it wasn't
called ‘You're My Hero', that Bette Midler song where you know, what was the
name of that song she keeps saying ‘you're my hero'...anyway. Well, John Gotti
got deeply upset when somebody tried to put another song in because it was, as
Anthony Fargas says, Antonio Fargas in "The Gambler,"
"you're fucking up the sequence of my songs," when a similar event takes place with
a jukebox in a Harlem bar [in that movie].
But in any event, I was meeting Mike for dinner that night,
he was just about to hire Don King as manager, and Jose Torres, who was a
friend of Brian Hammil's and mine, was very upset because he expected to be the
manager, and Mike, you know, we said that, you know, he'd never hire Don King,
he'd never go to Don King, and Brian called me and he said "don't forget to
remind Mike that he's the one who always said he would never hire Don King."
And I ended up bringing it up and pressing it a bit and
after a minute or two Mike said, "I don't wanna talk about it, I'm going to Don
King, don't mention it again." And I said, "you're the one who said you would
never hire Don King, I'm only quoting you to you." "I don't wanna talk about
it, I'm gonna hire him." "Why would you wanna do that now, when you insisted
only an asshole would ever do that, and someone who didn't think and didn't
know what he was doing." "I don't wanna talk about it" "Well what else is there
to talk about of even vaguely similar significance when you're making a
decision, if I'm your friend it's something that obviously I have to do." "Well
you don't have to do it 'cause I don't wanna hear it, I'm not gonna listen to
At that point I said "Well then we have nothing to talk
about" and he left and that was it. But that was the closest we came even to an
unpleasant, and I certainly wasn't physically afraid.
In fact a funny thing happened when he talks in the movie
about the eye thing, you know, that fear is the overriding theme of the movie,
he talks about being consumed by fear all the time, everything stemmed from acknowledging
his fear but allowing his fear to express itself and then exorcising his fear
by infecting his opponent with it, coming into the ring still with some fear,
staring into his opponent's eyes, and when his opponent looked away both of
them knew it was all over, the opponent was now the one overwhelmed by fear,
and Mike with complete confidence.
That drama of how to deal with fear, how to take fear and
put it into the opponent, I think is the thing that made him champion, it made
him great, it made him the human being that he was, the champion that he was.
But I think, see... [loses his train of thought]
This is an interesting thing. This happens, I always, it's
like my brain goes on a track, and it's like when you're doing, when you're
playing contrapuntal music and all of a sudden you lose one voice of the three.
What was the point I was making that led me into this? I was coming from
PK: You were talking about whether you ever felt threatened
in his presence physically...
JT: Oh yeah, here's what I was... thank you for reminding
me. We were doing a photo session for the cover of the "L.A. Weekly"... "The
Boston Phoenix" isn't owned by the "Village Voice," they're not...
JT: Yeah, yeah wow, well hang in...who does own the "Phoenix?"
PK: Stephen Mindich...
JT: Wow. So what happened was we were doing a cover thing
and at one point the guy, the photographer said "ok, stand opposite each other"...
No, I'm sorry, it wasn't that, it was Brett Ratner was
taking these pictures for the "Guardian" in London. I'm wrong. It was a different session
[photographic session with Tyson promoting the film]. But anyway, he said, "Look
straight into each other's eyes." So we're belly to belly both of us with
stomachs that could use some serious chopping at this point, but we're looking
into each other's eyes and he cracked up. And I said "what are you laughing at?"
And he said, he got crazy, he said "that look right now." He said "that's crazy"
and he really cracked up and he said "you could scare anybody with that look in
And I knew what he
meant because there is with psychotic people or closet psychotic people, there
is an inability to hide the psychosis when you really let it go. And I wasn't
intending to let it go, I just did 'cause we were eyeball to eyeball like that.
And instead of coming back at me and giving me the look that he used to have,
which is really not part of his personality anymore, I mean I think he's lost
that as he puts it "warrior soul." I haven't. I'm not a boxer, but I'm still, I
think, closer to being homicidal than he is, you know.
PK: Thanks for the warning. I should've patted you down
before we started talking. This is kind of a kinship you had from the beginning
when you met him back at "The Pickup Artist" I guess and he was fascinated by
the fact that you had this mental breakdown after taking LSD at 19 years old.
JT: Right. He didn't know what it meant. "What do you mean
mad? What do you mean insane? What do you mean by mad?" And I knew anyone this
eager to find out what madness is will find out soon enough. And he found out
when he was in prison ten, twelve years later curled up on a concrete floor in
solitary confinement. And when he got out he told me that the first thought he
had was "now I know what Toback was talking about that night in Central Park, I am now insane." And the difference is
that he didn't have Max Rinkle who
was one of the guys who synthesized LSD in his laboratories in Switzerland to
give him an intravenous antidote.
PK: There is an antidote for LSD?
JT: I got one.
PK: Yeah? Do you know what it was?
JT: He gave me a compound of thorazine, mellaril, heroin,
morphine and [indecipherable]
PK: And you lived.
