Athletes bring an unparalleled level of enthusiasm to their line of work, so it’s no surprise that energy translated to the big screen as current and former professional basketball players took on new roles as actors in “Uncle Drew.”
What started as a series of Pepsi commercials is now a feature film about a desperate basketball coach who embarks on a road trip to wrangle and reunite a group of septuagenarian past players to enter, and hopefully win, the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem.
“It’s about taking risks and doing what your heart compels you to do,” director Charles Stone III told Variety at the “Uncle Drew” premiere in New York City on Tuesday.
Also in attendance were athletes and actors Kyrie Irving, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie.
For the non-athletes involved in “Uncle Drew,” it was both rewarding and humbling to team up with these NBA and WNBA legends.
“I got the chance to work with people I look up to,” star Lil Rel Howery said. “It was surreal. To see them come into our world was great.”
Howery’s sentiments populated the carpet as the rest of the cast and crew expressed how much it meant to collaborate with these professional athletes to create what they believe will be a summer hit.
“I love basketball and where I’ve gotten because of the sport,” screenwriter Jay Longino said. “ For me, it’s in movies, but [these athletes are] where they are today because of [playing] ball, and that’s kind of an amazing thing.”
“You would think these guys are only competitive on the court, but they have pride in all of their work,” J.B. Smoove, who also stars in the film, said. “They show up on time. They work hard, and they are committed to their characters.”
On set, once the cast was decked out in makeup and prosthetics that took upwards of three hours to apply, the lines blurred between seasoned actors and first-timers.
“Everyone was just excited to play. It was cool because it was a combination of basketball players and stand-up comedians and actors,” Stone III said. “It was just love on set, and it’s going to show when you see the movie.”
“Uncle Drew” will hit theaters June 29.