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“Man in the Arena: Tom Brady” Debuts Today on ESPN+

Director Gotham Chopra on his favorite episode, what he learned about Brady he did not know, and the importance of the companion podcast

Episode 1 of the new ESPN+ series Man in the Arena: Tom Brady is now available to watch on the service. The series, directed by Religion of Sports’ Gotham Chopra, features Brady and other notable figures deconstructing the milestones of his legendary NFL career. New episodes will post weekly on ESPN+ on Tuesdays.

Front Row recently caught up with Chopra, who has previously worked with Brady on the documentary series Tom vs.Time and as co-founders of the sports media company Religion of Sports, to talk about the project.

What makes Man in the Arena: Tom Brady a must-see documentary?
Whether or not you’re a fan of Tom Brady, the [New England] Patriots, or even the NFL, Tom Brady has probably been a part of your life because of his longevity, his success, and his fame. His career across the past two decades and unprecedented success has elevated him to almost iconoclast status and I believe his evolution as an athlete and as a man is really a looking glass for many of us and our lives across the same time.

. . I think I learned a lot about the foundation Tom built early in his career that really provided the platform for his amazing success later. – Gotham Chopra

You’ve worked with Brady in the past. What did you uncover in the making of Man in the Arena: Tom Brady that you didn’t know?
When I worked with Tom on our previous project, we were really focused on the present moment – the 2017 season. Man in the Arena is really a look back. It’s a reflection piece, so I think I learned a lot about the foundation Tom built early in his career that really provided the platform for his amazing success later. And really it was less about the football and more about larger life lessons that I think encoded all of that latter success.

What’s the significance of the title?
“The man in the arena” was invoked in a famous speech by Teddy Roosevelt, the former President of the United States. It’s about men and women who dare greatly, who aren’t deterred by critics or cynics and boldly push boundaries and to achieve what others wouldn’t dare. More that Tom’s 10 Super Bowl appearances, his seven triumphs, I think it’s his defiance of norms and those that say he can’t keep doing it that really invokes the idea of the “man in the arena.” It’s sort of the perfect title, if I don’t say so myself.

Gotham Chopra and Tom Brady (ESPN Films)

Without spoiling much, which part of the documentary is your favorite and why?
It’s really hard to say. And it’s truly ironic to say this, but it may be Episode 4, the story of the 18-1 season. It’s an amazing story not just because of Tom and his teammates’ historic run, but also because my good friend (and co-founder of Religion of Sports) [former New York Giant and current ABC Good Morning America host] Michael Strahan is in it and he’s amazing.

It’s a mythic story, of course – truly David versus Goliath. Of course, I’m a diehard Patriots fan and was rooting for Goliath, so that was a really tough Super Bowl to endure … but it was an amazing period of my life, becoming a father, really growing as a man, etc. And I think I also learned a lot – about striving for greatness, pushing yourself to the limit, and also resilience. A lot of powerful ideas in that story.

What’s the most important part of telling a documentary? Is it getting as many perspectives as possible?
It’s listening. And being willing to go where the story wants to go, or the characters want to take you. We call these “non-scripted” for a reason. Often we start with one idea and plan, and we end up somewhere radically different. I think that openness is exciting and inspiring, and I really enjoy the process of discovering the real soul of a story.

If the video series is really rooted in Tom’s POV, I’d say the podcast is the opposite – largely from the POV of the fan or the countless people who have been impacted by some way by Tom Brady. – Chopra

What else do you want to tell potential Man in the Arena: Tom Brady viewers?
We’re producing a companion podcast along with the video series, which I am equally excited about. If the video series is really rooted in Tom’s POV, I’d say the podcast is the opposite – largely from the POV of the fan or the countless people who have been impacted by some way by Tom Brady. And the larger themes and ideas around success and failure, aging, and time that his football career has shown a light on. Together, I think we have a pretty great universe of storytelling going on, and I can’t wait for people to check it out.

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