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UNCLE DREW

Production Information (Cont'd)
UNCLE DREW'S AMAZING, INVINCIBLE, GERIATRIC TEAM

Much as Uncle Drew sets out to find his old teammates, so too did the filmmakers of UNCLE DREW; they searched for real life players who could portray them authentically. The search brought thrilling results. Says Fischer: "We were fortunate to get either current or future Hall of Famers across the board which is incredible, and on top of that to find players with real acting chops. To see these NBA legends find their ways into such fun characters and truly bring them to life was a joy all its own."

The first NBA player to sign onto Uncle Drew's hoops crew was himself an outsized legend: 7' 1", four-time NBA champion and Basketball Hall of Famer, Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal had a blast playing the aptly named Big Fella, a former great famed for his defense but not his shot, and now a Kung Fu instructor harboring a grudge against Uncle Drew.

Says Stone: "Big Fella is the giant who brings power to the team, he's the anchor and that connects so well to who Shaquille is, since he is himself this great former player but also a whimsical giant and a very charming ham. In the beginning Big Fella seems full of anger but then he shows us a guy who he can break dance and has a heart as gigantic as he is."

The fact that O'Neal is also an experienced screen and television actor with extensive experience made him even more unbeatable as a cast member for UNCLE DREW. "They called me right away," recalls O'Neal. "They needed a big guy and there's nobody bigger than the Shaqster. So for me, it's movie number 20."

O'Neal has taken on a diverse range of roles, but he understood Big Fella on a personal level. "Big Fella is a very conscious, focused individual-but also one with a grudge. Uncle Drew did something to upset him long ago, and Big Fella has not forgotten. Yet, he's also understanding and caring, and he's a team player who will do whatever is necessary for the team to win," he describes.

In fact, O'Neal was so close to the character that "a large part of Big Fella's humor was dictated by Shaq," says Longino. "Shaq has been into Kung-Fu all his life, and he even used to do karate poses after he made baskets. So, Shaq influenced who Big Fella is as a person. The idea to put him in a yellow gi like Kill Bill came from Charles. It's such a funny look and Shaq is so big, we thought it would be even funnier to see a guy that size teaching little kids."

Despite having to spend 3 hours daily in the makeup chair, O'Neal got a big kick out of his altered look. "I'm just glad they gave me hair," he quips. "I don't really have hair. But as Big Fella, I have a nice little afro with the gray. If I had hair, I'd probably have it just like that."

Perhaps most of all what O'Neal loved about UNCLE DREW was the camaraderie on set with his fellow players, echoing the story on screen. "We've all known each other for a long time and just appreciated the opportunity to be involved in a film like this," he says.

"With Kyrie at the point, Nate at the off-guard, Reggie at the small forward, Chris as the power forward and me at the center, that's a helluva team right there. And there were no egos involved. We all just came to work every day wanting to be part of something that was going to bring joy to people."

Next to be recruited was five-time NBA All-Star, Basketball Hall of Famer and Olympic Gold medalist Reggie Miller. Miller portrays Wilbur "Lights" Wallace, who in his prime could hit the basket from anywhere at any time-and he still believes he can even though he's currently so sight-impaired he couldn't hit the ocean from a boat. "Lights, in his heyday, was one of the greatest gunslinger shooters of his time," describes Miller. "As father time caught up to him, his eyesight went, but he refuses to admit it. Everyone around him knows that he's legally blind, but in his mind he thinks he's making every shot."

As a fierce competitor in real life, Miller identified with Lights' unwavering self-belief. "People know I'm a very competitive person," points out Miller. "I like to win just about at anything from ping pong to dominoes, whatever it is. I still feel that I have the best hand-eye coordination of anyone, even at 52 years old. So it was not hard for me to understand this character!"

Lights may be a little hazy, but he is not out of touch. He's still the cool guy in this geriatric crowd, dressing to be noticed. "I see him as the cool old uncle everyone probably has in their family, the one who tries to dress like he's young, but comes off just a tad off. He wears Capri shorts, pastel colors, Kangol fedora hats, high white socks and fresh white Reeboks. Lights is good to go all the time. He even has a gold tooth rocking."

