How Winning Time’s John C. Reilly Handled The ‘Pressure’ Of Playing Lakers Legend Jerry Buss For Adam McKay

John C. Reilly in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty
(Image credit: HBO)

The Los Angeles Lakers are without a doubt one of the most iconic sports teams in all of pop culture, so it’s no surprise that the organization is the subject of a new HBO series – Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. The show viewers on a nostalgic trip to the late ‘70s and chronicles the start of the team’s “Showtime” era. The man at the center of the tale is late team owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who’s played by John C. Reilly on the show. Reilley definitely had big shoes to fill and also had to play the role for his longtime collaborator, Adam McKay. So the actor had to find a way to handle the “pressure” that came with the gig.

John C. Reilly has played big roles for notable directors before. He portrayed Noah Dietrich for Martin Scorsese in The Aviator and channeled Oliver Hardy in Jon S. Baird’s Stan & Ollie. Though it’s hard to top a pop culture staple like Hardy, I’d argue that playing a sports figure like Dr. Buss is nerve-wracking in a different way. During a Winning Time roundtable I attended, Reilly talked about landing the part and revealed that he actually didn’t have much time to prepare:

Well, it's funny because my whole introduction to this job was seven days before I started filming, they asked me to play this part. Adam McKay called me and asked me so, you know, some people are born great, and some people have greatness thrust upon them. And I had this thrust upon me seven days before it happened. So I right away felt like Jerry Buss.

The veteran actor definitely found a positive way to look at the situation. Not many performers may have been willing to jump into such a substantial role on short notice. However, as he so astutely pointed out, some just “have greatness thrust upon them.” Though the star would go on to discuss the pressure that came with the job, he also detailed a few factors that made his transition into the role easier:

You know, number one, I actually have a lot of things in my personality that I find really similar to Jerry: the optimism, the drive to succeed, the people underestimating you and proving them wrong. That's been my life, too. But going into that first shoot of the pilot, I thought, like that weight, you know what, like, when Jerry had this incredible opportunity to take on that team, but then all the big danger that came with it, like, I felt that way going into the shoot. Luckily, I had a great coach in Adam McKay, who was gonna, like, do what we did on Step Brothers and Talladega Nights. So I knew I was in a sweet spot with him, and I'd be able to pull it off with them, but it was a lot of pressure. And then throughout, you know, there are various emotional things in Jerry’s life that I really related to … So I felt really close to the guy, and I am really feeling for him. You know, what it must have been like to go through all the things that he went through.

Dr. Buss lived an interesting life, even before the chemist-turned-businessman took a massive gamble by purchasing the struggling Lakers in 1979. From there, he drafted a young Magic Johnson, who helped lead the franchise to an NBA title in 1980. That championship, of course, would be the first of five that the team would win before the end of the decade. However, Winning Time puts a keen focus on the early struggles the team faced on its way to the mountaintop. You can get a taste of what’s in store by checking out the trailer down below:

As you can see, John C. Reilly is far from the only heavy hitter on the show, which also features names like Adrien Brody, Jason Clarke, Michael Chikllis and Sally Field. There’s also newer talent in the form of Haldley Robinson, Quincy Isaiah and Tamera Tomakili. The show’s producers had the massive task of casting real-life figures like Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, somehow, they succeeded in finding the perfect actors. 

John C. Reilly’s performance as Dr. Jerry Buss is a true testament to that casting notion. Additionally, Adam McKay, who produced the series and directed the pilot, got the best out of the ensemble of stars. All in all, fans are going to want to tune in to see what’s in store for Reilly’s Buss and the rest of the characters this season.

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty premieres on Sunday, March 6 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and will also be available to stream with an HBO Max subscription. The series is just one of the many new shows viewers can look forward to this year.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.