The fall of seven-time Tour de France champion and charity founder Lance Armstrong is well documented. The cyclist was stripped of his titles in 2012 after he was discovered to have taken performance-enhancing drugs ahead of all of his victories.
But the actor who plays the disgraced athlete in anew film, The Program, thinks Armstrong won those races fair and square – because when it came to drug use the playing field was level.
“I think he did win – I do!” actor Ben Foster (who plays Armstrong in the Stephen Frears-directed biopic) told RadioTimes.com. “Some people will say he didn’t win, he stole, he doped, he lied.
“My feeling is that, statistically, you have to go down 18 riders to find one clean rider. So this is a culture of dope – he just did it better. That’s the competition.”
Foster in The Program, left; Lance Armstrong, right
Foster went on to compare Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs to other techniques used by athletes to give them an edge, including 18-time Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps.
“I mean, Phelps was sleeping in the oxygen tents, where it reduces your oxygen so you create more of it,” Foster said. “People train at altitude, for this reason. Everybody’s looking for an edge.”
“The line of it – there’s always gonna be doping, there’s always gonna be enhancement. How it’s regulated is the most interesting to me. There’s too much money at stake. And companies and endorsements are tied up with making sure that their races and games are exciting.”
“Hopefully people who leave the theatre will be struck with a question rather than an answer, which is – what would you do if you could raise half a billion dollars in cancer research and awareness, but you also had to lie in a culture of lying? Would you lie to protect that which you built, which is saving lives? I pose that question. It keeps me up sometimes at night.”
Foster has more insight than most into Armstrong’s choice – in the course of his research for playing the controversial figure, the actor admits he took some of the same performance-enhancing drugs as the cyclist, albeit in more controlled conditions. So how did he find the experience?
“The drugs work, that’s why people do them,” Foster said. “I did it in a very contained way, with Doctor’s supervision, and privately, where nobody on set knew about it.”
However, the actor was keen to stress that the research wasn’t all about seeing Armstrong’s point of view – rather, it was about immersing himself in the culture of doping.
Foster in The Program
“It’s not about ‘I’ve got to become Lance Armstrong,’” Foster explained. “It’s ‘I’ve gotta know about this part of the world.’
“It’s akin to being a food critic, and not eating the food. I’m not saying if you’re playing a meth addict you’re gonna go do meth, or if you’re playing a serial killer you go out and kill people.
“But for me, in a safe, legal way… creating a program for myself informed the world in a physical way that I’d repeat. I don’t recommend it, but I’d repeat it.”
The Program is in cinemas now