For Miller, the rigors of the makeup and prosthetic application were not a challenge but a bonus. "I think while you're sitting in that chair, getting made up, you start to evolve and become your character," says Miller. "After putting on the prosthetics and clothes, I was Lights, and the old man grunt and scruffy voice just came out of me. I would arch my back and start walking differently. As Lights, I walk a lot like my dad, who's 76, echoing how he keeps his arms back and looks around real slow. I enjoyed the transformation process."

One thing that didn't change with the makeup was Miller's savvy with put-downs. "With this film, the trash-talking has been ramped up to a whole new level," he says.

Claiming the fourth spot on Uncle Drew's roster is three-time NBA slam-dunk champion Nate Robinson as Boots, the team's silent scorer with a sneaker superstition. Uncle Drew might find his old friend sitting wordlessly in a retirement home, but Drew knows the brilliant old Boots is still in there and it's just a matter of reigniting his spirit.

Robinson had previously appeared in the 3rd webisode, but this was an entirely new character for him, one who goes through a dramatic change in the course of the film. "Having given up basketball, Boots thought he was done with life. Then, Uncle Drew and Dax arrive to change his fate. Finally, his gang is back together and life has meaning and purpose again," explains Robinson. "Boots still doesn't say much, but he's the guy you want on your team. Boots keeps everybody going. When he's playing, it's always a show of dunks and high-flying stuff. I want to be him when I get older."

"Having seen Nate in one of the Uncle Drew shorts, we knew he could be great as Boots," says Fischer. "He's charismatic, funny and despite very little dialogue in the movie, Nate was able to communicate things we didn't even think were possible through his performance. And then of course Nate's athletic ability on the court is insane."

Stone loved how Robinson embodied the character. "Boots is like this beautiful tree that's grown over centuries, with his massive hair, the beard and just the age in his face. But you also feel his wisdom, and the way Nate plays him, you really believe him as Boots comes more alive and becomes indispensable."

For Robinson, it was a bit surreal to play a character obsessed with his hoop shoes-because it was so on the nose. "That's how I am in real life," he admits. "When I find a pair of shoes I love, I only wear those shoes until I have to glue them back together. I want to keep the magic and all of the buckets that I get in that one pair of shoes. So I understood Boots."

Though Robinson was surprised by how grueling the makeup could be, he was thrilled with Boots' final look. "People told me I look like Frederick Douglass, which is a great compliment," says Robinson. Making it a fab five is five-time NBA All-Star Chris Webber portraying Preacher, who after retiring replaced his basketball with the Good Book of the Lord. Webber blew the filmmakers away with his audition. Recalls Fischer: "We needed a big personality to play this Southern preacher. We were fans of Chris and knew that he does lot of broadcasting---but when he read, he had our jaws on the floor. His father was a minister, and Chris knew exactly how inhabit this character's cadence and rhythm. He was one of the biggest surprises in the cast."

Stone adds: "In my mind I always saw Preacher as a cross between Al Sharpton and James Brown, with that kind of power of oration, but I had no idea that Chris could bring that. He was able to take the character to a whole other level."

Webber's father is a church deacon, so he was no stranger to church life. Webber describes Preacher as "a guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve. He is the leader of the crew spiritually, but he was also the wildest member at one time so everyone respects how he has learned to stick to discipline. Reading the script, I always felt Preacher is the heartbeat of the crew and it was exciting to play that. And I love that at first it's hard to tell if he is chasing his dream or running from his wife!"

To prepare to play Preacher, Webber spent time closely watching a variety of pastors, reflecting on their styles. He also drew on his past. "A lot of it came naturally to me because it because Preacher's world is so similar to the one I grew up in," he explains.

Webber also credits Stone with guiding this unusual cast to hone their potential. "Charles gave me so much confidence because he's really a great communicator. In many ways, he's like a great basketball coach," Webber muses. "The best coaches are the ones who figure out how to let the team know exactly what they need to do but also how to let them feel involved. And that's how Charles was with us."

