The director Jason Hehir spent over a year doing the ultimate deep dive into the life of the legendary professional wrestler Andre the Giant to separate the man from the myth for his HBO documentary, “Andre the Giant.”
The journey took Hehir all over the globe and face-to-face with some of the biggest names in wrestling.
Business Insider talked to Hehir to break down some of the biggest revelations, talk about his emotional encounter with Vince McMahon, and ask why the Samuel Beckett story isn’t in the movie.
Finding Andre’s real hometown.
Until the day “Andre the Giant” aired on HBO, the wrestler’s Wikipedia page stated that he was born and raised in Grenoble, France. Like most of the world, whoever contributed that piece to his Wikipedia page thought the hometown given during his introduction to the ring was the truth. But that was just one of many inaccuracies about Andre Roussimoff.
Hehir discovered that Andre was born in Moliens, a small village of 40 people 6 miles outside Paris. The wrestling backstory of Andre’s coming from Grenoble was created early in his wrestling career when he was touted by promoters as a friendly lumberjack found in the mountains.
“The most recognizable town in the Alps to a North American audience was Grenoble because they hosted the Olympics,” Hehir said.
Once Andre’s real hometown was discovered, Hehir and his crew traveled to Moliens with a few pictures of Andre with family friends.
“We literally went door-to-door and just walked the streets of that village showing these photos to people via a translator, because the people there spoke zero English,” Hehir said.
They also found Andre’s two brothers. One let Hehir and his crew into the family’s home where Andre grew up, and there they found a treasure trove of old photos and wrestling memorabilia of Andre’s that had never been seen by the public. They also filmed the giant chair for Andre in the kitchen, which is featured in the documentary. Andre’s mother had it specifically made for him.
“Andre the Giant is a mythical character, but Andre Roussimoff is a mother’s son, and she wanted him to be comfortable when he came home,” Hehir said. “She had that made for him. He was still her baby though he could barely fit through the door.”
Vince McMahon’s emotional recollection of Andre.
One of the most shocking moments of the documentary is toward the end when the WWE owner Vince McMahon begins to choke up and hold back tears during an interview in which he discusses how much Andre meant to him and his company (despite the two having a falling out at the end of Andre’s career).
Hehir said that wasn’t the first time McMahon, known for his tough-guy swagger, showed a softer side in front of him.
“He got emotional when no cameras were there,” Hehir said. “The first meeting I had with him I mentioned that Andre had a really close relationship with his daughter, and he got pretty emotional there.”
Hehir said McMahon agreed to a 45-minute interview for the movie, with Hehir allowed to come back later in production to shoot any follow-ups. The 45-minute shoot turned into a three-hour interview.
McMahon getting emotional on camera was hard to film, Hehir said.
“Vince seemed to be trying to keep it together, and as an interviewer it’s excruciating because your instinct is to turn the camera off,” he said. “But you have a responsibility to the viewer to let them experience this feeling vicariously through the person who knows the subject well, so we included that in the film.”
That was really Hulk Hogan’s handwriting on the choreographed outline of his WrestleMania III match with Andre.
For wrestling die-hards, the recollections by Hulk Hogan of the lead-up to his match with Andre at WrestleMania III are something special. One great detail is his explaining how he wrote out the entire match on a yellow legal pad McMahon gave him when McMahon asked the wrestler how he thought the match should go down. Hogan scripted the entire match – but left how it would end empty for Andre to decide. Andre didn’t reveal the ending until during the match, according to Hogan.
In the movie, while Hogan is telling the story, there are shots of yellow legal-pad sheets with handwriting on them. Hehir said that was really Hogan’s handwriting of the match.
“That yellow legal pad is crucial to the telling of that story,” he said. “But that has been long crumbled and thrown into the trash. Probably the night of the event. So for months I tried to get Hogan to re-create to the best of his recollection what he wrote down.”
Hehir interviewed Hogan for the movie in April of last year. He said he finally got the pages from Hogan in the middle of December on the final day they could possibly get it in the movie before handing a finished version over to HBO.
“When we got it you could feel your heart beat opening the envelope,” Hehir said. “I told Hogan even if he could write a few lines, we could shoot them really tight. He ended up writing all those pages you see in the shot – two single-spaced pages. And he wrote it as if he was in the moment, so if you freeze-frame it, you can see it says something like, ‘Don’t let Andre see this.'”
“Any of us could have written those pages and no one would know whose handwriting it was,” Hehir continued. “But I just thought it would be a cool wink to people who do know this world that they would recognize Hogan’s handwriting.”
Why isn’t the famous “Samuel Beckett drove Andre to school” story in the movie?
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“My crew would laugh if they heard you ask me this question because they know it makes me ill,” Hehir said with a laugh.
One of the most popular stories about Andre the Giant is that when he was 12 years old he was so big he couldn’t fit on the school bus, but it so happened that the playwright Samuel Beckett lived down the road from him. Andre’s father helped build Beckett’s house. So the “Waiting for Godot” author would pick up Andre with his flatbed truck every morning and drop him off at school.
Turns out none of it is true.
While Hehir was in Moliens, he asked one of Andre’s brothers about the Beckett story.
“Beckett’s house is a few hundred yards down the road from Andre’s childhood home, that is true,” he said. “The reality is there was no bus to school in that town. There was a 2-kilometer walk from Andre’s house into the center of town, where the schoolhouse was, and all the kids in the village took that walk to and from school every day. Andre’s father had no hand in helping to build Samuel Beckett’s house. Beckett had a truck, and if he passed the kids, he would stop and let them hop into the flatbed of his truck and he would drive them to or from school. But it wasn’t singular to Andre, and he had no special relationship with Andre any more than he did with any other child in that area. Andre’s brother laughed at us when we told him what the legend is.”
Why didn’t Hehir debunk it in his movie?
“Do I want to bring you down this story only to pull the rug from under you?” he said. “I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.”