[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty episode six, “Memento Mori.”]
jason segel understands it. When a project is based on real people, there will be some level of pushback from the subjects or those who know them.
Y Time to win: The rise of the Lakers dynasty has not been the exception. But Segel, who plays the former Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Paul Westhead, points out that the hbo the show is not a documentary series; rather, he sees it as a superhero origin story for the legendary Lakers team of the 1980s.
And with that understanding, Segel played Westhead, whose biggest episode to date is “Memento Mori.” The kind but meek Westhead is thrust into the top job after Lakers head coach Jack McKinney, played by Tracy Letts, is nearly killed in a bicycle accident.
segel account the hollywood reporter that Westhead’s deep self-doubt is certainly relatable, and it was possible to play that version of the real man because, in the end, he knew it was all going to work out for the coach and his team.
Beyond being a Los Angeles native and a former high school basketball champion with the nickname “Dr. Dunk ”, what was the use of the investigation of him? winning time and this character?
(laughs.) I wasn’t that familiar with Paul Westhead, and I don’t think many people our age or younger are. So, it was great to learn about him. What a fascinating story, being pushed into head coaching before you’re ready for it and at the same time grieving over this injury to your best friend.
This version of Paul is painfully lacking in confidence. What was it like playing that kind of character?
Not believing in yourself is a very relatable thing. And then being called upon to lead when you suffer from impostor syndrome, it’s like everyone’s fear of public speaking, the “My God, don’t make everyone look at me!” I recently interviewed a therapist for another project I’m working on, and he told me, “The human instinct is to avoid.” And I thought that was really interesting. And I think that’s really true for Paul Westhead early on.
Did you have a chance to talk to Paul, or was your preparation just literature and TV shoots?
I read books, like Show timeon which the series is based, and Paul’s book [The Speed Game: My Fast Times in Basketball]. Paul and I had a brief exchange on Twitter saying how excited we were for each other. But the series is not a docuseries. I’ve always thought of it as a superhero origin story. It’s about these guys becoming the Showtime Lakers, each of them finding their own individual superpower. And that’s where you get the lofty moments and lofty arcs in the story. You are seeing a fable in many ways.
It is interesting that you note that since there has been some rejection of certain representations, like Jerry West’s. Does that go along with the territory of such a company?
It doesn’t thrill me when someone says something about me in any way. (laughs.) But I totally get it. I think the show is made with a lot of love. And the thing that always gave me confidence when I was playing the weaker sides of Paul Westhead is that I knew that at the end of the series, I was taking Paul to a place where he was lifting a championship trophy, literally and metaphorically.
Quincy Isaiah (Magic Johnson) and Solomon Hughes (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) are just phenomenal. What has it been like working with such talented newcomers?
The greatest joy of doing a show is seeing guys who are early in their career do it so quickly. There’s something about the performance that you click on; you are not intimidated by the camera, you are not afraid to deviate from the plan you made the night before. And the things that took me a decade, these guys were doing within an episode. It was really cool. And I don’t mean that in any patronizing or old-guard way. It was like, “Shit. You get it.
You and Adrian Brody (Pat Riley) have some fantastic moments trying to keep the wheels on the Lakers’ wagon. What was it like working with him and also with Tracy Letts (Jack McKinney)?
I was able to do most of my scenes with Tracy and Adrien, and I fell in love with both of them. Two wildly different guys. Tracy and I are more similar stylistically. And the stylistic differences between me and Adrien are what really make those scenes come to life. It was exciting with Adrien because neither of them knew what the other was going to do. We both trust what we do. And both men, Paul and Pat, were in a power struggle.
Other cast members have told me that the production process for this series, like shooting an actual movie, is unique, to say the least. How has it been for you?
I’ll be in the middle of the performance and all of a sudden a guy on roller skates will zoom by with a camera. (laughs.) And then there’s going to be some steampunk-looking crew, and they’re shooting on some dark film stock. And she felt great. You never know if something is working, but we definitely knew we were on to something that was trying to be special.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.