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Bill Simmons on What Surprised Him Making Andre the Giant Documentary

Posted By Caroline Walsh on 04/10/18

Bill Simmons spoke with ESPN about making HBOís Andre the Giant documentary. Highlights are below:

On wanting to make an Andre The Giant documentary for years: ďI have this old computer that has a lot of the original 30 for 30 stuff from 2007 on it, and Andre was on the initial list of 12 documentaries that I just thought could really resonate. Back then, HBO had a monopoly on the sports documentaries. They were doing a lot of older stuff like Joe Louis and Vince Lombardi and people like that, and it just seemed like there was an inefficiency with subjects and athletes and teams from the í80s and í90s, so he was always on that list but at the time the WWE kept everything for themselves and rightly so. They just didnít outsource stuff and especially not Andre, who meant so much to everybody there and was such an iconic guy for them. It just wasnít going to happen. Over the course of this decade, I started to go to more WrestleManias and I had people from the WWE on my podcast. We really covered wrestling at Grantland, and then The Ringer, like it was a real sport. We had a wrestling podcast and we were really WWE-friendly in a lot of ways and I got to build some relationships. So when I went to HBO and [HBO president of programming] Mike Lombardo hired me partly to do sports documentaries and try to start them going again at HBO, that was the first thing I wanted to do. At that point I had a good enough relationship with the WWE to at least get them on the phone and get Vince, so we had this teleconference call from Lombardoís office with one of those satellite video connections and basically tried to convince Vince to do it for an hour. It was really personal to him. I think we swayed them. The WWE is a really good company that is very protective of their I.P. (intellectual property) and they should be. I just donít think this is something that could have happened sooner than this. They really put a lot of faith in us and they did not meddle or anything. They really trusted that we were going to do something good. It was a really good outcome, but it was basically an 11-year odyssey for me.Ē

On what surprised him while making the documentary: ďI knew his body was breaking down but I didnít know that he knew he was going to die early. Vince says at one point even before WrestleMania III that Andre was telling him that he was done. And it wasnít like he was done wrestling, it was that he done and going to die. I didnít know any of that stuff. I didnít know how physically hard his day to day life was in terms of the traveling and stuff like that. I knew that he was an incredible drinker, the most beloved guy in the locker room and this incredible attraction, but thereís so many more layers to the guy. I thought the interactions with the cast of Princess Bride were great. It was 30-plus years ago and they could all still remember what he did and what he said. He just clearly resonated with so many people and that makes it easier to tell the story.Ē

On Andreís relationship with Vince McMahon: ďWe donít make that movie if heís not interviewed. We made that clear. He was obviously so protective of the Andre legacy and he had a lot of conflicted emotions of how it played out, and we talked about it even before we agreed to do the movie that he has to be interviewed. We canít do it if youíre not in it. Itís tough. Itís all genuine and what he thought at the end was Vince used him. As soon as he couldnít wrestle anymore it was like thanks and wrestling goes on. Itís pretty complicated. Thereís also a lot of things that could have been in the doc, but I think the pace is important. Itís 86 minutes and thereís a bunch of other stuff we could have added but then it slows down, and you have to keep things moving. One of things that could have been in it after we did the interviews was Andreís relationship with Stephanie [McMahon]. Sheís a little girl at that point, but Andre was like a big brother to her. He was unusually tight with that family, which makes things a lot more complicated.Ē