Taking on the role of Preacher's no-nonsense wife Betty Lou-who is in hot pursuit of him all the way to the Rucker-is two-time WNBA champion, three-time WNBA MVP, four-time Olympic Gold Medal winner and Basketball Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie. From the start, the filmmakers had hoped to be able to cast her, but she too went beyond their expectations. "Lisa really found that fieriness that's in Betty Lou, who wears the pants in Preacher's household," says Stone. "She connected to the competitor she was on the court, that warrior spirit, and at the same time she made Betty Lou one of the funniest characters."

Adds Fischer: "Lisa is the most iconic WNBA star of all time, but we didn't know at first if she could embody this nagging older woman who by the end of the movie is anything but. Then she blew us out of the water. She came into her audition hunched over and hobbling and we never saw Lisa Leslie on that day. We saw Betty Lou and we could not be happier to have her in this film."

Leslie, who first started acting even while playing basketball in high school, was drawn to the idea of breaking down ageist stereotypes with Betty Lou. "I thought, 'Wow, what an opportunity to play a character who is an amazing and talented 80-year-old woman,'" she says. "One thing I always say is that we never age in our mind. No matter what age you are, I believe you should still look at a thing you enjoy and say 'Oh, yeah. I could totally do that.'"

Then there was Betty Lou's fierce, take-no-prisoners persona-and her skepticism about letting Preacher return to basketball with all its temptations. "Betty Lou is feisty, independent and she doesn't take any mess," Leslie describes. "She's bossy and she likes to be in control but...she is also very in love with her husband and she wants what is best for him. She just wants to make sure Preacher stays on a positive path."

As for Betty Lou's own rarely-seen but raging court skills, Leslie says: "Betty Lou does what she does, you know. She gets buckets. And I love that."

It is clear Chris Webber relished the chance to work with Leslie in their performance of couple's bickering, razzing, but ultimately adoring dynamic. "Right from the start, Lisa and I had a great chemistry," Webber says. "I was a fan of hers already and Lisa really brought out Betty Lou's personality. I really like Betty Lou and Preacher's relationship-it has a lot of heart, a lot of sensitivity and a lot of humor, too."

Leslie adds: "Chris and I pow-wowed a lot about our characters, looking for all kinds of ways to make them seem authentically like husband and wife. We had a great time together."

For Irving, sharing the screen with so many of his own idols was something special. "I literally grew up watching all of my cast-mates play. They know how I feel about them in terms of the homage I wanted to pay to them as individuals and what they've given to the game. They made a lot of sacrifices dedicating themselves to a craft that they love. And now that's coming full circle in this movie as we get the chance to appreciate them in a new way," he sums up.

SUPPORTING PLAYERS

Also making his film debut in UNCLE DREW is Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who brings his stellar athletic skills to the role of Casper, Dax's surefire weapon to a Rucker victory, or so he thinks. When Casper switches teams, Dax is left in the lurch, which ultimately leads to his fateful search for Uncle Drew.

"Casper is the cocky, arrogant, young up-and-comer who doesn't respect those who paved the way before him," explains Gordon. "He doesn't understand what it means to be a team player; he just wants to win."

Gordon was a revelation to Stone. "He was another great surprise," says the director. "We just wanted somebody who could play like a young super machine, who was clearly going to be the golden ticket for Dax. But Aaron brought more than just skill. He brought in an easy-going comedy and attitude that makes the character feel real."

Playing opposite of Lil Rel Howery, Gordon frequently found it difficult to keep a straight face. "Lil Rel is absolutely hysterical," says Gordon. "The first scene that we did, they had to do multiple takes because I couldn't stop smiling. Lil Rel was just killing me."

Howery was impressed by Gordon's screen presence and his dunks. "I'm a big Aaron Gordon fan," he says. "Right away, we had chemistry. And when you watch the movie, those dunks are real. They didn't ask him to do half the stuff he did-he just couldn't help himself."

