The biopic on the legendary fighter hits theaters April 28.
Actor Khris Davis learned the true meaning of "no pain, no gain" when he signed on to portray George Foreman for the legendary boxer's biopic. Davis transformed his body to the point where he saw stars, thanks to an exhaustive dietary plan that called for him to go from eating 5,000 calories a day to a whopping 7,000, and gaining 57 pounds in a matter of weeks.
The budding actor spoke to ET's Kevin Frazier from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel gym in Los Angeles ahead of Foreman's biopic, Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World, hitting theaters April 28, and he recalled the intense chow-down sessions he put himself through to reach peak Foreman level.
Initially, Davis lost weight and grew his hair to replicate Foreman's lean build and Afro hairdo in his younger boxing days, but production stopped to give Davis the time he needed to bulk up and become a spitting image of Foreman in his latter years.
"We took the six weeks off so we could gain the weight," Davis said. "I was 225 and then I gained 50 pounds in five weeks, so I went from 225 to 276 in five weeks and I got to 282 total."
No, a free pass to gain all that weight didn't prove to be the happiest days of his life. There were no greasy calories. It was all clean.
"A pescatarian diet," Davis said. "No dairy, no sugar. I ate fish, legumes, rice, pasta, root vegetables. Protein shakes, things like that. My nutritionist gave me a plan. It was 4,000 calories a day when I was just sitting around at home. Five thousand when I was on set. Six thousand when I was doing some boxing training."
Problem was, Davis did the math, and the amount of calories he was consuming coupled with his training meant he was going to get nowhere close to hitting the ideal weight he needed to portray the two-time world heavyweight champion of the world.
"I was looking at the plan and looking at how much weight I was going to gain per week and I was never going to make that weight," he said. "And everybody had taken off, right? For me to gain weight, what does it look like? They come back (as in production resumes) and I don't have it? So, I bumped up my caloric intake to 7,000 calories a day."
And it wasn't tasty. It was painful.
"Oh my goodness, pain, first and foremost," he said. "You don't taste food anymore. You do see stars. You see cartoons and the mouse eats all the cheese and they start seeing stars and they pass out. That happens. You just see stars and then you go to sleep. And then you wake up, you see stars, and you go to sleep. That was the first week and a half."
As quickly as he gained the weight, Davis says the pounds melted away when it was time to get back to his normal weight. He said within four to five weeks he was down to 240, and the pounds kept shedding after that. He didn't have to hit the gym, either. He just stopped eating so much.
"When I put all that weight on, it happened so fast that when I stopped eating 7,000 calories a day, my body was like, 'Look, we're going to go back,'" he said. "And just shed everything."
Davis, who stars alongside Forest Whitaker as Foreman's legendary trainer, Charles "Doc" Broadus, aka the Godfather of Boxing, said pushing his body to the brink paved the way for some doubts. He said there were times he wasn't sure about the role anymore because he just couldn't see himself as Foreman.
Then he shaved his head.
"I was feeling so bad because I was looking in the mirror and I had just gotten the best body I had in my adult life and I'm looking at myself and I'm eating 7,000 calories a day and [my body's] changing. It's shifting in a way that I don't want to see, right? So, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror. My shirts were different. My pants were different," he recalled
"So, one day I look in the mirror and I'm not liking what I see," he continued. "Something was like, 'Let's cut it all off.' So, I cut all my hair off, shaved off my beard, took my shirt off and I was like, 'Oh! There it is. That's what I was working towards.' And it was beautiful at that point. Every single calorie after that made complete sense to me. But when I was watching Khris go through the transformation, it was difficult. I wasn't sure I even wanted to do that anymore. And when I shaved my head, no problem, man. There it was. And I was all in."
And just like that, Khris Davis saw himself as George Foreman.
"I saw it then 'cause my face was fatter, my neck was fatter, my shoulders, my chest. Everything," Davis said. "That's what we're working towards. That's what the sacrifice is for, and it's working."
After packing on the pounds and hitting his weight, Davis was in shock that his body could weather the demanding rounds in the ring.
"I had no idea my body could go to such limits," he said. "There were moments where my body was continuing to impress me about what it could do. I was in shock that I could fight like this. And not just throw punches, that I can [also] stand in the ring with multiple people in a day, throw punches and be just fine."
Believe it or not, the dramatic transformation wasn't even the hardest part of the role. Davis said he knew that Foreman, at age 25, was the hurdle that a then-32-year-old Muhammad Ali had to jump over to become a heavyweight champion of the world for the second time, after knocking out Foreman in the eighth round with a flurry of right hooks in a match famously known the "Rumble in the Jungle."
Besides that, Davis said he also only knew about Foreman because of his famous George Foreman grills. Yes, Davis had one of those, but in signing on to portray Foreman, the young actor realized the biggest challenge would come in learning Foreman's fighting style, a ferocious slugger whose innate ability to cut off the ring discombobulated his opponents into submission. And it was learning that fighting style where Davis realized he'd have his work cut out for him.
"His fighting style is so specific," Davis said.
The biopic recreates the "Rumble in the Jungle" fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, where Ali was a huge underdog going up against Foreman in his prime. But any heavyweight in their prime is susceptible to punching themselves out, and that's exactly what happened to Foreman in the eighth round, even when he had Ali up against the ropes. Foreman's punches at that point lacked power and accuracy, and then Ali pounced, forcing Foreman to the canvass with 11 seconds left in the eighth round. The assault was brutal, and recreating that scene in the film also proved challenging for Davis.
"We were very specific about reinterpreting the fight," he said. "We didn't go off script. We did the fight as it was. All the same punches, same part of the ring, same falls, same foot movements. We wanted to do justice to that legacy."
At 25, Foreman lost the coveted heavyweight crown. Some 20 years later, he regained the belt in 1994, after beating Michael Moorer in Las Vegas with a brutal 10th round knockout to become the oldest heavyweight champion ever at 45. Davis is proud of the fact that he didn't need a stunt double to recreate Foreman's unparalleled skills.
"All of my stunts. No one stood in for me," he said, proudly. "I did all the fighting. We did real contact, so I took punches. The final sequence when Ali knocks Foreman out, we did that, like, 15 times. So, I got punched in the face 45 times."
Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World is in theaters April 28.