'Hopefully we can inspire older people with Uncle Drew'
NBA greats and comedy stars join forces for Uncle Drew, about a basketball-playing septuagenarian. Georgia Humphreys chats to the cast about the film's appeal and the messages they hope audiences take from it
We first met the legendary Uncle Drew in a Pepsi advertising campaign. Webisodes about him have since gone viral (the YouTube videos have been viewed over 100 million times), and now the basketball-playing septuagenarian, played by Kyrie Irving, has landed his own feature film.
The story sees Uncle Drew persuaded to return to the court by Dax (Lil Rel Howery), who has been left without a team to enter into a street ball tournament in Harlem - a competition with a cash prize he's desperate to bag, after draining his life savings.
So, they head off on a road trip to convince Uncle Drew's old teammates - played by some of basketball's biggest celebrities, including Reggie Miller, Lisa Leslie and Shaquille O'Neal - to reform a squad.
Also starring some of today's hottest comedians, from Tiffany Haddish to Nick Kroll, Uncle Drew is a feel-good watch.
According to Irving, a professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics, the film delves more into Uncle Drew's past.
"He wants to forgive himself but he knows, in order to do that he has to go out and really mend relationships," explains the 26-year-old, who never thought he'd have the opportunity to star on the silver screen.
"The overall message is really about, if you get knocked down, then you gotta get back up," notes former WNBA star Lisa Leslie (45), who plays Betty Lou.
"It's about family, teamwork, working together, and we hope that's the message a lot of people take from this movie."
Reggie Miller, who played his entire 18-year basketball career with the Indiana Pacers, takes on the role of Lights. "Your hardcore basketball fans are going to assume it's a basketball movie, which it is - it has some great basketball scenes in it," the 52-year-old says.
"But every family has its struggles, and it's about repairing those fractured relationships within your family, getting the gang back together and moving forward."
Another overarching theme is this idea of age versus youth. "You can't judge a book by its cover," says comedian and actor Lil Rel Howery (38), who has become known around the world thanks to his role in the mega-hit Get Out.
"Just because somebody's older doesn't mean they're not athletic and capable of doing anything you can do, and vice versa."
"Hopefully we inspire the older generation," emphasises Miller, before adding: "I don't want them to go out there and break a hip or anything thinking they can go on a court!
"But I was the oldest one of the cast... age doesn't mean anything to me."
While Uncle Drew is far from just a sports film, there's no doubt that fans of the game will enjoy watching basketball legends on the court together.
Having real athletes in the cast means dribbling past a defender looks legitimate on screen, but while mapping out the moves was an exciting process for Irving, it wasn't always easy.
"The hardest thing to act out is live sports," he says.
"You're trying to mimic movements that happen in an instant. Basketball players make split-second decisions to pass, shoot or charge, so it's a challenge to recreate what we'd do in a real game for cameras."
A number of the stars had to spend hours in a make-up chair to become their senior, silver-haired characters. And as they filmed in August, the humid weather meant the "make-up would bubble up" as it was sweating through their pores.
However, Miller enjoyed the transformation process.
"After putting on prosthetics and clothes, I was Lights, and the old man grunt and scruffy voice just came out of me," he says.
"As Lights, I walk a lot like my dad, who's 76, echoing how he keeps his arms back and looks around real slow."
While the film has a mainly black cast, Leslie maintains that no one involved "thought of it that way".
However, after the huge success of Marvel's Black Panther earlier this year - praised for being a film about a black superhero and featuring mainly black actors - some might say it feels like we are in the midst of a cultural movement.
What does Irving think has triggered this?
"I think more self-awareness," he says. "In terms of what you want to stand for, taking a stance on social change and what has been the norm for a long time, speaking up for what you believe in and really executing it."
Uncle Drew is in cinemas from Friday, July 6