The man who steals Casper away from Dax is none other than Dax's life-long rival and eternally underhanded adversary, Mookie Bass. For the scene-stealing villain, the filmmakers cast Nick Kroll, who is renowned for his ability to play motor-mouths, the clueless jerks with inexplicable charm. Says Kroll, channeling Mookie: "Some people would call Mookie the villain of the movie, but I call him a hero because he's won seven of the last nine Rucker titles."

Kroll had a unique take on Mookie, believing he actually needs Dax in order to fuel his ambitions. Ever since Mookie blocked Dax's shot in a tournament final as kids, Mookie has viewed Dax as the secret source of his power. "In Mookie's mind, he sees the two of them as being like Bird and Magic, two iconic rivals, who feed off each other," continues Kroll.

Howery appreciated the approach. "Nick made Mookie into this slick-talking, hilarious mirror to Dax," he observes.

For Stone, Kroll upended what could have just been a cardboard cutout. "Nick creates all these really trippy characters, so I knew he would do something fun. He really wanted to make Mookie unique and different. He created him as someone who is obsessed with Dax because it makes him feel big, whose whole agenda is to constantly get energy from defeating this person. With Nick's amazing talent, he took the villain archetype somewhere all his own."

If Mookie always has an agenda, the purest character in UNCLE DREW is Maya, Boots' loving, levelheaded granddaughter who joins the road trip to keep tabs on her grandfather, but starts to have feelings for Dax in spite of herself. Taking the role is Erica Ash, who recently starred in the basketball-themed TV series "Survivor's Remorse." Says Ash: "Maya is the voice of reason in this band of merry men. She becomes just one of the guys on this cross-country road trip, but with her own voice."

"We wanted Maya to be this beacon of someone who loves family, which is everything that Dax's character is looking for," adds Stone. "Erica has that compassionate heart but she also has some real comic chops. As Maya, she has no filter, and that's part of her humor."

Ash especially loved the chance to create a rapport with Howery. "Lil Rel is a laugh a minute whether the camera is rolling or not," says Ash. "He kept me laughing and that was important because Dax makes Maya laugh. That's what draws him to her and then she starts to see he's not just stealing her grandfather but is actually a really decent guy who cares about his team no matter if they play or not."

Being the only girl in a van full of guys, Ash developed a sibling-style relationship with her co-stars. "They were all like my big brothers," says Ash. "They gave me a good ribbing but I dished it back, too. In reality, they were always looking out for me. I've really enjoyed hanging out with this crew. It's been the most fun I've had on any movie set."

Maya comes into Dax's life after his former girlfriend, the social climber Jess, throws him out of her apartment. Bringing raucous energy to Jess is rocketing stand-up star and actress Tiffany Haddish of Girls Trip, who has previously paired with Howery in a number of projects. "Jess does not like men who do not have their act together," says Haddish of her character. "She has a good heart, but when things don't go the way she wants them to, she's through."

Notes Howery: "This is the third time Tiffany and I have played a couple, and the second time she's broken up with me which is insane. But I love Tiffany, man. She's honestly one of my best friends. She's so talented and funny and I'm so happy she was able to do this movie."

Rounding out the supporting cast are two more beloved comics-JB Smoove and Mike Epps- the fast-talking, tell-it-like-it-is barbershop owner, Angelo and his razor-tongued fellow barber. They are the first to share the legend of Uncle Drew with Dax, setting him off on his unlikely quest to bring the prodigal basketball legend back to the heat of the game.

Smoove had previously appeared in both the Uncle Drew commercials and online series and was thrilled to be part of the character's evolution to the screen. "I'm so passionate about Uncle Drew," says Smoove. "People love Uncle Drew and I think the transition to this incredible movie is perfect timing. These characters have so much life, you want to see where they came from and see all the possibilities for them."

