5 Questions for Claressa “T-Rex” Shields, Zachary Canepari and Drea Cooper
The directors of T-Rex and the star, the young boxer Claressa Shieds, are just wonderful. The fascinating documentary that has quite a lot to say about the nature of truth, and is most interesting in how it is revealed. Shields is also an extremely captivating subject. The experience is not to be missed. We spoke with the team or Canepari and Cooper by phone from SXSW, where the film had just received its world premiere. The next day, we talked to Shields also by phone at SXSW, when she was celebrating her twentieth birthday. The conversation revealed quite a lot.
Why did you want to make a movie about Claressa?
Zac: Long story short, Drea and I were researching a documentary series about teenage female athletes, pressures they were under, circumstances they were under, doing that research, we came across a small article about Claressa. It was one those things where it said to us, “Oh. There’s a lot here, in this small article. We engaged more with that article than any other one we had come across. The next step was we just called Claressa and her coach Jason, and had a conversation with them, and right around the same time, an NPR program called “Teenage Contender” came out, which was a twenty minute radio diary with Claressa, produced by our producer now, Sue Jaye Johnson, came out, and it was so rich with detail and stories and characters, that we just knew that there was something there. We flew down to Flint that weekend, and spent thirty days there, and I think we just fell in love. I mean, Claressa was so charismatic, Flint was such an amazing city, it has such an amazing history. Her coach was open, her family was open, Drea and I were just like, “this is worth following”. And Claressa was open with the idea. It took a little while to actually grow together as a team, but we knew right away. I think we knew right away. I mean, with or without a gold medal, Claressa was a story. She is…an incredible young lady. An incredible young lady. So I think we just knew that we had to follow her straight out.
Drea: Basically, Claressa and Jason are no-bullshit people. They are going to go around and be themselves. And as long as we’re honest in how we portray them, they are going to support us.
What surprised you the most about the movie?
One thing that surprised me is I watched how I I walked to the ring, and sometimes it was almost like I was in a trance. Like “it’s time to handle business”. And I thought in the film, I was ready to go. I mean, I had so much determination in my eyes. And I felt just drive, and everything stopped. I looked like a thief.
Do you think there’s more to the story?
There’s definitely more to the story. We’ve been joking about “T-Rex 2”. I don’t have any endorsements, I don’t have any sponsorships right now. It’s just training, training, training, for the 2016 Olympics, and after that, I’m going Pro. So there is more to the story. It doesn’t just end with the Olympic Gold, you know? And there’s a lot more after that, like even with my family everybody has matured and grown up. Like me, I didn’t get my fill of celebrity, I am still in the environment that I’m in, still striving for success. I accomplished my dream already, I just want to go back and do it again. You know, once you win something, it kind of makes you not as eager to win again. But you have to find that determination again, find that same motivation, or even more motivation, a second time around, without being discouraged, you know, you deserve so much more because you worked your whole life off, to get to that one point in your life. You do what you’re supposed to do, but still didn’t get the recognition you wanted. You gotta keep looking forward in a positive way.
What are you feeling when you see the film?
Everyone I watch the film, I get chills and it’s like “wow”. Every time I watch myself fight, I can still run the movements again. It’s like I’m in that moment again in my life and relieve it. I relive it and I’m like “wow”, as I’m watching the first match that I’m losing, I’m still thinking to myself, “you need to do this, you need to do that”. That was the same way I was thinking then. It was the exact same thought. And then I thought, “she’s growing and getting better and getting stronger every round”. And I’m just reliving it! And it’s just a great feeling to actually be able to relive that moment, even after I saw myself on the podium, I still just bust out laughing again. It’s so crazy. I was such a kid. I was so happy.
Did the directors ever capture you in a moment where you did not want to be filmed?
The one that did this the most was Zac Canepari. He was like around so much. He always wanted to camera up. Always, always. I had some days, where I had a bad day at training, I did NOT feel like being interviewed. I did not feel like talking, and Zac would be like “yo, Claressa, let’s hang out”, and I’d ignore phone calls, and I’d ignore everything, but those guys know that if I want someone around all the time, it makes that person tedious, but always allows them to come back. I never ignored them for one day. Sometimes I wanted to go bowling with just my boyfriend. But they’re like we wanna go, and I’m like “come on!” (Laughs)
T-Rex screens Friday, April 24th at 4:15 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre, Saturday, April 25th at 3:45 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3, and Saturday May 2nd at 2 p.m. at Fox Theatre