JT: I did, and he thought I wouldn't. He actually made me
sign a statement that if I died, I was responsible because I fully understood
what he was giving me, that it was likely to kill me, but I was taking it
anyway. This is all dramatized in "Harvard Man," in that
scene where Adrian Grenier has the voices and the hallucinations and then can't
get rid of the voices and goes, and John Neville plays the doctor, gives him
the antidote. And I signed the document and I said to Dr. Rinkle a couple of
weeks later when I was ok, I said "how did you know that had I died you
wouldn't have gotten in tremendous trouble, because even though I'm 19 and
capable presumably of signing something and not...how did you..." He said, "Oh, I
would've been in tremendous trouble." And I said, "Well how did you do that?"
He said, "You had to have it, you needed it." He said, "I had to think of you
first." He said, "You were the person I had to save, not myself." He said, "Anyway
I'm an old man. You have your whole life ahead of you, if it caused me to lose
my license then so be it."
PK: That's supposedly the biggest LSD dose that anyone ever
JT: No one's ever claimed to take more. And he actually
wasn't sure that I had until I told him where I got it and what form I took it
in. Because there were blue sugar cubes and I had got...you know LSD was legal
then. You could come in with LSD into the country. I came in, I gave a cube to
the customs official. He asked what all the sugar cubes were and I said "They're
pure lysergic diethylamide 25 which I got at Sandors Laboratories in Switzerland."
He said, "Oh what's that?" And I said, "Aldous Huxley took it, Cary Grant takes
it, Robert Graves has taken it, it's fuckin' phenomenal." And I gave him a copy
of "The Doors of Perception" that
I had, and I said, "This is the answer, this is the truth." And he said, "Well,
how often have you taken it?" I said, "I've never taken it." He said, "Well,
how do you know?" I said, "I know."
PK: Customs agents were different in those days.
JT: Herman Melville was a customs agent.
PK: That's true
PK: It must have been from that tradition
JT: The Melvillean tradition.
PK: You have no other points of view in the movie except for
Tyson. Why is that?
JT: I didn't want any other points of view because as I say
it is a self portrait, if you take the metaphor of Gaugain presenting a
portrait, a self portrait it isn't a photograph, it's not what you would be
getting if there were, well, first of all there's no way of getting the
accuracy of a photograph in a documentary because you've got a whole bunch of
different people's views. But it's not a photograph. It's his version of
himself orchestrated by me and presented by me.
But basically the
idea is to give in an almost clinical way Tyson's version of his life. And to
do it in a style that I wanted to use for ten years. The last part of "Black
and White" has the split screen moving images, the multiple voices, and
hallucinations and shifting images. The opening credits of "Harvard Man" are in
that style. I wanted to go for it with the whole movie, to make a movie in that
style. And there was no movie ever, that I can think of, that needed it or
called for it more than this one did. Multiple voices, the chaos of the brain,
voices that won't stop.
So what he says earlier in the movie is that you're looking
at different images of his face and um his face calls for multiple images. It
is a face that separates itself, almost cubistically, when you look at it. There
are so many different personalities at work in the face.
PK: Plus the tattoos.
JT: Yes, exactly.
PK: He sort of draws you into his point of view in an almost
JT: That's right, and that's the intention. I mean, you have
one of the most recognized, most intriguing, I hate to use the phrase that "People
Magazine" uses or Barbara Walters whoever ... But, let's say the, let's say
more people are interested in Mike Tyson around the world than practically
anyone who's lived in the last hundred years. If you see, for instance, the
response he gets in cities in Europe and in Black communities here and in Asia
and South America --- it's bedlam. And what
they are looking for is the truth about this guy. "Who are you?" "I want to pay
homage to you whoever you are. I'm drawn by you." To say nothing of the people
who hate him and revile and most of whom are white and here in America. But to
take that figure and his fascinating presence seems to me a very interesting
task particularly since his life calls into question all of the themes that are
obsessing me and in my work and have been since the beginning: race, sex,
madness, love, money, crime, and death.
PK: That covers it, I think
JT: It does. Yeah, I left out baseball. But you can't have
PK: Basketball, too.
JT: Right basketball too. I use Ray Allen
[in photo of "Harvard Man" above, with gun] and I use Allen Houston so I'm
taking a vacation from basketball for a film
PK: Tyson, the way you described him, is almost like the
JT: That's right. That is right and you know, I'll bet you
without being able to prove it unless we get him on the phone now, that Obama
is massively fascinated with Mike Tyson. A lot more fascinated than Mike Tyson
is by Obama. By the way do you know who Mike Tyson's ex-wife's brother is?
JT: The wife, the ex-wife in the movie that he speaks of
quite lovingly is a great mother to his children. You know who her brother is?
PK: I don't know.
JT: You won't guess this in 10 trillion tries.
PK: I won't even try.
JT: Michael Steel, the chairman of the Republican National
PK: It must be interesting getting together for the
Next: He said, She said.