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Winning Time's Quincy Isaiah And DeVaughn Nixon On Their 'Tough' Basketball Scene, Which Included A Crucial Note From John C. Reilly

Quincy Isaiah and DeVaughn Nixon on Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty
(Image credit: HBO)

Spoilers for the first episode of Winning Time: Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, “The Swan,” lie ahead.

HBO’s new series, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, has finally arrived and, so far, both general viewers and critics mostly seem to be enjoying the sports dramedy. The series premiere had its fair share of memorable moments, with some being more sentimental and others just downright hilarious. Of course, the show isn’t without tension, and that was definitely on display when Quincy Isaiah’s Magic Johnson and DeVaughn Nixon’s Norm Nixon played a game of one on one. The two actors have some keen thoughts on the “tough” scene, which actually received a crucial note from co-star John C. Reilly. 

The sequence in question takes place during the latter part of Winning’s Time’s first episode. In it, Magic Johnson and Norm Nixon, who’d developed a somewhat uneasy relationship up to that point, engage in a basketball game in the middle of a white party at Donald Sterling’s house. The usually upbeat Magic ultimately loses to Norm in humiliating fashion, and the moment was pretty visceral for Quincy Isaiah himself. When I asked him about the scene during a roundtable discussion, he recalled why it was so difficult:

Yeah, that was a tough scene, man. Just because it was a lot of moving parts. You know, we was playing basketball in these nice clothes. … DeVaughn, he went at me, that was my introduction to Hollywood. I was like, ‘I don't know if I like this dude.’ [laughs] Like, I really didn't … At the end of the day, I'm like, ‘Man, I don't think I like DeVaughn.’ It’s funny cuz he called me the next day. And he was like, ‘Hey, man, I just wanted to call you [to] make sure we was cool. I’m just letting you know that was just acting, like this and that … we hang out together now, like that's my boy. But like, after that day, I was like, ‘Nah man, this can’t be, this did not just happen like this, man.

I don’t know about any of you, but I couldn't help but cringe when I saw the actor suffer the fictional defeat. And I can definitely see why he wasn’t feeling too good about co-star DeVaughn Nixon immediately after the cameras stopped rolling. As the “enemy” in the situation, Nixon had a somewhat different experience amid production. In a separate roundtable chat, he explained that he really wanted to go method but also honor his famous father through his portrayal:

One scene that stuck out in my head was in the pilot when I played Quincy, one on one. And, you know, Adam McKay directed that episode, so we got to improv a lot. And, you know, I felt like I did my dad some justice in that scene. I remember one moment, so I kind of went method with that one. Like me and Quincy were tight, he and I had met him first out of all the players. … he was like a brother to me, you know, coming to my house. You know, we spent a lot of time together before just to create and kind of cultivate that relationship. And I remember the day we were filming that scene, and we were so close at that point. I don't think it would’ve worked if I didn't do what I did. And so what I did was, I didn't speak to him the whole day. And his mom was there. And I go to his mom, and I'm like, ‘Yo, we're about to shoot the scene, you know, I'm taking on the role as the enemy right here.’ And I embodied that. And I didn't talk to Quincy the whole time. He's like, ‘What's up?’ And I was like, ‘I'm good’. And I just walked away.

For better or worse, the star’s tactics definitely worked. To say that DeVaughn Nixon fully committed to the smugness of this fictionalized version of his dad would be an understatement. And as he further explained, he even went as far as to improvise one of the sequence’s most demoralizing moments:

Especially, particularly, the moment that stuck out is when he falls, and I step over him, that wasn't in the script. And I saw him on the floor, and I just wanted to piss him off to, you know, really, really, really make that scene pop. And I think it did and immediately after I called [him]. [I was] like ‘Yo man, I'm so sorry.’ He's like, ‘Dude, I want to punch you in the face.’ I was like, ‘Good.’ So I think that was one of my favorite scenes.

Friend and colleague Quincy Isaiah may not have been happy at the time but, now, even he can’t argue with the results. The up-and-coming star later discussed what the moment did for the show and got honest about what it meant for him as an actor:

Just being able to play and be able to do that, you know, and to be able to see him do that and like really beat me down man and like, mess with me. I think it brought a realness to that scene where I'm like, ‘I'm [Magic], at such a high level, where I'm coming from a big fish.’ And he humbles me, you know? And I mean, DeVaughn the actor, he kind of humbled me in that scene, too, you know what I mean, as an actor … But seeing it, it feels like that was the energy of the scene. And it felt really good to see that it translated well, no matter how bad I felt in the moment, you know?

All in all, the basketball matchup, which was directed by Adam McKay, is done well. However, the director received some keen advice from John C. Reiley, who portrays Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. While sitting on the same roundtable with Quincy Isaiah, Reilly revealed the tip he gave his Step Brothers collaborator:

I was there when they were shooting that scene. My character is at that party, and I was standing over by the monitor when they were shooting the basketball part of that scene. And, you know, DeVaughn was trying to humiliate Quincy. He was like, that's what the character was supposed to be doing, and that's what he was trying to do. And Quincy was taking it to heart. You know, I could see from the moment they started, you know, the take would start and Quincy’s like looking at I'm like, ‘Man, are you doing this to me?’ Like I could see the seriousness on his face. And so I said to [Adam] McKay, ‘I was like, ‘Tell Quincy to smile. Tell him to smile, as long as he can. And then when he finally can't, when he's finally getting his ass beat so bad, then he can start to get serious.’

The Aviator alum has proven to be an astute performer, and this small note further cements that notion. The importance of this suggestion may not be clear to some right away. However, the Stan & Ollie star knows how a smile can sometimes serve as a form of protection in tough situation:

Because, you know your smile can be a shield too, you know? ‘This guy’s trying to humiliate me, and as long as I'm smiling, you don't know whether you're actually affecting me or not, you know? ‘Oh, yeah, you got me. You got that one too.’ But when I dropped my smile, that's when you know, you got me. … I was like saying to Adam, ‘It looks like [DeVaughn is] getting [Quincy] right away. And it takes a second.’ … So Adam’s like, ‘That's a great note.’

The collaboration at play here is a true credit to the talents of Winning Time’s cast and crew. Such synergy is definitely appropriate for this project, given that in the NBA, teamwork is ultimately the key to success. We’ll see what else the group pulls off as the season continues to unfold.

Winning Time: Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty airs new episodes on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, and they can later be streamed with an HBO Max subscription. The series is certainly proving to be one of 2022’s most talked-about new shows thus far.

Erik Swann
Erik Swann

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