He says of his character: "When Dax finds himself in a difficult spot, he naturally comes to the barbershop for advice. Angelo sees Dax needs some motivation so Angelo decides it's time to pass on the torch-the Uncle Drew torch. He wants everyone to be inspired by Uncle Drew, this streetball legend, the way he has been. Everyone thinks Uncle Drew is a fairy tale but Angelo knows he's real and wants everyone to pay homage."

For Epps, the draw was simple and clear. "Anytime you get a chance to work with a group of talents like this in a comedy that is so funny and heartfelt, you get on board," he summarizes.

THE RUCKER

Long before the movie of UNCLE DREW was even a glimmer of an idea, the plan was always to take Uncle Drew's story all the way to a very specific location: Harlem's celebrated Rucker Classic, the ultimate streetball competition that has for 7 decades been a thrilling spectacle of showmanship where ballers' names and reputations are made.

The Rucker dates back to the 1940s when a playground director and teacher named Holcombe Rucker (who was also a 6' 3" former guard in high school) set out to uplift kids in Harlem by combining sports with education. Rucker created a series of summer youth leagues that gave local kids a chance to shine. His motto-"each one, teach one"-became as famous as he did, reflecting his belief that by passing on the fundamentals of what you learn to others, you grow a stronger community. Through his tournaments, Rucker helped hundreds to attain college scholarships that changed their lives.

In 1956, the tournament gained steam when it began hosting pro and semi-pro players in the offseason. The park would soon become the sacred mecca of a faster, wilder street version of the game, a liberating place where ballplayers could create, experiment and display their best. "If you ask anyone who knows anything about street basketball, they'll tell you that the Rucker is the most iconic stage in the sport, where legends such as Dr. J [Julius Erving] and Richard 'Pee Wee' Kirkland came up," notes Marc Gilbar.

The Rucker generated one legend after another. It was said Wilt Chamberlain once dunked so hard at the Rucker that the ball exploded off the concrete and flew over a 15-foot fence. Lew Alcindor, before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, perfected his nearly unblockable skyhook there. More recently, Kevin Durant dropped an incredible 66 points at the Rucker and Lebron James played for Jay-Z's team, considered one of the best to ever hit the playground.

"The Rucker is very powerful," says Nate Robinson, one of many Rucker veterans to appear in UNCLE DREW. "It has a magical energy. When you play in front of the Rucker crowd you earn a nickname. They called me Nate The Great-and it stayed with me ever since."

Screenwriter Longino notes that the Rucker was and still is a rite of passage for the best players. "If you consider yourself a baller in New York, you go to Rucker to see if you can hang," sums up Longino. "The Rucker is the great equalizer because it doesn't matter what color you are, how old you are, male, female ...if you can play, you're respected. And that's why it's the perfect place to showcase what Uncle Drew is all about."

Irving has his own strong connections to the Rucker. "I'm from Jersey, but I grew up playing in New York's concrete parks," he points out. "Rucker Park was a place of refuge for me, a place of community. The spirit of competition there was special. My dad [Drederick Irving, who played pro ball in Australia] was actually MVP at Rucker. So, the appreciation I have for Rucker is deep in my heart because that's what I grew up on."

Part the fun of it for the filmmakers was capturing how flashy and mesmerizing the game played at Rucker Park can be for audiences. The feeling of streetball stands apart. "What makes streetball unique is there's less rigidity and when you lose some of that formality you get more fun, you get more theatre," says Stone. "Everyone essentially has courtside seats in a place like Rucker, so the crowd is interacting in real time with these amazing plays they're seeing. It's much more communal you also get a lot of vibrant showmanship."

To capture that inimitable spirit of Rucker Park, the team brought in such real Rucker legends Dr. J, Pee Wee Kirkland, Joe Hammond and Earl the Pearl to share their tales.

Says Hammond: "The greatest players in the world have played on the Rucker court. If they hadn't played there, they would feel like they don't belong in the basketball world, that's how it was. In my era, everybody that played in the NBA knew they had to come here and play or they'd be called out- 'man, you afraid to come play.'"

