SportsPulse: The former NBA point guard had a blast filming with costars Kyrie Irving, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller and others.
USA TODAY Sports
NBA star Kyrie Irving and screenwriter Jay Longino had the reaction most everyone else did when approached with the idea of creating a movie based off commercials and Internet shorts selling a soft drink.
“When it came to me, I was like ‘Wow.’ You guys aren’t serious,” said Irving, the star of Uncle Drew, the movie that is set for nationwide release on Friday.
“My initial answer was no,” Longino said. “But (movie producer) Marty Bowen said, ‘You’re an idiot. You’re wrong, and you’ll realize that in 24 hours and you’ll call me back and say you want to do it.’ He was right. I called him back the next day and said, ‘I actually think I can crack this.’
“We just honed on the theme of you don’t stop playing basketball because you get old, you get old because you stop playing basketball. The narrative fell into place after that.”
Uncle Drew, played by Irving in old-man costume and makeup, started as a commercial for Pepsi products, and the premise is that Uncle Drew goes back to the basketball court and schools the youngsters with his basketball skills and wisdom.
That they turned it into a movie deserves an award.
The movie focuses on Dax (played by Lil Rel Howery) and his desire to win the pick-up tournament at famed Rucker Park. After falling short in a previous tournament, he seeks out Uncle Drew and Drew’s older friends to return the court one last time.
Chris Webber, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie, Tiffany Haddish, Erica Ash, Nick Kroll, Mike Epps and J.B. Smoove are also in the movie.
“It’s just a unique opportunity that I’ve taken full advantage of to add actor to my resume and with the hope that it has great reception,” Irving said. “It’s an incredible family movie with an incredible story and I’m looking forward to everyone seeing it. I’ve always believed in paying homage to the older generations.”
It was Irving’s first foray into acting in a movie, and he took the role seriously.
“I was trying to come in every single day remembering lines to where I didn’t have to be ‘Line, please,” ’ Irving said. “I did not want to be that person.”
Irving enjoyed the entire experience.
“Uncle Drew has given me inspiration in terms of me being able to convey my old soul through who he is and what he embodies as a character,” he said.
But it will be a while before he takes on another acting role. The movie was shot in the summer of 2017, and Irving was on set when he learned Cleveland traded him to Boston.
“I have a pretty good understanding of things I want to get better at in the summer time. That all went out the window with this movie,” Irving said. “I had to figure out how to be a basketball player and actor and figure out how to balance the two.”
“My strength and conditioning coach said, ‘Next movie you’re doing, you’re going be retired.’ ”
Longino was the right person to write the script. He played Division III basketball at Colorado College from 1992-96 and once scored 39 points in a game, chucking 12 three-pointers. He had a brief stints playing professionally in Mexico and in the USBL.
He went to Los Angeles as a screenwriter admiring Ron Shelton, who wrote White Men Can’t Jump, Bull Durham, Tin Cup and Blue Chips.
“I love sports movies,” Longino said. “That’s what I grew up on. When I first moved to L.A., I wanted to be Ron Shelton. That was what I wanted to do.”
Longino said people will be surprised at the acting and the story.
“It’s a movie the whole family will enjoy and the message for kids: you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” Longino said. “That’s what the movie is really all about, and that message will resonate with kids and athletes. More than anything, a lot of people will say ‘I get it.’”
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