‘White Men Can’t Jump’ Stars and Filmmaker Talk Readapting a Classic and the Memory of Lance Reddick

(L-R): J. Alphonse Nicholson as Jermaine and Jack Harlow as Jeremy in 20th Century Studios' WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP, exclusively on Hulu. Photo by Parrish Lewis. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Ron Shelton’s classic basketball film White Men Can’t Jump is getting remade and will release this Friday! Starring Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow as Kamal and Jeremy, respectively, with the latter making his acting debut, the movie will follow the same template as the original, with two talented basketball players joining forces to make money. Still, it will have a more contemporary outlook on the subject matter than the 1992 film. Speaking in a virtual press conference promoting the film’s upcoming release, Walls explained how it was important to showcase basketball in an authentic light:

“The most important part was to ensure this was authentic with basketball. I think that’s something that [director Calmatic] cared about, and he was critical about it every time. I always talk about how much of the movie moved at a pace where we had to do single takes. Those movements don’t work unless someone can authentically play basketball to a level that makes the most sense. That’s why the basketball [in the film] is so good. We’re all going to be critical of it. I know Teyana [Taylor]‘s going to be critical of it. [laughs] So it was important to ensure that that was infused naturally. It was just fun, man. To step in and use things that I’d already done for years. I mean, Chuck knows, I had been playing ball since I was six. It was something that can actually happen naturally and move in that space.”

In starring in a movie for the first time, Harlow expressed that he was thankful to have joined “a group of people that were so humble and willing to let me learn and be patient with me, but also be willing to teach. I feel like I arrived in an egoless environment. I was the least experienced person, and everyone let me shine, try things, and give me room to give my opinion. I have to give a big shoutout to Cal for that.  If I felt strongly about something, it didn’t mean it would go that way, but Cal would hear me out and vice versa. I was all in for the lead vision, but I appreciated that I could come into my first one and that people cared about what I thought. I want to give a big shoutout to everybody I’m sitting with here and everyone that was involved in the film for making my first one such a seamless experience.”

The film also stars Teyana Taylor and Laura Harrier as Kamal and Jeremy’s girlfriends, respectively. In reimagining Rosie Perez‘s character from the original, Harrier explained that she had big shoes to fill because “Rosie Perez is an actress I’ve always looked up to. I think her in the original film is such an iconic role and character. I wanted not to try and reference any of that because I didn’t want to do a recreation of what she was doing. I wanted to give Tatiana her own character, her own person, and my own interpretation of who she was. Like the entire film, we look at the original and only draw bits and pieces, but it’s definitely its own thing and its own retelling.”

Taylor had recently starred in the Grand Jury Prize Sundance Winner A Thousand and One and described the process of moving onto a different character for White Men Can’t Jump as “a lot. At that time, I had just directed a music video for Bryson Tiller and Puff, and then I also had Something in the Water. I was going back and forth. Then I had the kids, so it was a lot. However, I think the chemistry and the whole squad, especially the crafts team, was fire. The art department, the styling team, especially hair and makeup. It was such a great village that it felt like that coming-of-age era. Even the cookout. Sometimes, when you film stuff like that, it looks real on-screen, but there’s a lot of work off-screen. But I was like, “Yo, this cookout is crazy.” [laughs].

But it felt like a real cookout. The game felt like a real game.  It was often hard to stay in character because I’m supposed to sit there and look sad. One moment, I’m like, “Yeah!  Do it!” but I have to calm down. I’m trying to keep calm in the moment because my character had learned some tragic news, but I was getting hyped. That’s the wife in me [laughs]. But it was amazing. Juggling it all was amazing, and it was a blessing.”

White Men Can’t Jump will be one of the last films starring Lance Reddick, who died in March 2023, a week before John Wick: Chapter 4 was slated to release. In the remake, Reddick plays Benji Allen, Kamal’s father, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. On working with Reddick to bring the character to life, director Calmatic explained that he had always been the first choice for the role as soon as his name came up:

“When his name came up as an option for Benji, I was like, “Duh, we gotta go with Lance. We have to work with that guy.”  As soon as we made it official, he came in and met us. He did tons of research on his character and the illness he had. He even met with doctors and actually interviewed someone that had that condition. When he came to set, he was super locked in.  It was one of those things where, as a director, when I’m watching actors perform, I’m always thinking about, “Ok, how can we do that differently?  What’s going on?”  However, after every take, I would go in there and say, “That was perfect. You did it. That’s exactly what this character needed at that moment.” I know actors hate to hear this, but I also went, “Let’s do it again and try something different.” He would do something different, but it was equally perfect as the first one.  I quickly realized he was one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with, and it’s such a shame that he’s not here with us. But I think his presence alone left an imprint and a great impression on us.”

White Men Can’t Jump releases on May 19 on Hulu in the United States and Disney+ internationally.

[Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity]


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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