"Things were invented at the Rucker that had never seen before. The crossover was invented. The spin move to the basket was invented. The 360 jump shot was invented... Rucker seemed to create a phenomenology that no other playground in any basketball era has been able to create since," adds Kirkland.

Production designer Douglas J. Meerdink built the production's very own meticulously detailed replica of the Rucker court, accurate down to the narrow bleachers, in Atlanta. "Finding the right outdoor court in Atlanta was more challenging than we anticipated," says Meerdink. "So we decided instead to find an optimal urban setting that resembled Harlem where we could recreate the court ourselves from scratch. I measured and surveyed the real Rucker court, and then we laid down our own court surface, put in a fence and added basketball hoops that could withstand the extreme play that our characters are capable of."

For the color scheme, Meerdink went retro. "Every year, they repaint the color scheme for the Rucker, so it changes frequently. But Charles and I decided we wanted to go back to a classic feel. Rucker court is a homecoming for our team in the film, so we wanted it to have some of that feeling of when they played there in the 70s."

For the final authentic touch to the Rucker set, the filmmakers invited iconic street ball emcee Duke Tango to announce the film's games. One of the most electrifying elements at the Rucker has long been the fast-talking emcees who call the action, often playfully ridiculing bad plays, inventing hilarious slang and handing out life-long nicknames.

"Duke Tango was Rucker's original play-by-play man, rousing the crowd and anointing players with catchy and unique monikers," says Stone. "After Doug did such an incredible job to replicate the Rucker court, having Duke Tango there was like the stamp of approval. He grounds UNCLE DREW in the real Rucker culture. When I first walked on set, I thought, 'Wow! This is amazing.' Then when I heard Duke's voice fill the air, I knew it was complete."

THE BASKETBALL

While high humor, family, friendship and the dream of returning to the Rucker drive UNCLE DREW, it was equally important to Stone to capture some visceral basketball action with his unprecedented cast of hoop legends. To get to the heart of the beauty, the flow and the flying spirit of the game-from simple hand-offs to 3-point miracle shots-- Stone worked with a team including cinematographer Karsten Gopinath (Step Up Revolution) and renowned Basketball Coordinator Mark Ellis of Game Changing Films (The Rookie, Miracle, Semi-Pro).

Ellis was in 7th heaven with the team he had to work with on the film. "When I first heard about the cast with every name I was like, 'you've got to be kidding me.' But then you start wondering what the chemistry is going to be like when you have Kyrie, Shaq, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie all playing together. As it turned out, these are all just really great people and we had a lot of fun creating original plays."

It was never less than staggering to Ellis how much each member of the main cast, several in their 40s and 50s, could still do. But part of the fun of the choreography was taking into consideration how septuagenarians-albeit some rarified elders with savage skills-would play. Ellis wanted to show each character evolving as they rediscover their inner fire for the game. "Early on in the tournament, they can't quite do all the plays," Ellis explains. "Their mind is telling them one thing, but their body can't catch-up. But, each guy has his spinach; for example, Lights has his goggles and Boots has his favorite pair of sneakers which gives them the confidence to play as they did in years past once they're in Harlem."

Ellis got plenty of help from the NBA stars themselves. Notes Stone, "This was such an exciting cast because they would bring their own two cents to the choreography, saying, 'hey, maybe it would look cooler if I came from this angle.'"

Irving notes that the passion of dribbling past a defender or delivering in the clutch can't easily be faked. "The hardest thing to act out is live sports," he says. "You're trying to mimic movements that happen in an instant. Basketball players make split-second decisions to pass, shoot or charge so it's a challenge to recreate what we'd do in a real game for cameras. As we mapped out the moves, we tried to factor in how the camera could best capture our unique individual talents and then we tried to let it happen naturally. It's an exciting process."

At times, Ellis and Stone decided to just let the group go at it, and that also paid off. "Sometimes I felt you have to take the ropes off of these guys and just let them do what they do with a camera in there with them. A lot of magic happens that way," says Ellis.

