Samuel L. Jackson didn’t just play an inspirational coach in the upcoming film “Coach Carter” — he was one, as far as the young actors who portrayed the players on his basketball team are concerned.
“It just sort of happens, because of who he is and what he’s done,” said Rob Brown, who plays Kenyon Stone, the basketball star torn between getting a college-ball scholarship and doing right by his pregnant girlfriend (played by Ashanti). “[Jackson] just rubs off on everybody else, so when he’s doing a performance, he gives off so much energy, and we returned that. We were just like sponges.”
Brown was one of the few young actors on the set who had carried a film before — and his breakthrough performance in 2000′s “Finding Forrester” also had him playing a student athlete. But even those with some experience under their belts felt a little overwhelmed by Jackson’s star power and acting abilities. “Not that he was intimidating,” said Robert Ri’chard, who plays the coach’s son Damien Carter, “but a lot of us didn’t want to waste his time. We had such a great actor on set with us, we wanted to step it up and prove that we were worthy to be his supporting cast.”
Sensing that, Jackson tried to teach by example. “I was there, in the right place, at the right time, knowing my lines, knowing their lines, helping them sometimes when they didn’t, giving them advice when they did,” Jackson said. “And sometimes, being a defender when I thought they were being overworked.”
Occasionally, though, Jackson added to that work, since in his role as Coach, he had the pleasure of ordering them to run suicides and do pushups, especially if they were late or giving lip. In all, Rick Gonzalez (who plays Timo Cruz) estimates that he ran several thousand suicides during the course of the film, some during the preparatory three-week basketball boot camp, some during filming, and some at the behest of Jackson or their on-set coach.
“You’re five minutes late, and it’s like, ‘On the line!’ ” Antwon Tanner (who plays Worm) recalled.
“It’s kind of fun to make them do some calisthenics,” said Jackson, making little distinction between his on- and off-camera roles. “They were constantly all over the place. You had to corral them and bring them in. Doing this job can be a lot of fun, but it’s a huge responsibility, too.”
The main thing Jackson tried to instill in his kids, though, was how to get into a character, get inside a story and then bring that outside to an audience. “You need those kinds of tools to walk into the next situation,” he said. Though some of the young actors were recruited more for their basketball skills than their acting ability, Jackson found ways to explain it to them that anyone could understand.
“I asked him, ‘How do you know your lines so quick?’” Tanner said. “He was like, ‘Forget the line, know the scene!’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Think about it. You’re in a club, you see a pretty girl you want to talk to: That’s the scene, what are the lines?’ That’s what taught me [the lesson].”
For more on Samuel L. Jackson, check out the interview “Bad Mutha-Coacher.”
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