TCA press tour: Muhammad Ali fights again in HBO Supreme Court film

TCA press tour: Muhammad Ali fights again in HBO Supreme Court film
Muhammad Ali, center, and his attorney Hayden Covington, right, wait for the elevator to take them up to the federal court in Houston, Texas, where Ali was being charged with refusing to be inducted into the armed services. (Ed Kolenovsky / Associated Press)

Muhammad Ali's most fierce and important fight might have been outside the ring.

HBO's upcoming film "Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight" looks at the legal battle that ensued when the boxer refused to serve in the Vietnam War, a move that also saw him stripped of his heavyweight title.

The film, directed by Stephen Frears ("The Queen"), looks at the famed boxer's Supreme Court battle from the perspective of the justices who ruled on the case. The cast includes Frank Langella, Christopher Plummer, Barry Levinson, Ed Begley Jr. and Danny Glover.

Ali is seen only in clips. Asked why no one was cast as the boxer, Frears indicated that it would have been too difficult to find a performer. "It would have been a distraction," he said.

When Ali was drafted into the military at the height of his boxing career, he declared himself a conscientious objector, refusing to go to war on religious grounds.

The film contains several archival clips of Ali's interviews and appearances during the turbulent period, including a 1970 clip from "The Ed Sullivan Show" where he performs a scene from "Big Time Buck White," a Broadway musical in which he starred. Wearing a beard and large Afro wig, Ali and the cast performed the number "We Came in Chains."

But the majority of the film revolves around the fight among the justices ruling on the case, particularly the clash between Chief Justice Warren Burger (Langella) and Justice John Harlan (Plummer).

Also figuring into the film is Kevin Connolly, Harlan's clerk, played in the film by Benjamin Walker. The character is a fictional composite of two clerks.