As a young kid growing up on the west side of Chicago, actor Lil Rel Howery and his friends used to set up crates in the alley to play basketball. His passion for the game has remained strong through the years, which is why he jumped at the opportunity to star in the new Uncle Drew movie.
“To do this movie was kind of insane, cause Chris Webber is my favorite power forward of all time, so to actually work with him was a dream come true,” Rel says. “Reggie Miller, Shaq. I mean when you get a chance to see how big Shaq is in person, it blows your mind. Like who guarded this dude? You can’t guard him. He’s huge, he’s athletic. It was cool to do a movie where I could have these conversations, because I asked Chris Webber how hard it was to guard Shaq and he’s like, Dude you have to put your whole body weight on that guy. You literally just have to lean your body and whatever happens, happens.”
Check out more from SLAM’s interview below:
SLAM: There are a ton of big personalities in the movie. What was the vibe like when you guys were filming?
Lil Rel: It was fun. I was very impressed with how serious they were taking their acting. Somebody like Kyrie is just a really talented person, not just on the basketball court. He’s really smart and really talented and when people see this film, I think it’s going to blow them away how good he is. We have these kind of dramatic moments and he steps up and kills it.
SLAM: I asked Lisa Leslie who the biggest jokester was on set and she said without a doubt Nate Robinson. Would you agree?
LR: 100 percent. [laughs] He roasts you all day. He don’t stop.
SLAM: She called him the Kevin Hart of the NBA.
LR: You know who I would describe him as? I wouldn’t go with Kevin. I’d go with Mike Epps, because he roasts people all the time. I’d call Nate the Mike Epps.
SLAM: What was it like doing the basketball scenes? Several of the players have said that stuff was authentic, and sometimes even competitive.
LR: It was very, very competitive, because it’s real basketball moments happening. We had that crowd there, that Rucker crowd, when they started playing for real and they started really caring — Lisa Leslie hit, like, six threes straight. She was just on fire. I’m like, yeah right, you mean to tell me you’re that great? You can just step on the court when you feel like it and just destroy people? And that’s the truth. She literally hit six threes straight and the crowd was going crazy.
They ran real basketball plays. I thought that was interesting. I remember our director was trying to choreograph some of that and Reggie was like, No, we doing real plays. It was so funny that they all right away knew what play it was. It was very interesting. I was blown away by that. They ran real basketball plays. Reggie was coming off the screen, popping those threes. When Chris Webber got a dunk, it was crazy because he hasn’t jumped like that in a long time. I will never forget that experience.
SLAM: In terms of your game, I assume it must have improved while you were filming, just by getting tips or playing with the cast.
LR: It 100 percent did. Nate Robinson actually made my jumpshot better. He showed me how to properly follow through. I became a better shooter because of it. It’s crazy because we had a little downtime in between scenes, and during that downtime, it was like a basketball clinic [for me].
SLAM: And most of the talking during that downtime was about basketball?
LR: It felt like I was a fly on the wall, bro. They had us in a sprinter one day, we were sitting on this little sprinter bus. The basketball conversations, were, man…. Erica Ash, who is also in the movie, brought this up yesterday. She was like, Do you remember stopping everybody and just being like hey, this is the greatest moment of my life? [laughs]. Cause there were questions I’ve always wanted to ask and they answered it. It was crazy, even the way they were giving Kyrie advice, I thought was amazing. Kyrie respects the game so much and the veterans, and he was taking all of that in.
SLAM: What were some of the more interesting tidbits or stories you heard from the guys?
LR: You know what’s funny? I asked Reggie Miller about – remember when he and Mike [Jordan] got into that little scuffle – and I was like, So who started it? Why were y’all so mad at each other? And he was like, Well Mike was elbowing me the whole game. Now this is even crazier, I got a friend who is good friends with Michael Jordan and Mike said Reggie was tripping him. And I don’t know which one of these dudes is telling the truth [laughs]. It sounds like they were messing with each other. Somebody was getting elbowed and somebody was getting tripped, but do you remember how angry they looked?
SLAM: I heard Kyrie and Reggie went head-to-head on a pop-a-shot on set. Can you tell that story?
LR: Man, that was crazy. That goes back to — If there’s a basketball in the vicinity, [Kyrie and Reggie] are gonna play. You know how they got the small [pop-a-shots]? This one was the one with the real basketball rim and a real basketball, and to see Reggie Miller just Reggie-Miller-it was one of the most real things I’ve ever seen in my life. Like I said, I’m a fan. He has a very unique shot, the way he shoots it and to watch him just grab it and shoot it.
But Kyrie won. They were very competitive about it. It was competitive and supportive at the same time. You could see Kyrie’s face lighting up watching Reggie and then Reggie watching Kyrie. It was beautiful to watch. Outside of these dudes being so great, they’re legitimate basketball fans also.
SLAM: Kyrie actually found out he was traded to Boston while you guys were in the middle of a scene. What was that like?
LR: That is a moment that you’ll never get again and just to see somebody be so happy about his new start – it was amazing to see, man. We gave him a moment because we were shooting and his brother told him what happened and Kyrie just ran out and had his moment. Then he came back in and we all started clapping.
SLAM: I know, coming from Chicago, you’re a Bulls fan. Have the relationships you’ve built with guys like Kyrie gotten in the way of that a bit?
LR: This is what I realized this year, man… our cities put pressure on us with stuff like, I’m a Bulls fan for life, that’s all there is, I can’t enjoy nobody else. I’m done with that. I’m 30 years old, I like basketball. I still love the Bulls more than any team because I’m from Chicago, but I like good basketball and the Boston Celtics this year looked really good and I really enjoyed them. And I remember Kyrie telling me that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were going to break out, you know what I’m saying? I will say this, I watched 82 Celtics games this year. I watched more Celtics games than Bulls games. Sorry Chicago, that’s just the truth. We had a really bad team this year [laughs].
SLAM: Overall, what can people expect from the movie?
LR: We screened the movie somewhere yesterday and someone walked up to me and was like, Yo I just watched the movie and I walked out of there just feeling happy. And I think that’s what you’re going to feel like. You’re just going to feel happy. It’s a beautiful, fun story with a lot of heart in it and a lot of laughs and I think fans are going to enjoy that. That’s what we love about the game of basketball is the drama and the fun, and this movie does a great job of showing a lot of that along with the heart and the laughs. I think people are going to leave out of there just happy.
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Alex Squadron is an Associate News Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @asquad510.
Photos via Lionsgate.