In James Toback’s Tyson, which opens on Friday, the champ simply tells his life story directly to the camera, with bits of archival fights and interviews spliced throughout. It’s mesmerizing and a little bit scary. And just as fascinating was seeing Tyson talk about the film at last night’s screening, which was attended by Toback, Ice-T, Joe Lewis, Nas, and random boxing expert Joyce Carol Oates.
Oates kicked off the questioning. “What’s the experience of watching yourself in this movie?” she asked. “Do you feel like you yourself are an abstract piece of art?”
“I just look at it like Jim asked me questions and I answered the questions,” Tyson explained. “It looked very simplistic to me at first, but watching it with a conglomerate of people here, I feel very vulnerable. I don’t like watching it.”
He went on. “This kind of fame is all new to me,” he said. “It’s not accustomed to me to come in here and get applause for just being me, you know. I’m used to working hard, sweating hard, getting in shape, putting on my show, best man on the planet, do my deed, and then everybody has to love me. Look at me now! But this is just walking in and everyone applauds … I feel like a dork. This doesn’t feel like real love. I like to feel as if I established and I accomplished something.
“I met Cus D’Amato” — his first trainer and father figure — “when I was 12 years old and decided that life is about just living and conquering and being glorious. The only thing I knew about was just becoming great. At this stage of my life, I think about how to be good. Most great men are not good men.”
Ice-T piped up. “I met Mike Tyson when he was 21,” he explained to the crowd. “I consider you a friend. But when I see you up there, today I really feel I know you. People don’t really know you, homey. But today I got a chance to really see you, man.”
Did you learn anything about yourself? someone else asked Tyson.
“Yeah,” he said. “Being objective and sitting there like I am not Mike Tyson, I was thinking, ‘That’s a very scary guy. I feel very uncomfortable in a room with him.’”