Leslie loved those moments. "Lots of creativity came just from us playing. We couldn't reshoot it because if someone asked 'can you do that again?' the answer was 'no!'" she quips. "It was a chance to capture some of the beauty of true pick up street basketball, that creative flow that happens with everybody going for different shots."

Because several of the athletes in the film are current ballplayers, great care had to be taken so as not to in any way risk injury or overuse. That meant adhering to very strict training schedules and routines. "The schedules were a challenge but that just meant really maximizing every moment that we had to work with the athletes," says Stone.

Ellis also recruited some 75 players to fill out the Rucker teams, training and designing plays for all. "There was a lot of training because there's a lot of basketball in this film," says Ellis. "We would draw the plays, then go on the court, walk through it, go half speed, go three quarter speed-all so that in the film nothing looks rehearsed or artificial."

But when it came to the main cast, Ellis says he hopes he captured one hoops fundamental above all: "I hope you see the pure love for what these guys do because you'll never be able to take that out of them. They might pull pranks and give each other a hard time out there but these guys also have so much humility and so much respect for the game and for each other. That's a combination that is so powerful that you just cannot duplicate it."

MAKEUP & DESIGN

From the very first time he astounded audiences as Uncle Drew, there was one big key to Kyrie Irving morphing into his elderly alter-ego: hand-designed prosthetic makeup. For the movie, prosthetics would take center stage, with multiple basketball legends taking their turns in the makeup chair for up to 4 hours each, as they were transformed into drastically aged and entertaining versions of their highly recognizable selves.

To pull it off, the filmmakers turned to Atlanta-based prosthetic makeup effects designers Matthew Silva and Jonah Levy and their experienced team at Blue Whale Studios (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Rampage, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Walking Dead).

"The prosthetic makeup was so important because that's the first step to believing in these characters," says Stone. "The Blue Whale team are not only great technicians, they are also true artisans, and we worked closely together to define what each character would look like and to create distinct personal styles that are funny and relatable for the audience."

With no time to spare, Silva and Levy dove into the creative end of things immediately. Silva notes that while zombies and monsters can be the bread-and-butter for prosthetic designers, "the pinnacle of what excites us is old-age makeup." Despite the fact that age is inevitable, putting decades on an actor's face is one of hardest forms of makeup to do well.

Blue Whale's focus was on enhancing the actors' innate personalities. "Even though UNCLE DREW is comedy, we wanted the makeup to be mostly serious. Each character had to have his or her own style and personality, but we didn't want it to draw attention away from the story or the action," explains Silva. "With all that is going on in this movie, you want the focus to be on the relationships, the funny dialogue between characters and the basketball, so the makeup had to just be part of who the characters."

They dove into all kinds of details, from Reggie Miller's gold tooth to Nate Robison's disheveled beard. "It was always about creating character," adds Levy. "It was not just about taking Chris Webber or Lisa Leslie and imagining how they might look in a few decades, Instead, it was more about asking how we could do something fun and memorable with each person. Luckily, the character-driven script really lent itself to that which was exciting."

Once the designs were ready, each actor had to come in for what's known as a life cast, during which a complete mold was made of their entire head. "Once we have a duplicate of the shape of their head, that's when we begin sculpting," Silva explains. "We then break each sculpture down into little pieces. For example, Chris Webber's make-up is eleven different pieces. It's a forehead, two upper eyes, two cheeks, two eye bags, two ears, a chin, a throat and then we also add a moustache, a pip, a goatee and two eyebrows. It's a lot of work."

"All of these pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle," adds Levy. "A lot of people think this kind of makeup is a single mask you put on, but it's not at all. All these different little pieces have to be applied separately and they have to fit into each other or else they don't move correctly."

Shaq's makeup as Big Fella was a particular favorite for Stone. "When I saw that handlebar mustache and white, Wolverine hair, I knew people were going to love it," muses Stone. Adds Silva: "Shaq is probably one of our most outrageous looking characters-but it plays so well with Shaq's dry sense of humor. When some early pictures were released and everybody kept calling him black Wolverine, I just died laughing."

