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
O'Neal. "They needed a big guy and there's nobody bigger than the Shaqster. So
for me, it's movie
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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,
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,
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
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
(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
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
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.
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
Silva and Jonah Levy and their experienced team at Blue Whale Studios (Black
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
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
Shaq's makeup as Big Fella was a particular favorite for Stone. "When I saw that
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,"
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
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