Wladimir Klitschko on Klitschko
Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, the 6’6″ Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World subjects of Sebastian Dehnhardt’s Klitschko, are to pugilism what the Williams sisters are to tennis. But unlike Venus and Serena, these chess-playing siblings, who became the first brothers to hold world titles at the same time, also hold PhDs and are fluent in four languages. Coming of age behind the Iron Curtain, the Ukrainian brothers’ psyches were shaped both by black- market Bruce Lee movies and the Chernobyl disaster (their military dad was a first responder). So when I heard that current champ Wladimir (pictured above) was available for interviews – maybe running a political party in the homeland is keeping his big brother too busy? – I leapt at the chance to chat with one of (what a talking head in Klitschko calls) “the most intelligent heavyweights ever.”
Klitschko opens tomorrow, October 21, in New York and L.A. via Corinth Releasing.
Filmmaker: So why decide to take part in a documentary? Being heavyweight champs of the world it wouldn’t seem you and Vitali need the publicity.
Wladimir Klitschko: It wasn’t really planned. We had different proposals from different directors. Then we met Sebastian Dehnhardt, the director of the documentary. The way he approached us, and the way he did it in the two-and-a-half years following us with the camera, and getting more stuff we hadn’t seen even ourselves — it’s a great answer to all the fans we have. Also, for those who may not be interested in boxing, it has action, drama, and it deals with Chernobyl – we lost our father because of the tragedy.
Filmmaker: So you didn’t actually know the director beforehand? He just approached you asking to do the documentary?
Klitschko: That’s right. Of course, we checked him out. He’s an Emmy winner. He’s a professional.The way he got to us and the way he shot it, everything he did – especially with our parents because it was the first time that our parents were in the public eye… They always refused, but the way he talked to them and convinced them and us, was pretty cool.
Filmmaker: So did your father live to see the finished documentary?
Klitschko: Of course, of course.
Filmmaker: I think that family angle is part of why the doc works so well and why it will play to the general public. To me it’s really a love story between brothers. Interestingly, in boxing it’s all about hyping – caricaturing – the fighter’s image. This film smartly does the opposite, cutting you two down to mortal size, so to speak. Was that at all intimidating? It’s really a raw portrait.
Klitschko: Well, of course we didn’t want to show our underwear – in a psychological way. There were different directors who actually came to us and said, “Oh, you have all those contacts with all those celebrities and let’s shoot – let’s get involvement in Ocean’s Eleven, get Eva Longoria – it’s gonna be great for the promotion, for sales.” It wasn’t us. It’s not about the celebrities. But Sebastian – he was humble in the way he approached us. He saw the documentary the way that we see it. We didn’t need to blow it up and make it nice and showing us from the better side, from “the chocolate side.” We did it the way we felt with Sebastian, and of course, we talked with each other. We didn’t need any celebrities to promote the documentary. I believe it just had to be the way it is.
Filmmaker: So then was it more relaxing knowing that you didn’t have to put on an image or do something fake?
Klitschko: Yes, exactly what you said. Take it or leave it. Either you like it or you don’t. We never thought about getting good critiques. Most of the time people were expecting us to show to the public our chocolate side, as I mentioned before, and hide other things, and make it nice. But we felt comfortable. It was a definite “no” for making us superheroes or superstars, polishing our image and getting our name out there. We just did it the way we felt.
Filmmaker: That’s why it kind of surprises me that you didn’t know the director beforehand, because it seemed like you guys had a very good rapport. He gets access to you in a way that made it seem like you all were trusting friends. It’s a very intimate portrait, which is nice.
Klitschko: Thank you.
Filmmaker: Also, it was fascinating for me to learn – maybe because I’ve been kickboxing for years – that you two were obsessed with martial arts flicks as teenagers. Do you feel you would have been as inspired by them had they not been banned in the Soviet Union at the time? Was it the taboo aspect that appealed?
Klitschko:Well, of course the forbidden fruit is always sweet. I have to say that Vitali, my older brother, he started first, so I picked it up. Usually in the family you look up to someone older than you, and you try to repeat the same things that your father does, but we didn’t see our father that often because he was always working and busy. And I obviously didn’t want to be like my mom, so I wanted to be like my older brother. He was trying things first, so I was catching it up and copying it. Those films with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris and with all the martial arts – as a kid they were exciting. You were so excited to do all those things and look the same way and act the same way. It was cool in the group of kids, and it’s still the same. It goes around. I think it doesn’t matter where the kids are, where the boys are. They’re just all the same. They just try to flex their muscles and probably show that they’re better than others. It’s like a certain competition. Also, in the early young age I think the sport helped to put the energy and the power – as a young man – to a certain target in a certain way. So it was positive. Otherwise, you might start doing drugs – you’re gonna maybe get excited about something else. You’ll get distracted by other forbidden fruits that you’ll want to try out.
