There’s no denying that Phil is supremely confident as the world’s No. 1 bodybuilder. Last year was the first time he was on top, so it’s a little different defending your title as opposed to taking it from someone else. What struck you in the way he regarded the rest of the guys gunning for him?
Phil realizes that it comes with the territory. He’s achieved something only 12 other bodybuilders have done since 1965. That’s a very select group of athletes for such a long period of time. And Phil is a student of the sport so he understands the significance of being in the position he is and why it means so much for the other guys to try to achieve it, too. He’s very respectful of all the guys because he’s been there himself, when someone else was on top and he was trying to be No. 1. And having come close, he knows the disappointment of not achieving your goal. But like he said, that only pushes you harder for the next time. He knows where the others are coming from. At the same time, he’s very competitive. You don’t get to that position without that streak. It’s evident in the way he carries himself. The Olympia is his and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep it. In his mind, no one is coming into his house to take what he’s worked so long and hard for. I think he likes the challenge. Knowing that you beat the best to get where you are and now you’re the best and everyone is trying to beat you, that is what motivates all great champions. At the same time, he does it all with a graceful style. His intensity in the gym is amazing, but somehow he makes it look easy. Everything he does, from the training, the eating, and everything else is in preparation for this one moment and there’s no hesitation or doubt that it will go exactly as he plans. And the way he interacts with people, he’s very approachable. He makes others feel comfortable because he’s very comfortable with himself. You can’t help but come away thinking, “Yes, there’s a reason why this guy is the best in the world and he’s Mr. Olympia.”
Much like the Arnold and Lou rivalry, there’s a rivalry between Phil and Kai that seems to be one of the driving forces in the film.
This rivalry is for real. Both are very successful but they’re very different. I don’t want to give away too much, but you really see it in the movie. Their outlooks in the sport and life in general, even their appearance— Phil with his shaved head and the clothes he wears and Kai with his braids and his trademark boots and all— total opposites. The dynamic between the two is powerful and it creates tension. Whenever you have that between two driven individuals going for the same thing, the stakes go higher and higher. That’s exciting for the fans. And you need that tension to keep the narrative moving forward. It was really highlighted at the Olympia when they went at it and they were the last two standing. The whole movie captures the rivalries between all the guys. You have the back-and-forth between Branch and Ben, Branch and Dennis, and of course, the central rivalry between Phil and Kai. One guy knows he’s being compared with this guy, and how does he stack up?
Finally, what is it that you want people to take away with them when they leave the theater?
The main question I’m trying to answer with this film is “What is bodybuilding and who are bodybuilders?” Obviously it’s a sport, but it’s more than that. It’s a combination of sport, art, and science. It’s very unique. It’s artistic expression using the human body. It’s competition. Who are these guys and what motivates them to push the limits of what is physically possible? The film will deliver that answer.