James Toback’s documentary Tyson comes out today, but the director’s relationship with the iconic boxer actually goes back two decades, to when Iron Mike was just a 19-year-old up-and-comer. The movie has moments of humor and sadness—sometimes at the same time, as when he calls Don King a “wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker” who “would kill his mother for a dollar.” (But how does he really feel?) We sat down to talk with Toback to talk about whether he’s scared of the champ, Tyson’s curiously strong knowledge of 19th Century poetry, and the perils of the eight-day acid trip.
Kempt: So, Mike Tyson: Crazy or misunderstood?
JT: Certainly misunderstood. Crazy, only in the sense that he’s not a conventional, linear person, and is on his own channel, in a kind of uncompromising way.
K: So why do so many people think this guy is nuts?
JT: Primarily the ear-biting and the rape conviction. I think if you take away those two things, the perception would pretty much be gone.
K: You’ve known Mike for 20 years. Has it ever been scary working with him?
JT: No, [but] he said something interesting after seeing the movie: “You know, I always used to wonder why people said they were scared of me. [After] watching the film tonight, I’m scared of that guy.”