Filmmaker: I guess in the grand scheme of things it’s not a bad forbidden fruit to be after. But there’s another question I have, specifically about Klitschko. When you guys first saw the completed film, what most surprised you? Was there anything that just stood out, and you thought, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that,” from the final cut of the documentary?
Klitschko: [There’s material] we didn’t expect to see, for example – there’s some parts of me giving one of my first interviews. And I don’t know where he got the footage, Sebastian. Or see my brother in the States in Florida, when he was 18-years old where he’s skinny and a little boy, but still tall. Just seeing him compete and train or just walk around, having a drink, whatever. It was actually surprising and put a smile on our faces. Especially when Vitali’s son Yegor – he’s 11-years old – and he was watching it and he was like, “Wow, that’s cool, but why am I not in the film? Because I was born first!”
Klitschko: He actually got into it. It won’t be in the States, but at the end of the film there are some sequences that were put together – like five minutes – so Yegor gets his five minutes, or five seconds of fame. It wasn’t just surprising for me and Vitali to see ourselves, but for Vitali’s son to see his father at an early age, to see that footage…. Also, Vitali and I flew out to L.A. from Munich, and when we checked out the entertainment program on the plane, we were surprised when we saw the documentary. It was kind of a weird feeling.
Filmmaker: It was on the plane already?
Klitschko:Yes, because it went to the movies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and it goes to the Ukraine and Russia – it’s always rolling out.
Filmmaker: When you saw the documentary, was there anything you would have done differently if you’d been able to direct it yourself?
Filmmaker: No? Really?
Klitschko: No, it is what it is. No, I’m very happy to see my father there. It was one of the last shots when he was in good shape, in good condition. It was great because between the chemos he was able to go see the documentary in Germany in the theaters. He was able to see it and then got back to continue his chemo. It was pretty cool for him to see his sons – and I think it’s good for his grandkids to be able to see him. All in all, the documentary’s out there, you can’t change anything, and I’m O.K. with that.
Filmmaker: For you, it almost sounds like it’s a home movie, a personal token, in addition to being something for the general public.
Klitschko: We’re O.K. with it to be in the public, and we’re O.K. with everything. There’s nothing to change.
Filmmaker: So are you looking to eventually have a film career? Get involved in politics? Where do you see yourself after boxing?
Klitschko: My brother is involved in politics.
Filmmaker: That’s why I asked – because you tend to follow him, right?
Klitschko: Ah, not for right now. He has his own party in the Ukraine. And because he has experience to live in different countries and he knows what needs to be changed in the Ukraine – he can see it. I am pretty sure he’s going to have success as a politician. Do I myself look forward to politics? Not right now.
Filmmaker: So are you going to pursue film?
Klitschko: I’ve been there and done that, and for right now I’m playing a very important part in my life. It’s like in a film – to be the heavyweight champion of the world – and it takes all of my time. So I’m my own producer. I have my own promotional company. I’m obviously directing my own career and producing as well. I know right now I can’t focus on anything else. Then there’s gonna be another chapter, of course, because boxing is not forever. I’m 35 now, and I’m at my peak of my abilities, so who knows how much longer it’s gonna be, and how much fun and how much motivation will be left.
Filmmaker: So you’re not looking towards when your boxing career is over? You’re just concentrating on the moment right now?
Klitschko: No, I’m building up my life for after boxing as well. There’s of course the foundation we have because we care about education and sports. That’s the area where we are professionals. We work with UNESCO with education for children in need – we will continue to do that. There’s certain – on the economical side – things to get done. Of course, you need to stay focused for now, and you can have different dreams that can come true, but I don’t want to talk about that right now. Let me stay focused on the sport and then when I’m done I’m gonna definitely announce what the next thing is.
Filmmaker: O.K., fair enough. Lastly, since you brought up Chernobyl – are you still involved in organizations in Chernobyl? What’s the situation like there?
Klitschko:Yes, I just went there two weeks ago. The circumstances need to be changed, and of course, there’s a certain demand for money, finances. And of course the people who are living in zone one, zone two – actually, zone one they’re not living, they’re working in zone one, that’s around the reactor. And zone two they’re living. And zone three they’re living. There are a lot of problems with conditions with those people – especially for the kids. Of course the situation is terrible there. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. And I saw the kids who’ve been affected by the radiation. Unfortunately they don’t have clinics and hospitals that can cure it, that can take care of it. That is why I went there to raise money for them. By the end of the year, by December, we hope to raise the money and invest it in the situation.
Filmmaker: That’s great to hear Chernobyl’s still on the map, on people’s minds. Because I think people tend to forget about it.
Klitschko: No, no, no, the radiation, the radioactivity never sleeps. For thousands of years it’s gonna be there, unfortunately.