The first episode of HBO's Showtime Lakers drama series introduces Quincy Isaiah's Magic Johnson to Los Angeles as new Lakers owner Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) does everything to nab him as their pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
This is Isaiah's first major role and it is certainly an introduction to the world to make your big debut as one of the most iconic athletes of all time.
"I think because of the pandemic, I was able to really live with the role. And so, it's not as fast of an introduction as y'all probably feel like it is, because I booked this role back in May of 2019," said Isaiah in a recent interview with Shadow and Act. "So it's been three years since I first I was getting this role. But just to be able to play Magic has been like a dream come true, man. I wanted to be a basketball player for as long as I can remember, and I remember not being able to. My mom told me like, 'Nah, that's what you're going to do. You're gonna go to school, you're gonna pick something a little more realistic. And I went to school, and I was like, 'Yeah, I'm gonna, I'm gonna be an athlete.' So, we see where that is [laughs]. I just really appreciate being able to play an icon, and not only on the floor, but in the business room, in HIV activism, and just a cultural person of influence."
The first episode dives into Magic's fish out of water scenario in Los Angeles where, as a young kid from Michigan, he seems like he may not only be not cut out for the LA lifestyle, but he also gets challenged by would-be teammate, Norm Nixon (DeVaughn Nixon).
Speaking on Magic's mindset, Isaiah explained, "This is tough coming from a place where you're known as the big fish in a small pond. And now, turn around, and you've been thrust into this place with even bigger fish in this really big pond. And now, I've got to figure out how I need to move and do I want to be a bigger fish? Do I want to stay the same size or do I want to be the big fish in a small pond again? I think for Magic, it was just about really seeing and feeling it out and allowing that timidness to come through a little bit. But also putting on a good face and making sure that people didn't see me waver in my confidence. And also getting beat down by Norm...that will do that will destroy your confidence a little bit. He's a kid, he's 20 years old at this point. So it's about growing up and just understanding that you don't have all the answers and that you're going to make mistakes and be human. And it's OK. It's encouraged, actually."
However, don't expect Magic to be unsure of himself for too long. In episode 2, the Michigan mojo is poised to come back full throttle.
"You see him get a little bit more of that confidence going," the actor teased. "He's going to show that he's a big fish. Like, 'No, I'm a big fish in this little pond, but I'm about to go be a big fish in a big pond too.' It's just finding that confidence, especially as a 19, 20-year-old and trying to figure out if this lane is for me, whether you believe so or you can't. It's about figuring that out."
Episode 1 was the primary introductory episode for Buss as well, and Reilly even said that he still can't really wrap his head around the larger-than-life man.
"I mean, I lasted about two months in my chemistry class and in high school and begged to get out of it," Reily said to Shadow and Act, referencing Buss' Doctorate of Physical Chemistry. "And in fact, it was the first time I'd ever admitted to someone, that I wanted to be an actor for the rest of my life [laughs]. Just the idea that Jerry was this scientist, that he was this very well-educated genius at math. All that stuff, you know, all the rest of it, I can kind of expect...[like he] comes from humble beginnings, has a lot to prove, makes a lot of money in the real estate world. But the part of it that was really fascinating was that he was a doctor of chemistry. Like what other Playboy of the 1970s was a doctor of chemistry that actually taught chemistry at USC or worked for the aerospace industry and for the government figuring out missile trajectories between Russia and America? That's just not in the profile of most NBA owners. So I found that really fascinating about him and it was always something that whenever I felt myself getting a little bit too [close to] that party boy kind of attitude with the open shirts or whatever, I would always remind myself remember, he has a doctorate in chemistry. He has this very analytical mind a very impressive intellect. The reason he was so good at poke and so good at reading people in situations that were high stakes was because he was very intelligent and he could be could read people."
Winning TIme airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on HBO.
Watch the full video below, in which the actors talk more about their roles: