Five-time NBA All-Star and champion Kyrie Irving can now add actor to his resume as he debuts in his first feature film “Uncle Drew,” a movie that tackles relationships, family and forgiveness all for the love of the game of basketball.
“To be able to have the opportunity to play the lead actor with an incredible cast has been an awesome opportunity that I’ve been able to take full advantage of,” Irving remarked. “It is something I’ve dreamt of.”
The geriatric character Uncle Drew was adopted by Irving in a 2012 Pepsi Super Bowl promotion. The then 19-year-old who had just made his way to the NBA, played an older white-haired gentleman who was highly skilled in basketball and dominated nearly any person who challenged him. That commercial then morphed into a full blown web series that followed his character.
“I got a chance to see the evolution of Uncle Drew as a Pepsi short in commercials and it just grew to something of a film now,” said Irving.
From a web series to the big screen, the film “Uncle Drew” is a comedic adventure that follows the journey of Irving as he reunites with his former senior teammates including Preacher (Chris Webber), Lights (Reggie Miller), Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), Boots (Nate Robinson), and Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie).
“Being in the makeup chair for three and a half hours in the trailer with Shaq and Nate and Kyrie and the stories being swapped and the laughs behind the scenes are a little bit more gratifying than actually doing the hard work of acting and performing,” commented five-time NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller.
Both Miller and Irving emphasized how the convergence of the old school legends and new age players made for great conversations during filming.
“It was awesome to build those relationships with those legends,” Irving said. “They’ve done an unbelievable job of marketing themselves outside of the game once they left. I thought it really made sense to have those type of statured and accomplished people to be a part of an amazing movie.”
Written by Jay Longino and directed by Charles Stone III, the film is set in Harlem, New York. The character Dax, played by comedian Lil Rel Howery, recruits Uncle Drew to play for his team in the Rucker Classic streetball tournament with a $100,000 reward. Nick Kroll who plays Mookie as Dax’s sworn enemy poaches Casper, played by Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon, from Dax’s team.
“[Aaron] brought a youthful exuberance to the film,” 26-year-old Irving said. Gordon and Irving were the only two active NBA players cast in the film. It was just a year ago that Irving had to step away from acting to take a phone call that would change his reality.
“What people don’t know is when we were on set filming is when we got the phone call that he was being traded from Cleveland to Boston,” Miller recounted. “We’re all on this cramped orange bus getting ready to do a scene and all of our phone’s buzz and we look and he’s right in front of us.”
That is when the cast first learned that Irving had been traded to the Boston Celtics. Despite the abrupt change in his basketball career, Irving was steadfast in ensuring the success of “Uncle Drew.”
“The last day was pretty difficult,” he said. “It was about an 18 to 19 hour shoot day. It was intense. I was about to leave to go to Boston and do my press conference.”
Irving went on to have a productive first year in Boston before he sustained a knee injury that would force him to miss the Eastern Conference Finals. Not only did he make a transition on the court, but he pursued another goal beyond acting which was to release his first musical single. The R&B song titled “Ridiculous,” is featured on the “Uncle Drew” soundtrack.
“It’s kind of ridiculous, huh?” Irving laughed. “I’m really developing my business perspective, interests, and passions figuring out how do I capture my authenticity as well as others. I think that there are incredible platforms out there for diversity to really come into play and I really want to showcase that.”
Rest assure, this is the extent of Irving’s musical career though potentially just the beginning for Kyrie the actor. Irving confirmed that he is working this offseason to sharpen his tools being “an assassin on the court.”
Uncle Drew arrives in theaters on Friday, June 29, 2018.