Having recently just returned from London, England, after playing on the prestigious Gold Medal-winning USA Men's Basketball team (where he broke the United States' record for points and won the tournament's scoring title), three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant is preparing to ace another career slam dunk with his starring role in the funny, family-friendly motion picture Thunderstruck.
However, getting the word out about his new movie hasn't been all fun and games for the normally press-shy Durant. The one-time Rookie of the Year has spent the week prior to the movie's opening (August 24) visiting cities across the U.S. to talk to members of the media about himself, and his acting debut in the film Thunderstruck.
"Promoting this movie almost feels tougher than actually making it -- I think I have been asked every question under the sun in the last few days," the 23-year-old, Oklahoma City Thunder sensation jokingly admits, during a stop in Dallas, Texas. "Seriously, I must have answered the same questions at least a hundred times. But, it's all good, because I think people will really enjoy this movie. And, to be honest, I don't mind talking about it, because I'm really proud of Thunderstruck.
And, I feel really blessed, because it's like I'm getting to live out a dream that most people wish for -- being the star of your own movie."
Directed by John Whitesell (Big Momma's House 2
), the fictional and entertaining Thunderstruck
follows the paths of skyrocketing superstar Kevin Durant (who portrays himself in the motion picture) and 14-year-old Brian Newall (actor Taylor Gray), a clumsy, hopelessly uncoordinated young fan who idolizes Durant. Everything changes for the pair when a chance meeting between the two mysteriously and magically results in an exchange of their basketball talents. Brian becomes the star of his high school team, while Kevin Durant suddenly can't make a shot to save his life. Each of the two gain new perspective as they cope with their newfound skills -- or lack thereof -- and the dramatic effects of the change. But, with the playoffs quickly approaching, Brian learns that being a true winner involves working hard at your own game, and he tries to make things right in time to prevent a catastrophic end to his hero's season.
Before taking on the leading role in Thunderstruck,
Durant's previous acting experience consisted of a single drama course in high school. "I've always been so focused on playing basketball, I never really took the idea of acting very seriously," Durant says. Even when writer Eric Champnella (Mr. 3000
) and producer Mike Karz (New Year's Eve
) first presented Durant with the concept of Thunderstruck
, the basketball star initially turned down the chance to play himself in a movie written specifically for him. "When they first came to me with the idea, I just kind of blew it off," Durant recalls. "But, then I thought about it, and I told them, ‘Why not, let’s try it out.' By doing the movie, I just wanted to step outside the box. I just wanted to try something new. So, I read the script and felt like it was really catered to me, and it was something I could do."
Last year, before the Thunderstruck
cameras began to roll in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, director John Whitehall hired acting coach Richard Lawson to work with Durant both before and during filming. "The acting training was really easy, because Richard wasn't trying to teach me to be Denzel Washington or Will Smith," Durant remembers. "He was more interested in trying to make me the best me. It was really pretty easy, because when they gave me the script, I was saying things that I normally say anyway. And, once we started filming. all of the other actors on set (which included Jim Belushi, Taylor Gray and Brandon T. Johnson), made me feel so comfortable, which was great. I was so nervous that first day. It felt a little weird playing myself. But, Jim, Taylor and Brandon made me feel at home, and that helped me to cruise on through the scenes.
"Even though I was playing myself, I still had to follow the script," continues Durant, who was key in assisting his basketball team in making it all the way to the 2012 NBA Finals. "I could add a little flair, but if they didn't like it, we would try it another way. I got to do some retakes and play it different ways. So, it was definitely a different experience for me."
According to his costar, Jim Belushi, Durant's instincts in approaching his scenes in various ways was right on target. "With Kevin, it was like working with a professional that has been working in this business for fifteen years," explains the veteran actor. "He just slid right into it, like it was second nature to him. I usually changed the dialogue in every take, not because of anything creatively, but just because I couldn’t remember my lines, and Kevin just rolled with it. And, we came up with a couple of good jokes in one scene, after only a couple of takes. So, it was a pleasure having him on the set. He’s cool, and he's a natural when it comes to acting."
However, Durant wasn't the only first-time actor on the set of Thunderstruck.
