Quincy Isaiah scored the role of a lifetime playing NBA icon Magic Johnson in a hit new TV show, but not everything went to script.
When is acting just acting, and when does it go too far?
That was the question facing Quincy Isaiah, the breakout star of the hit new show Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.
In the new Binge TV series Isaiah plays Magic Johnson, the basketball icon who won five NBA championships with the LA Lakers in the 1980s.
The 10-part series chronicles the early years of that dynasty — from the Lakers deciding to draft Johnson with the No. 1 pick in 1979, to the off-court dealings of new Lakers team owner Dr Jerry Buss (played by John C. Reilly).
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The charismatic Buss was desperate to transform the Lakers from a struggling organisation to must-watch entertainment on the back of Johnson’s star talent and some added flair on the sidelines.
After buying the team, Buss identifies Johnson as the man who can take the Lakers to the next level, but not everything goes smoothly for Johnson.
Johnson is initially given the cold shoulder by incumbent point guard and established star Norm Nixon, who happens to be played by his son DeVaughan Nixon in the show.
Nixon was defensive of his territory, as Isaiah found out during a tense scene in the first episode where the pair face off in a game of one-on-one basketball.
To show who’s top dog in the team, Nixon schools Johnson but the actor went off script — committing the ultimate act of humiliation in basketball by stepping over Isaiah after he fell flat on his face.
Isaiah was shocked by Nixon’s improvised move, but said it was perfect for the drama of the scene.
When asked by news.com.au if he had any ill will towards Nixon for the next day or so after shooting that scene, Isaiah responded: “Oh yeah. Because before that me and DeVaughan, we hung out, like we were friendly at that point. We didn’t know each other like we do now but we were friendly.
“At that point I’m like, ‘All right, DeVaughan’s cool. I’ve got this scene and we’re going to act’. And then it went ‘action’ and I didn’t know who this person was anymore. He was just going at me and I’m just like, ‘Man, are we acting still?’
“Yes, my pride was hurt when he stepped over me. He almost did like a little sit down too.
“But it works and it translates to the camera. That’s one of the lessons I learned as an actor is, ‘Do what works’. He kills that scene, he kills it. In that scene, I feel like what you see is real because I’m just like, ‘Man, I just got humiliated and I can’t do nothing about it’.
Isaiah said Nixon explained the step-over move was just for acting purposes and there are certainly no hard feelings between the two co-stars.
“We talked on the phone the next day,” he said.
“He called me up, he was like, ‘Hey, I just want to let you know that was just acting, we good?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, all right man’. He’s like, ‘Nah bro, we good! That was just us acting’. I’m like, ‘All right’.
“But that’s my guy now and that was my guy after that.
“You can’t knock the work, and it works. I’m thankful for him for teaching me that lesson.”
Isaiah scored the role of a lifetime but said the hardest part was knowing “there are big shoes to fill” in portraying the great Magic Johnson.
Alongside Isaiah, Winning Time features an all-star ensemble cast including Reilly, Adrien Brody, Sally Field and Australian Jason Clarke as scorned Lakers player-turned-coach Jerry West.
“It was incredible,” Isaiah said of watching his co-stars at work.
“It’s a masterclass. You get to sit back and see actors do acting at the highest level, behind the scenes, in between takes and see what their process is.
“Jason (Clarke) is in character 10 minutes before he starts shooting and 10 minutes afterwards.
“It was incredible to work with everybody and just learn and play off each other. It was a loose set and they allowed us to be actors and just go after it. We were allowed to be free and just go.
“Personally, I think the show is incredible. I love the quick cuts and just the way it’s told. It’s really a beautiful story and I’m very lucky to be a part of something that I think is really special. It was a story that needed to be told.”
Stream Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty on Binge now. New episodes drop every Monday at 1pm (AEDT).