Champions Director Recalls Auditioning ‘Hundreds’ Of Actors With Disabilities Who Had Never Received Opportunities In Hollywood Prior

In recent years, Hollywood has been having a larger conversation about what needs to change when it comes to representation of minorities from all walks of life. There has certainly been a lot of moves in the right direction, such as the 2023 Academy Awards honoring Everything Everywhere All At Once over the weekend, a movie especially important to the Asian-American community. Another example is 2022 being a big year for Native American diversity on television. There are so many facets of diversity to be explored, including for segments of the disabled community, which is in the forefront of the basketball comedy Champions

The 2023 new movie release is a remake of the Spanish movie with the same name and premise. Champions revolves around a minor-league basketball coach, in this case played by Woody Harrelson, who gets kicked out of his job and finds himself doing community service for a local basketball team made up of people with disabilities. When CinemaBlend spoke to the movie’s director, Bobby Farrelly, he shared the process of representing people with a range of developmental disabilities in the movie. In his words: 

We were very moved by the way [the original movie] played at that by bringing all these people with disabilities together on a basketball team. It was very funny. And they captured it in a way where you're not laughing at the people, you're laughing with them. And so what we wanted to do is just get a well-rounded cast. People that love basketball are disabled, but also have the ability to act. A lot of 'em had never acted, but they had to audition for us on tape. And, they were all terrific. Each one of them really shined.

It’s incredible to see a movie like Champions casting numerous actors who happen to have disabilities with authentic roles that showcase more representation on the big screen. But, as the director shared, so many of the “hundreds” of actors they auditioned had never booked a job prior to Champions coming along. Farrelly shared a fun story while explaining the audition process further. As he continued:  

Every one of those actors had their moment in the audition. Casey Metcalf, he lives up in Vermont and when he auditioned for the role, he didn't have a basketball to hold onto. But he lives on a chicken farm, so he was holding a chicken in his hand and that was his prop for basketball. And it just made us laugh so much that we thought, we have to work Casey into the movie. And, and that was a, that was a good move. Because he brought us so many laughs. He was always doing funny things like that. He was very creative abut each one stood out. And if they didn't, they wouldn't have gotten the part because they had to stand out amongst hundreds and hundreds of people applying for the part.

Champions (2023)

Woody Harrelson in Champions

(Image credit: Focus Features)

Release Date: March 10, 2023 (Theaters)
Directed By: Bobby Farrelly
Written By: Mark Rizzo
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Matt Cook, Ernie Hudson, Cheech Marin, Madison Tevlin, Joshua Felder, Kevin Iannucci, Ashton Gunning, Matt Cook, Matthew Von Der Ahe, Tom Sinclair, Alex Hintz, Casey Matcalfe, Bradley Edens and James Day Keith

Casey Metcalfe plays Marlon in Champions, and is part of the team of basketball players called “The Friends” Woody Harrelson’s character coaches in the film. Metcalfe, who has autism, is among many who found their first movie credit with Champions despite a long history as an actor. Metcalfe began acting with a troupe called Actors for Autism back in 2004 in Los Angeles and was featured in the 2009 documentary Kids With Cameras

Metcalfe shared with his local news outlet Seven Days in a recent interview that he believes Champions is a “giant step forward for the developmentally disabled community” and shared his belief that it’s “society” that makes him and others feel not included. He hopes the movie will be a “turning point” for the community. 

In recent years, we are seeing more storylines around people with autism in particular have stereotypes challenged, including the Netflix dating show Love On The Spectrum. It’s great to see Champions also do so for big screen audiences. Champions is now playing in theaters, and you can check out our interview with Woody Harrelson about the movie as well here on CinemaBlend. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.