Whitehall had approached Durant's mother, Wanda Pratt, with the chance to act in the film as -- you guessed it -- Kevin's mother. Like her son, Pratt didn't have very much trouble portraying herself. "For me, it was easy because, like Kevin, I was able to say and do things that I normally do. On the other hand, that cheerleader outfit that they gave me to wear was just not me," she says with a laugh. "But, I’m ruined now, I’m expecting to do a dramatic role next...just joking. But I had a great time, it was a lot of fun. I was nervous, but I got used to it."
If there was a single part of his performance that Durant had some trouble getting accustomed to, it was playing basketball -- badly. "I think the most difficult part was trying to miss those three-point shots on purpose," he jokes. "But even that came natural to me. I have missed so many shots in my lifetime, and I’ve played so bad, so many times, that I knew what it looked like. So, I just tried to make it look natural and real on camera. I guess I used Method acting, because I just went back to remember some of those bad games I had throughout the season and just tried to reenact them."
One of the film's most memorable scenes takes place when Durant's character first meets Brian (Taylor Newell) and offers him some sound advice on how to improve himself and his playing skills. "I told him, 'Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard,'" he recalls, "because no matter how good you become, you always need to continue to keep working hard at whatever your dream is."
This particular line wasn't written for Durant to recite in the film, in fact, it's a saying he's lived by most of his life -- akin to being his own personal mantra. "When I was eight or nine years old, I had to write that saying on a piece of paper, in an old composition book, before I could go out and play," he remembers. "So, I have been saying and living by those words since then -- about 15 years -- and they put it in the movie. My grandfather was the first one to tell me those words, and I understood what they meant, especially when I decided I wanted to play basketball for a living."
His mom, Wanda Pratt, confesses that she and the rest of Durant's family always encouraged him to go after his dreams, but warned him that achieving them wouldn't always be easy. "I would always tell him that if he wanted to play basketball, he would have to work real hard and he had to go out and do what he needed to do," she says. "Luckily, he got a coach that was committed to his dream, our family was committed to his dream and he was completely committed to it. So, he worked really hard. He worked tirelessly for about seven or eight years as a kid -- nonstop. The whole family supported him, and I think that helped him in being so driven."
Referring to Durant as "driven" is a bit of an understatement. In the past twelve months, in addition to filming Thunderstruck
, Durant survived the long, arduous NBA playoff season, set records at the Olympics and is now promoting his film debut. It's been an exhaustive schedule for the athlete-turned-actor, but it doesn't seem to have taken a toll on Durant. "I’m 23, so I can handle a lot," he says of his hectic lifestyle. "This is what I signed up for. I have been wanting to play basketball my whole life, but like Mom always told me, there is always going to be other stuff to go with it. That’s fine with me. If reporters ask me the same questions over and over again, I just answer them in different ways. I’m just blessed to be going through this, it’s a good problem, I guess. I just try to be me."
Even though he enjoyed his experience making Thunderstruck
, it didn't leave him with any lingering aspirations of wanting to become the next Denzel Washington. "Actually, I want to be the next Michael Jordan first, and then I’ll go from there," he says. "I’m just enjoying it day by day. For instance, in the beginning, I said that I wasn’t going to do this movie, then I did it. If another one comes my way, I’ll look at it and say no again, then decide to do it. So we’ll see what happens."
At the end of the proverbial day, one of the main reasons Durant finally decided to do Thunderstruck
was to inspire kids and teenagers to keep reaching for the stars. "When people, especially children, see this film, I hope they walk out of the theaters holding onto the message we were trying to convey," Durant explains. "I want them to know that they should always work hard for what they believe in, continue to believe in yourself and to put all of your hard work into your dream. If you do that, the sky’s the limit."
They are wise words, and Kevin Durant is living proof that maintaining faith in yourself and always keeping your eye on the prize are essential in turning all of your dreams and desires into reality. "While I was growing up, I never had a Plan B, because I was always had faith, and I was locked into what I wanted to do -- and that was to be the best basketball player I could be," he confesses. "If it hadn't of worked out, I don’t know where I’d be right now. But, I always believed it would, because I’m blessed enough to have great people around me who have helped me to fulfill my dreams. I’m glad I’m living it, and I’m blessed to be doing what I’m doing every single day. I wouldn’t want it any other way."
ON THE NET: To view previews and trailers for Thunderstruck, click onto its Official Site @ www.thunderstruck-movie.com
Thunderstruck opens Friday, August 24, 2012 in select theatres. Check local listings for showtimes.