Actor Will Smith paid tribute to the late Muhammad Ali on Facebook Saturday.
The two-time Oscar nominee honored the former heavyweight champion with a simple yet profound statement addressed to Ali.
“You shook up the World! My Mentor & My Friend. You changed my Life. Rest in Peace.”
Smith also posted two different photos of himself with Muhammad Ali. In the first picture, Ali is pictured with a boxing glove on his hand and Will Smith in the background.
Based on Smith’s attire and overall performance, that photograph was more than likely taken during the filming of the 2001 biopic Ali.
Will Smith portrayed Muhammad Ali in the biographical sports drama film, which was directed by Michael Mann. Will’s impressive performance and portrayal of the boxing legend led to the actor’s first Oscar nomination. However, according to ABC News, it was not a role that Will accepted immediately.
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The report states that the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star refused to portray Muhammad Ali on the big screen for eight years. During a past interview with Tavis Smiley, Will opened up about his initial reluctance in regards to the role.
“Intellectually, I didn’t feel that I possessed what it took to become Muhammad Ali. I absolutely, positively did not want to be the dude that messed up the Muhammad Ali story.”
According to the report, Ali himself even tried to get Will Smith on-board with the project — asking him to accept the role personally. However, Smith admits that the champ was not the person who eventually convinced Will that he could pull it off.
The Suicide Squad star actually gave credit to the film’s director Michael Mann for that.
“[Michael] said, ‘We’re going to find the greatest trainers in the world to teach you how to fight. We’re going to understand every second of Muhammad Ali’s life. We’re going to understand what he ate…how he viewed the world…how his mother felt about him, how his father felt about him.'”
Will Smith further stated that “it was a rough, jagged uphill road in the rain, but he brought it to light so that I could at least see what the road was.”
For nearly two years, Will Smith worked hard to essentially become Muhammad Ali — training his body, his voice, and his overall behavior to match the persona of the recently deceased champion.
The physical training aspect of his preparation was extensive and intense, but the results were crystal clear as soon as the movie was released. Will Smith first met his trainer, Darrell Foster, in February of 2000, according to Time. Foster was a former middleweight boxer and longtime trainer of boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard.
According to Time, Foster’s workout regimen for Will Smith included a three-mile run each morning followed by boxing practice for a couple of hours and a high-protein, low-carbohydrate lunch. Smith and Foster would watch fight films together before heading off to the weight room in order to continue their rigorous workout schedule.
Muhammad Ali was apparently pleased with Will Smith’s portrayal. ABC News reported that the former heavyweight champion called Will “a perfect actor.” When it comes to the resemblance of Smith’s portrayal and the real-life legend, Ali even stated that thought he was him.
According to NBC News, Muhammad Ali passed away on Friday of septic shock and will be honored at a public funeral. However, Will Smith and many other celebrities that knew Ali personally have already honored the late champ with tributes of their own.
[Image Credit: Gregorio Binuya/Stringer]