'Uncle Drew' Stars Talk Acting With Athletes

Chris Webber and Kyrie Irving at Uncle Drew NY Premiere - Getty - H Split 2018
Jamie McCarthy/Getty

Chris Webber, J.B. Smoove and director Charles Stone III reveal how the basketball players' competitiveness and teamwork fueled their onscreen performances.

The new basketball film Uncle Drew features NBA star Kyrie Irving reprising the titular role he debuted in a series of Pepsi ads.

But while Irving is reviving the character of an elderly hoops player, the Lionsgate film marks his first role on the big screen.

Still the Celtics point guard took advantage of the crash course in creating Hollywood content.

"It was a learning experience: How to walk on a set, remember your lines, prepare every single day, how to deliver a scene, a lot of newness," Irving told The Hollywood Reporter at the Uncle Drew premiere in New York this week. "I took it head-on and enjoyed it 100 percent."

Irving is just one of multiple athletes who, with the help of prosthetics, form a geriatric all-star team. The movie also stars Shaquille O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie, all made up to look like senior citizens.

While O'Neal has multiple acting credits to his name (Kazaam, Blue Chips), a number of the other athletes, like Irving, didn't have much experience in front of the camera before they found themselves in scenes with Hollywood stars like Lil Rel Howery, Nick Kroll, Tiffany Haddish and J.B. Smoove. Still, Smoove, co-star Erica Ash and director Charles Stone III all praised the pro athletes for using their competitiveness, teamwork and industriousness to deliver winning performances.

"A lot of people would only think they have passion and competitiveness on the court but they take that to acting," Smoove said of his NBA colleagues. "They love to work. They love to laugh, love to make sure the director gets what he needs out of the scene, and it's a team, another version of a team."

Stone added, "I've worked with actors/performers who had limited classical training. For me, it's a wonderful challenge to find a way for them to find the emotional tools to play the characters, so I enjoy the process and because they're athletes there's already a built-in concept of training of having to put in the hours to have to hone your craft, so they understood that in general because that's what you have to do as athletes. So it was really just a matter of them applying that."

And Ash offered extra praise for the additional feat of playing basketball in prosthetics.

"They're hot as heck," the actress explained of the makeup. "So just sitting down in prosthetics is like being in a torture chamber. These guys were going up and down the basketball court, doing tricks, playing, for like hours and hours in the hot sun in prosthetics."

Even Webber acknowledged that despite sometimes goofing around, he and his fellow pro athletes wanted to deliver the best performance.

"For the director, I think it was like a professor teaching kindergarten, because we were always cracking up and acting a fool," he said. "But for me, it was great because we're competitive, we work hard together and we build each other up. It was a lot of vulnerability but not much embarrassment because you know the guys and we all want each other to do well so we'll look better."

Irving is making his film debut in front of the camera with Uncle Drew but with fellow NBA stars like LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant launching their own production companies, Irving said he, too, would be interested in such behind-the-camera endeavors.

"Anything around creating any type of content, whether it's on social issues and taking a stance I believe in and also socially empowering the people around me," Irving said. "It's what I'm really about."

Webber — who himself has served as an executive producer on movies like Unexpected, Digging for Fire and the documentary Charm City — offered some advice for up-and-coming athletes looking to get involved on the production side.

"When you produce, stick to the story. Million-dollar explosions really don't make you money. Work with professionals, and just work hard," Webber said. "Treat it like your rookie season so you'll learn from all of those people in the business."