They also took Uncle Drew's look to the next level with prosthetics that could stand up to anything. "Kyrie had such an established look as Uncle Drew, we were really careful to pay homage to that. But we also wanted to see where we could take it on the big screen," says Levy. "We used Bill Russell as our main inspiration and that was really exciting, to meld some of Bill's facial characteristics with Kyrie's. We really wanted to push the limit of Kyrie's makeup as far as it could go within the extremely tight prep timeline, to add more believability and expressiveness, while keeping true to the original design."

Thrilling as the designs were, the team knew it was going to challenge pro athletes to sit still for grueling hours, day after day. They each found their own way of handling it. Irving says he approached it as a chance to catch up on shuteye. "I would lie down in the chair, go to sleep and wakeup as Uncle Drew," he laughs. "I believe in a patient approach because it's all worth it when it comes to the makeup. Whenever I started to think 'oh, I have to be in the makeup chair for so long,' I would remember that I'm part of a bigger team that's making a beautiful movie. So that motivated me to want my makeup to be as good as it could be for the cameras, for my character and for my teammates."

For Chris Webber, new to prosthetics, it was a bit of a shock. "The process is a beast," he admits. "At times it's uncomfortable and burning hot but I laughed through it. Once it was done, it was fun hiding behind the face of Preacher and it really helped me get into character."

Lisa Leslie found her own way of making the hours in the chair useful. "I found it almost therapeutic," she says. "It's like getting a facial-well, the guys didn't think so but I thought so. I watched a whole lot of Game of Thrones and This is Us and I enjoyed my time in the chair."

Stone notes that the real proof of the makeup came as the actors started to perform on camera. "No matter how good the makeup, if the actor doesn't know what to do with it, it's just dead weight on their face," he observes. "But we saw each of these guys start to embody their characters from the inside out. They took what Blue Whale created and made it alive."

Beyond the makeup, other design touches helped to carve out Uncle Drew's world-especially his beloved van, a souped-up, tricked out, sunset orange groove machine that becomes a traveling second home to the entire reunited team. "The best times of Uncle Drew's life have been spent in and around that van and he's proud of it," says production designer Meerdink. "So we needed a special van, with a kitchen, living room, and all the quaint notions of home. We wound up building three vans that could be used to photograph in different ways."

Meanwhile costume designer Johnetta Boone was adding more colorful touches to the mix, collaborating closely with the cast to reflect each persona down to the seams. "I spent a lot of time with each actor discussing their inspirations and then I drew on those to come up with their look. For example, Lisa Leslie drew on an aunt to play Betty Lou," Boone explains.

One of Boone's biggest challenges was just the sheer physical scale of the cast, including 7' 1" Shaquille O'Neal. "We had to do more than the usual amount of altering and tailoring on this movie," Boone laughs.

While Uncle Drew' and his teammate illuminate retro, Dax brings a younger, more contemporary air to the brigade. "I would describe Dax's look as hip, and in line with today's culture," says Boone. "It's clean, crisp, and well fitted without it being too tight. Since, Dax is a sneaker collector; we made sure he had a great selection that is parallel with his basketball influence."

Dax and Uncle Drew's generational gap might be obvious in their contrasting clothes, style, music and banter, but it's beneath the skin that they ultimately connect. That, says Lou Arbetter is what makes the story of UNCLE DREW resonate. "Uncle Drew shows you that no matter your age, the prime of your life is right now. Uncle Drew reminds us that wherever you are at, you can still deliver. He encourages us to never quit doing what we love."

Irving takes that message to heart, even though he's decades from catching up to Uncle Drew's stage of life. In many ways, Uncle Drew has taken him on a personal journey of maturation-one that started out as a prank but has become something meaningful and enduring to him. "I think what makes Uncle Drew timeless is that he devotes himself to what he loves," Irving concludes. "And that's also why I think his movie will be relatable to everyone. It pays homage to Uncle Drew's love of basketball, but at heart it's a story about staying true to the things and the people you love most."

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