The Starz original series Survivor’s Remorse made its debut on Saturday night. The half-hour series follows professional basketball player Cam Calloway as he navigates the pitfalls and responsibilities that come with being a 20-something year-old NBA superstar with millions of dollars at his disposal and a family’s worth of mouths to feed.
When we heard that LeBron James is an executive producer of the show, we were intrigued, but still skeptical. We wondered if the show would be authentic enough for real basketball fans. Then, we got the chance to preview the first few episodes. Trust us when we tell you, you’re going to want to watch this series. It’s equal parts drama and laughs, and above all, it just feels real.
To learn more, we invited the two biggest stars of Survivor’s Remorse—Jessie T. Usher (Calloway) and RonReaco Lee (Cam’s right-hand man, Reggie Vaughn)—up to the SLAM offices in New York City for a sitdown last week. Check out our conversation below, which ranges from insights into the filming of the series to Jessie and RonReaco’s predictions for the 2014-15 NBA season.
SLAM: How did you first get involved with the show? What did you think when you first read the script?
RonReaco Lee: I was at a party and [executive producer and writer]Mike O’Malley’s cousin told me about it. I swear, I’m not lying. He told me about it, and my first thought was—Mike’s going to kill me for saying this—my first thought was, “Mike O’Malley writing a script for LeBron James? Yeah, whatever. Let me get back to this party.” They ended up sending me part of the script, and I immediately called Mike’s cousin and said, “Yo, this is amazing.” I knew, I could just tell right off the first scene that I read, that this was a project I wanted to be involved with. After that, I put the full court press on, no pun intended—well, yeah, pun intended. [Laughs]
SLAM: Why did you ultimately decide to take the role? Were you convinced the series would be a success?
Jessie T. Usher: Based on the history of the people behind, it’s almost guaranteed to be at least a great quality project. No matter how how it was going to come together, how we’d shoot it, who we’d cast, before anything came into my head, it was like, the people behind this know what they’re doing. So you can trust that it’s going to be good. Then it was really time to see what I could do. I went through at least six auditions…
RL: I got nervous. Once I read the script, I knew I liked it. Ironically, they cast me first. I think they were having trouble casting the Cam part, so they cast Reggie first. But without the right Cam, there was no show. This show had to find… Jessie T. Usher.
JU: I hadn’t known how long they were looking for a Cam until I talked to him, much later on. And they were like, “Man, we were sweating bullets for months.”
SLAM: For real NBA fans, how authentic is the series when it comes to the basketball?
JU: I figured that with LeBron James behind it, he wouldn’t want his name tainted. So I was like, with LeBron behind, there’s an authenticity there. Mike O’Malley was like, “I want this show to have almost no basketball action scenes in it.” So I was like, okay. Literally it wasn’t until my very last audition, walking out of the room, when one guy raised his hand and was like, “Uh, do you even play basketball?” I was like, “Really? You’re gonna ask me now?” [Laughs]
SLAM: Do you think the situations that arise for Cam’s character in the show are authentic? Do you think those problems that actual pro ball players would face?
JU: Absolutely. Mike O’Malley really prides himself on keeping it real. It doesn’t even have to be someone in Cam’s position. It could be anybody to a certain extent. A lot of what happens to the family is stuff that happens to anybody’s family. It just so happens that we’re now public figures, so we have to clean up more than a normal person would.
SLAM: Have you ever dealt with stuff in your personal life anywhere near what happens in the show?
JU: Before this, I was working on a kids show—anything you do is a mistake on that. Like, “Hey, you can’t really go on Twitter and type ‘The’ with a capital T. Can we do something about that?” It’s clean up work constantly. So yeah, there’s been some times, definitely.
RL: I didn’t sign a $100 million contract when I was 17. Nike did not do that for me. [Laughs] So do I have survivor’s remorse? I don’t have a problem saying “No.” You’ve got to be careful, people will take advantage of you. But I haven’t had near the success of LeBron James, or Maverick Carter. Ask me when my bank account gets… survivor’s remorse worthy.
SLAM: What about with girls, though? I mean, you guys are well-known actors…
RL: What? [Laughs]
SLAM: You tell me.
RL: I don’t have any of those wild stories. I’ve never walked into a hotel room and there’s just a girl—that never happens to me, man. [Laughs]
JU: I’ve got a sister and a mom that’s better than the CIA. Something tells me I don’t have a whole lot to worry about. My sister is with me everywhere, she’s like my filter. She’s like part of the cast, but you never see her.
SLAM: What’s been the reaction from your friends—or anyone you know that’s a serious hoops fan?
JU: I don’t have any friends in the NBA. But of course, any time I go to the gym and play ball, I have some friends who play overseas and they’ll say they saw trailers in London, or wherever they’re at.
SLAM: I bet everyone wants to go at you in pickup games now, huh?
