There aren't many people who can claim fame to an Olympic gold medal and world record, let alone a heap of other titles and awards in the NBA including Rookie of the Year, All-Star Game MVP, and Scoring Champion. Amazing, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has done it all.
At the young age of 23, the anything-but-small forward has already racked up an impressive basketball resume. His biggest upcoming challenge won't be found on the court but on the silver screen in the newly released film, Thunderstruck. Staring as himself, Durant magically switches his talent with a 16-year-old fan who just so happens to be the worst player on his high school basketball team. It's the Freaky Friday of basketball movies with a supporting cast that includes Jim Belushi, Brandon T. Jackson, and Taylor Gray.
Filmed last summer before the start of the 2011-12 NBA season, the movie makes the acting debut of one of basketball's greats. While he's a superstar on the court, acting in front of the camera requires a whole different skill set, one that Durant picked up rather quickly.
“The Kevin part was pretty easy,” says director John Whitesell. “After you meet Kevin you realize what a great personality he has and what a nice person he is. In a movie, especially when you have to play yourself, it's always nice to start with somebody who's nice, somebody who you're going to like. For us to take advantage of what Kevin brings naturally to the scene, besides being an incredible basketball player and an incredible human being, it's just finding a way to help him let that come out.”
As for why Kevin Durant decided to be in a movie, he says it's because he just wanted to “step outside of the box and try something new.” It took a few attempts before he fully committed to the project, though. It was when he read the script and saw that it was more catered to him that he decided to give the film a shot. Playing himself came easy to Durant, although the most difficult aspect for him was missing all those shots.
“I think the most difficult part was trying to miss those shots,” says Durant. “I've missed so many shots in my lifetime. I've played so bad so many times I know what it looks like. I just tried to make it look natural on camera; make it look real.”
Opposite Durant is Taylor Gray who plays the young Brian Newall. A die-hard basketball fan, Brian desperately wishes that he could play basketball like Kevin Durant and by some magical force that wish ends up coming true. One day he's the benchwarming towel boy of his high school team and before you know it he's an overnight sensation, putting to shame the top players on the squad. Don't let the film fool you though, because Gray has some skills of his own.
“We auditioned a lot of guys and we always knew it was going to be hard to find somebody who actually could play well,” says Whitesell. “Taylor had incredible basketball ability and a terrific three-point shot and good ball handling skills.” Still, that didn't make Gray any less nervous when he had to go one-on-one with Durant.
The first scene they shot together happens later in the film. Gray's character has to show off some of Durant's signature moves in front of the athlete in order to convince him that he does indeed posses his skills. It was the most nerve-racking experience of filming the entire movie, says Gray. “That was the most nervous I was the entire time. I could have fallen and I'm sure he would have still told me I did great. He's that nice of a guy. I did them, he told me that's awesome, and then from there everything was a breeze.”
Gray also worked closely with SNL veteran Jim Belushi who plays the high school basketball coach. Belushi modeled his role in the film after one of his old SNL skits where he played a coach of a chess team and modeled his character after legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight.
“I did a scene on Saturday Night Live called 'Chess Coach,'” recalls Belushi. “It was a little film piece where it was the unknown, lonely job the high school chess coach. I cut to a scene in a gym with two guys playing chess right in the middle of the gym and me on the sideline like Bobby Knight, screaming at them. So I kinda took that character and brought it here and based him on Bobby Knight; kinda a loud guy kicking chairs and stuff.”
You'd be surprised to know that Kevin Durant isn't the only star athlete of Thunderstruck. Former athletes including Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, and Shaq make an appearance as commentators to bring some authenticity to the film. Warner Bros. is a sister company to TBS and TNT so it wasn't too difficult in getting them involved, especially with Durant already on board.
“We went after them early on, says Whitesell. It made it more authentic. I thought it made it more real and brought a real professionalism to it. They enjoyed it too. It seemed they enjoyed taking those shots [at Kevin].”
In the end, Thunderstruck is all about a single message; “hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.” The quote is actually a personal saying of Durant's, one that originated from his grandfather that he's been using for more than 15 years.
“Always work hard for something you believe in,” says Durant. “Continue to have faith in yourself and the work you put in. Then the sky is the limit.”
Does Kevin Durant's acting ability stack up against his basketball ability? Find out in our official review of Thunderstruck.