Uncle Drew? It features Kyrie Irving’s dream cast. The Boston Celtics All-Star was thrilled to work alongside, and play with and against, some of his hoops heroes. “Reggie Miller, Lisa Leslie, Shaq and C. Webb … those four legends, they embody different historical moments in the league,” Irving told The Undefeated. “They’ve evolved in the game … now they analyze the game for a living.” And Nate Robinson, one of the best 6-foot-and-under NBA players to ever do it, is still lighting up the court. “I thought that would be great, for audiences to see their personalities. … They really just spoke to me — it made sense.” It made sense to the ballers turned actors as well. We talk.
What made you say yes to the idea of Uncle Drew?
Lisa Leslie: It was right up my alley. I wanted to play a character other than myself. And this is a great platform … because there was basketball involved. Clearly I could do that! And then there’s a great cast. We’ve had so much fun — really even more, off camera. But … I’m positive the fans will love it.
Reggie Miller: It gave me a chance to be back on the bus and the airplane or in the locker room hanging with teammates. It’s been a while — almost 12 years since I retired. And even though I’m on a new team with TNT and Turner, and we have our broadcast teams and stuff, this is different because I got to lace up the shoes again and fire up some jumpers. [Plus] we all wish we could … be camouflaged and go to the park and perform like how Kyrie performs. So to be a part of it, it was fun.
Nate Robinson: Why not?! I’m a movie guy. I enjoy watching all movies, from kids movies to chick flicks to dramas to action to comedy. You name it, I watched it. So for me to be a part of a movie, to cross that off my bucket list, man … God has been way too good, and I appreciate all the blessings. Sometimes you just got to thank him and let him know. Like, bro, I appreciate this.
You poke fun at your real-life personas in the film — Shaq says, “Pass the ball, Kobe” at one point, and Chris Webber makes a timeout joke. Were those written in or were you able to ad-lib??
Leslie: Both! Working with Charles Stone III was great. He’s an amazing director, very kind and welcoming to all of us. He allowed us the freedom to ad-lib [and to speak up] if there were times where we thought, ‘Hey, that’s not realistic.’
Miller: Our fearless director, Charles, allowed us that freedom to make things a little bit more organic. You’ve got to remember, when you’re playing in the Rucker, things have to fly off the cuff. If you make it too scripted, true fans, and people who know the Rucker, they’re going to … be like, ‘It wouldn’t happen like that …’ Especially the basketball scenes. We had to make those very authentic. Things have to move at a rapid pace. So when you see Kyrie dancing with the ball and going crazy … and then crawl, that really happened. He really was trying to guard him, and Kyrie really was going at him! We tried to make the true fans of not only pickup basketball but fans of the Rucker … we wanted them to be like, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly how it goes down.’
Robinson: Shaq was funny! He was the one saying all the ad-libs. We were just feeding off each other. And that’s the cool part about it — you’ve got to be able to laugh through some of the things that happened in your life that may not have been as positive. Like when Chris called a timeout, and we bring it back up. As old men, it’s gonna be talked about forever. It just shows how we’ve evolved and move forward. Sometimes you gotta laugh through some of your mistakes sometimes instead of crying.
How did you prepare to play an older baller? What did you do to get ready?
Leslie: Mostly I tried to channel my grandma. My grandma [is] a very feisty church lady, so that was kind of easy. And then understanding what it is to be a wife that loved her husband, I’m already in that situation, so that was easy to tap into! And then on the basketball court, I think it was just having a whole bodysuit on with the boobs and the butt and hips. Moving as [my character] eventually became very comfortable.
Miller: I channeled my inner Saul Miller Sr. Just the way my dad … his mannerisms, the way he talks now and walks. Lights was supposed to be the cool, older uncle that you have in your family who thinks he’s young, wants to be young. Dresses somewhat young in the linen shorts and the high white socks and the fedoras. The cane … the gold tooth. He thinks he’s cool, and he tries to talk cool. I’m trying to channel all those people and mix them into one.
Robinson: I prepared myself by watching the movie Life — watching Eddie Murphy and them guys and being old, how they move, how they act, how they talked, and how they got their walk on. I was practicing at home every chance I got. Had some of my kids read the lines and I was going back and forth reading my lines, a couple lines that I had. It was just fun, man. It was just an opportunity to be great again.
And you guys were out there playing real basketball. That wasn’t acting, right?
Leslie: You can’t get real basketball players to stand on a court with a ball and not shoot it, not trying to block each other’s shot, not play one-on-one! We played horse, we did everything, half-court shots. [My character] Betty Lou made the most buckets! It’s on film. They got to cut all that out because it wasn’t written in the script for Betty Lou to score like that, though!
Miller: We told the extras: ‘Go at us. Go hard at us, because it’ll make it more real. Bring out the juices in us.’ A little trash back to us, and it’ll translate … as natural. Once they started trash-talking us: ‘I remember old Reg. This ain’t the Reg I used to see shooting 3s …!’ That kind of got us going a little bit. Once someone tried to bump Shaq, he’s like, ‘Who in the hell’s in their right mind is going to try to bump a 350-pound, 7-foot-2-inch man?’ I was like, ‘Y’all are asking for your death certificate by doing that.’ That kind of all got us going and banded us together.
Robinson: Me and Kyrie were playing our stunt doubles. Playing 2-on-2, getting buckets, having fun. It was just fun being a part of basketball even if it’s not with the refs and 5-on-5 on TV. That’s some of the funnest basketball, when it’s not recorded, it doesn’t make Instagram or social media or for the world to see. It’s those moments … in the parking lot, at the park with your kid, as a kid.
Out of every real-life athlete in Uncle Drew,who could actually be that dope old-timer on the court, balling in their 70s and 80s?
Leslie: Hands down, Nate Robinson! Nate is the most fit player, he’s small, compact, he didn’t have any fat on his body. … He’s definitely the one who will be able to still touch the rim and probably dunk on his kids at 70.
Miller: Nate Robinson. I don’t know if you follow him on Instagram, but dude’s a workout machine, so he’s going to be doing that until he’s well into his late 60s. I can see Nate always playing pickup basketball. Not necessarily the Rucker, but going anywhere to any park challenging younger guys. That’s just his nature. He’s always had that short guy’s mentality — that he was always the underdog. Nate will always be able to ball.
Robinson: Kyrie because he loves the game. I mean, for sure, me as well, because I know how I’m gonna be with my kids, [and] being grandpa one day. I’m gonna … let them know grandpa used to do this back in the day. I can go back and show them that I won the dunk contest three times, been in the movie with all the greats. My grandkids are not gonna believe that their grandfather was this cool.