JU: Of course! Everybody’s like, “Oh, you’re LeBron.” I’m like, “Not even, man. But don’t let me guard you or I’ll shut you down and make you feel bad.” [Laughs]
SLAM: How much fun was filming the series?
RL: Best gig I’ve ever had, start to finish. It was a lot of hard work—you’ll see in the later episodes, the writers really challenged us as actors to take it to the next level. A lot of hard work, but really fun. We had a good time.
JU: We had a great time. It was challenging to say the least, early on. That brought the whole cast together.
SLAM: Did you grow up playing basketball? Were you any good?
RL: I hated basketball. I never liked it. I was a baseball player, and my dad never made me develop my left hand, so I’d get on the court and within two minutes, you’d hear somebody go, “He ain’t got no left! He ain’t got no left!” So when I moved to L.A. and decided I wanted to pursue acting, I had a little down time, and decided I wanted to play basketball again. So I didn’t start playing until really late in life. But I fell in love with basketball in the late ’90s. I went hard—I would go two-a-days, and my knees are shot to this day because of it. I’d do drills, bought strength shoes, all that stuff. I was late to basketball, but I went in during my 20s.
JU: I was always doing martial arts. My dad was a martial artist, so I followed his path. I was really into soccer coming up, too. But I played basketball, too—I played a little bit of everything as a kid.
SLAM: What’s your game like now?
RL: My game right now?… “Anybody thirsty? Anybody need something to drink? Y’all should probably stretch!”
JU: [Laughs hysterically]
RL: “Good job! Box out!”
JU: You know what’s crazy though? Back when Reaco lived in L.A. we used to play at the same park, and we had no idea. It was years ago. My two best friends told me when I got cast in the show, they were like, “Reaco? That’s Reaco Reaco!” Back in the day, we used to go out there every summer and play, and Reaco was there every day. I was the youngest one in the group, these guys were actual ballers. They knew who he was. I learned what I know about basketball from playing with them—and somehow, playing with him.
SLAM: What NBA teams or players do you root for?
RL: I’m definitely pulling for Cleveland. I think the first time I watched LeBron play was at St. Vincent-St. Mary when they did a nationally televised game. Somebody in my manager’s office was like, “Yeah I’m leaving work early to see this kid LeBron.” I went home and watched the game and was mesmerized. He was like 17, still covering up his tattoos with bandages since he was in high school. I just remember being in awe. I followed him through being drafted, through all those infamous playoff series with the Wizards. I’ve never been a Heat fan, so I didn’t really jump on that bandwagon, but I’m glad to see him back. Being from Illinois, I always pull for the Bulls, too. But I think Cleveland deserves a ring.
JU: I’m from Maryland, so by default I’m a Wizards fan. We suffered for a long time, God knows that. We had some great years, we even had Michael Jordan for a minute. Right now, in terms of players, I love to watch Paul George play, he’s a beast. And I was pulling for Derrick Rose, it’s good to see him back after taking back to back falls like that. He was doing his thing with Team USA, I love to watch him play because he’s so explosive. There are a couple guys that you have to tune in just to see what they’re going to do, and he’s one of those guys for me. I love watching DRose.
SLAM: Do you guys have plans to go to any games this year?
JU: Well, we thought we were going to be courtside in Miami…
RL: I had it in my mind, it was going to be me, Jessie, Mike Epps sitting courtside under a little title that said “Survivor’s Remorse,” the ball would come to me, I’d throw a chest pass, maybe throw a salute to LeBron. [Laughs] Now, we gotta go to Cleveland. I don’t mind. I live in Atlanta, I’ve been to Hawks games, paid good money to watch LeBron play in Atlanta—they blew out the Hawks. I’ve spent good money to watch the Bulls play in Atlanta—they blew out the Hawks. I said I’m not spending any more money to watch the Hawks. I’d much rather travel up to Cleveland and watch them play out there.
JU: I live in L.A. Right around when Blake really started doing his thing, I went to quite a few Clippers games, that’s a fun team to watch. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Laker game, now that I think about it.
RL: My first Laker game was Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, after Robert Horry hit that shot against the Kings to bring the series back to L.A. and I got tickets.
SLAM: Who’s your NBA Finals pick this year?
RL: No, I think he means, like, really. Not hypothetical. Seriously. [Laughs]
JU: No, really, it could be!
RL: Keep it real.
JU: I think San Antonio will make it back. I was having this same conversation at the barbershop the other day…
RL: I like San Antonio out of the West, and I think Cleveland. C’mon now, LeBron, Kevin, Kyrie.
JU: I’ll say San Antonio and the Wizards.
RL: That’s a great way for Tim Duncan to get another ring…if they play the Wizards. [Laughs]
JU: Ohhhhh. [Laughs] No, the Wizards are taking it. They’re not going all the way to the Finals just for the Spurs to take it again.
RL: Man, Coach Popovich is somewhere right now diagramming plays.
Photos by Lexi Lambros