Did Jake Paul save boxing, or did boxing save Jake Paul?
That’s one question posed in the latest installment of Maclain and Chapman Way’s popular Netflix sports anthology docuseries Untold, which follows polarizing figure Jake Paul on his journey from YouTuber to Disney Channel star to persona-non-grata to unexpected boxing sensation.
We spoke with Andrew Renzi, director of Untold: Jake Paul the Problem Child, about what it was like working with the internet icon, how he navigated Paul’s allegations of physical abuse against his father (who denies the allegations), and what surprised him the most about the YouTuber.
But before we get to the Q&A, first, here’s a little background about Jake Paul.
Who Is Jake Paul?
He grew up in Westlake, Ohio, and rose to internet stardom alongside his older brother, Logan Paul, when they started posting short videos on the now-defunct social media app Vine in 2013.
Jake launched his YouTube channel a year later, where he has amassed over 20 million subscribers by posting hip-hop music videos, pranks, and other shenanigans that drove his former neighbors in Hollywood up the wall, like setting furniture on fire in an empty swimming pool in 2016.
That stunt got him fired from his role as Dirk Mann on the Disney channel show Bizaardvark, he told The Hollywood Reporter.
A few years later, Paul began to hit somewhat of a wall in terms of his internet fame as he and his brother drew more and more criticism for over-the-top content — most notably, Logan Paul’s infamous 2017 YouTube vlog that showed a dead body inside Japan’s Aokigahara forest.
In 2018, Jake Paul started dipping his toes into the boxing world when he and Logan agreed to an amateur match with English YouTuber KSI and his younger brother Deji Olatunji. To many people’s surprise, Jake Paul won. The following year, he fought his first professional boxing match and has been going ever since.
That’s where Untold: Jake Paul the Problem Child picks up.
Read our Q&A with Jake Paul the Problem Child directed by Andrew Renzi below. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity).
Q&A With Director Andrew Renzi
MovieMaker: What was your opinion of Jake Paul going in, and did that change throughout the making of this documentary?
Andrew Renzi: I knew who he was, and he was a provocateur. I wasn’t a YouTube generation person, but I am a huge boxing fan. So I went knowing what it was that he was trying to do with wild skepticism, but very curious about how a guy like this could be so impactful so quickly. This is a kid that was maybe one of the first people truly hated on the internet. That’s kind of neat. That’s amazing. Like, what an interesting person to exist, you know? And Logan, his brother — same thing. They were really hated. So that was how I went into it, knowing that, wow, this kid might be perfect for boxing. because he’s a villain. He embraces the villain. He’s a promoter. But is he a fighter? That was the crazy part.
MM: What was your first impression when you met him? Were you surprised by him in any way?
AR: I genuinely wish he was sitting next to me when you ask this, because, again, I didn’t know a lot about him except for sort of public persona. Two of my best friends used to live next door to his horrible house, and so they thought the was the devil. They don’t know him, but he terrorized that neighborhood. I’ve worked with a lot of doc subjects. Is he going to be the kind of person I can’t even really interact with because it’s all going to just sort of be a schtick? Couldn’t have been farther from the truth. And I think probably a lot of that has to do with what he had to eat. Like, he went through it. He had to eat a lot. He was told that he was absolutely messing up. He was Public Enemy Number One. I think he got really humble. He started boxing. So I do think maybe his demeanor changed a bit.
But I really, really do have to say that I appreciated, as I went through this journey, that there’s a sensitive younger brother there that just wants to be loved and succeed for his older brother and for his family. I was surprised. I thought that this was the guy that just does it for himself. But it was really kind of special to see that. He found who he was in this and he throws it all on the line. I was actually really impressed by him and really surprised by the ability to have a conversation together that made me feel as though I was making a documentary that I would be proud of.
MM: Did Jake Paul have any creative control over this documentary?
MM: Did you find it easy to get along with him?
AR: Yes and no, but I think that’s what’s great. I mean, the dude’s got an ego, but rightfully so. It’s crazy what this guy does. He decided that he would be a promoter and a fighter and fight world champion people in the ring — but also be Don King at the same time and have 20 people filming him at all times. Everything about his life is so stressful. I think that there’s inevitably going to be some conflict, but he handles it really well. I always joked with him that I would have loved it if there was a moment when he jumped across the camera and tried to punch me. That would have been a great moment for the doc, but he never got there. I never got him that upset. He was a pretty good sport about stuff.
