Originally created 04/12/98

Tiger Woods gets the movie treatment in unauthorized TV biography



LOS ANGELES -- Eighteen months ago, when a meteor named Tiger Woods was flaming across the sporting sky, an unknown young actor named Khalil Kain decided to take up golf. He had something else in mind besides recreation.

"I figured that someday a film about Tiger Woods would come down the pike, and I should be ready," he explains.

Khalil Kain stars in the title role in "The Tiger Woods Story," an unauthorized biography that premieres on Showtime today , just hours after the concluding round of the Masters Tournament.

Described as a family film, it was directed by LeVar Burton, of "Roots" and "Star Trek" fame. Filming took place entirely in San Diego, except for two days in Los Angeles after rains made San Diego courses unplayable.

Based on a book by John Strege, the movie covers Mr. Woods' life from his precocious childhood to his victory at the 1997 Masters. It includes his encounters with bigotry at Stanford University, questions about his ethnic background, and his relationship with his father, Earl (played by Keith David).

Earl Woods is portrayed as a flawed man and strict disciplinarian, but his devotion to his talented son is unmistakable. Kain bears a resemblance to Tiger Woods on the golf course, and he conveys the private emotions of the famous young man.

How did the Tiger Woods camp react to having an unauthorized biography? Burton said he had several conversations with Hughes Norton, Tiger's agent.

"Hughes and I developed a nice telephone friendship," said the director. "He was very candid and upfront indicating Earl's and Tiger's concern in terms of the proliferation in the marketplace of unauthorized, unlicensed, unsanctioned stuff that they have no control over and receive no benefit therefrom.

"Their initial tendency was to lump this project into that same category."

Mr. Burton met with Earl and Tiger Woods two days after the end of shooting (the last filming was done five minutes away from where Tiger was playing in the Nissan L.A. Open). The director says he was able to get Earl Woods to look at the movie in a different light.

However, Bev Norwood of IMG, the sports management group that handles Mr. Woods' endorsements and public relations, later said the family does not support the movie.

"We feel strongly about people exploiting and profiting from the name Tiger Woods," Ms. Norwood said. The Woods family "are ignoring it, as they have any other unauthorized projects."

Director and star joined for an interview at a coffee shop, their first meeting since the film wrapped. Mr. Burton continues his acting career -- he'll be in the next big-screen "Star Trek"-- but in recent years he has concentrated on directing.

"This is a movie that takes place over 27 years with 63 speaking parts," Mr. Burton said.

"The script that I received was a series of vignettes," he said. So he condensed many events and turns in Mr. Woods' life to create "movie moments." He also found locations that could be used for more than one scene.

These are tricks that Mr. Burton has learned from directing TV series and movies.

Mr. Burton and the producers auditioned "a whole bunch" of actors for the lead role. Mr. Kain tried out on the first day of casting, and Mr. Burton knew he was the one.

Mr. Kain was born and educated on the lower East Side of Manhattan. As part of his film major at New York University, he was assigned to make four short 8mm films in his first year. Because he found the performances of his fellow students lacking, he became an actor as well in his last two films.

"I made a deal with my mom that if I couldn't find an acting job in a year, I'd go back to school," Mr. Kain says.

He never went back. He began working in commercials, graduated to episodic TV and feature films ("Love Jones," "Renaissance Man" and "Juice") with some blank periods in between.

"I definitely had delusions of grandeur," he admitted. "I understood that it was going to be difficult but I didn't know it would be as tough as it has been. It's a tough game, you gotta have a thick skin. Mine's gotten thicker over the years.

"I think ... (the rejection) was good for me. I was a pretty successful kid, socially and otherwise. The rejection made it possible for me to look at myself in an objective manner, be honest with myself."