The streaming Mike Tyson biopic, simply titled Mike, is an unauthorized version of the infamous boxer's life and career told over an eight-episode limited series on Hulu. While many writers and actors who set out to depict real individuals in dramatized tales get to at least have a conversation with those real people (if they are still living), that was never on the table with Mike. But that wasn't going to stop the storytellers behind the show, who find the public figure, as executive producer Steven Rogers puts it, "endlessly fascinating."
"We actually couldn't talk to him because his life rights were already taken," Rogers said during the Television Critics Association press tour panel for the show.
Although there have been many past projects about Tyson, from documentaries to an animated series, Rogers doesn't feel his story will ever truly be out of the spotlight.
"A lot of the issues that we're struggling with today — Black Lives Matter, Me Too, addiction, prison reform — have their roots in this one man's story. So, it felt like a really good time to tell it through the lens of the baddest man on the planet," said Rogers, who also acknowledged he would watch another series about Tyson.
In the case or Mike, though, Rogers, executive producer Karen Gist, and their writers' room relied on a variety of research materials in order to "get many opinions" on who Tyson (played by Trevante Rhodes) is, as well as how society and the media contributed to who he is and public opinion of him, and then build the story around that.
"The first video I looked at on YouTube, Mike Tyson was talking about his face tattoo. And I remembered it as a punchline that comics on the late-night shows would use, but in this interview, Mike Tyson was saying the reason he got the face tattoo was because Mike Tyson hated Mike Tyson and didn't want to see his face when he looked in the mirror. And I was floored by that," Rogers said. "I like the idea of taking the story everybody thinks they know and showing, actually there's a lot more to it."
Rogers went on to say he wanted each episode to feel like a round of boxing, in that they would be high-energy and full of punches, including emotional ones. In the emotional moments, it would be an opportunity to go to the corner and take a few breaths before diving back into the action. And In fleshing out the individual episodes' arcs, Rogers and Gist wanted to go behind and beyond the "what" of events in Tyson's life to explain the "why" of how they happened. This was not just true for the character of Mike himself, but also their versions of promoter Don King (played by Russell Hornsby); Mike's mother Lorna Mae (Oluniké Adeliyi); actor and Mike's ex-wife Robin Givens (Laura Harrier), who spoke out about physical abuse in that relationship; and model Desiree Washington (Li Eubanks), who accused Tyson of rape in the 1990s.
"Just like we're trying to challenge the perception of Mike in the series, I also wanted to do the same thing with the Don King character, with the women," explained Gist. "For example, so Lorna Mae didn't just come off as a mean mom. There's something underneath that: She's a single, Black mom raising children in an environment that can be scary. With Robin, we wanted to remember that these were two kids who fell in love in front of the world and what that looked and felt like for her. And then with Desiree...there was a lot of chatter that didn't really humanize her, and we wanted to bring fullness to that story. That was one of the goals for me, specifically, in doing the show: to give them some depth and as much respect as we were trying to tell the other stories."
"Redemption was never really the goal of the series," Gist acknowledged. "We just wanted to tell an unbiased story and have the audience decide what they think or feel — challenging what they think they know about Mike and hopefully coming away from the series with something else to think about. Whether you love him or hate him, does it make you think about how complicit society may have been?"
Mike premieres Aug. 25