MM: How did you navigate the part in the documentary when Jake comes forward with allegations that his father physically abused him as a child?
AR: The best way for me to describe that is to sort of semi-personalize it, because when we got to know each other — I have an older brother, and I sense that syndrome, that thing that he and his older brother have, that competitive thing. Jake just wants to impress him. Logan can be a little bit of a bully or whatever you want to call it, like, ‘I’m the older brother.’ And you could tell that as a result, Jake’s more sensitive. Much more sensitive. So first of all, I asked him about his dad. And you could just see that there was something that was there. I grew up with a dad that was Tony Soprano-size with the temper of a crazy Italian man. So I kind of like sensed that, okay, there’s probably more here. Let’s talk about it. And he was willing.
Quite frankly, when I did his dad’s interview — he’ll probably hear this and he’ll probably be like, ‘I hate you for saying this’ — but when I did his interview, I didn’t care. I’m not asking him to say what it is that he’s saying. But the things that he was saying, in my opinion, just colored in every single thing that these kids were talking about. I let them tell their truth. You know what I mean? Greg says, ‘I never laid a handle on them,’ and in the same sentence, he says, if an old lady’s here and people are gonna slap her around, wouldn’t you rather have me in the room? I don’t really need to try to get into a justification of their family dynamics, because I kind of understand what this is. I think that it was important for [Jake] to be able to talk about it, and also kind of an interesting sort of thematic thing. Maybe that’s why he was a Disney star two years ago that can beat up Tyron Woodley.
MM: Were you surprised to find out that Jake is actually a serious, skilled boxer?
AR: 100%. Without a shred of doubt. I walked into that gym on day one in Puerto Rico. He was training. I would see how hard he would work, flipping the tires, sweating. He was able to push his body to a degree that I’ve just never seen in somebody who doesn’t have to. It was really impressive. There was a moment when he sparred with a world-champion boxer just for practice. I had the camera on [the world-champion’s] side, and he came over to me and he goes, ‘Man, this kid is a boxer. He can punch.’
MM: That brings me to my next question. There’s a lot of talk about Jake Paul bringing life back to boxing, which some considered to be a sport on the wane. Do you think Jake Paul saved boxing, or did boxing save Jake Paul?
AR: Damn, he’s not gonna like my answer on this one. But that’s okay. I think that Jake Paul legitimately has saved the current state of boxing. Yes, I do. I think that boxing was a dying sport. Jake Paul comes along, and not only is he getting big fights with big fighters, but he’s getting people like Amanda Serrano a million-dollar paycheck — people that deserve it. He hasn’t saved it, but he is [in the process of] saving boxing. But boxing saving Jake Paul’s life? For me, I don’t believe it. I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him. It’s great. But I do think it was strategic as well.
I think that Jake is a smart guy, and Jake was like, ‘I am running into a really big problem out here in L.A. Like, my life is falling apart. I’ve made mistakes. I’m burning things to the ground. What do I do next?’ And I know that there was, like, a whiteboard of possibilities. I just don’t understand how boxing made it on that whiteboard. That’s the thing that I don’t get. It wasn’t as though he walked into a gym and then suddenly he was just like, ‘Wow, this is gonna save my life.’ He always likes to say that he’s going to be more important outside the ring than inside the ring, so I’m sure he knows that eventually, he’s going to lose and not fight anymore. So I think for that reason, it’s probably a little bit more like a calculated but wonderful decision for the sport.
MM: My last question for you is, do you feel that Jake Paul is misunderstood, and if so, what did you want this documentary to show audiences that they might not have known about him?
AR: At the end of the day, I did feel as though I was making a portrait of a guy who is sensitive, who cares about people, who maybe has made some mistakes but is genuinely trying to reform something in order to make things better. Not to mention, he’s cool — like, he actually was a cool guy.
I’m not gonna sit here and be like, ‘Everybody, please stop hating Jake Paul.’ Like, no, not the point. But I do think it’s really wonderful to see that people are responding like, ‘I didn’t know anything about this guy, and I actually like this guy.’ And I think he deserves it. I really do.
Untold: Jake Paul the Problem Child is now streaming on Netflix.
Main Image: Jake Paul pictured in Untold: Jake Paul the Problem Child