How ‘Swagger’ Raised Its Game

Season 1 of “Swagger,” a sports drama set in the high-stakes world of high school basketball in Washington, D.C., a suburb of Seat Pleasant, Maryland, is set to release in the fall of 2021. moderate critical assessment. Author Reggie Locke Bythewood and its cast and crew were proud of what they had accomplished.

But with the show’s second season, which premiered on Apple TV+ last week, Vicewood’s ambitions were even greater. He wanted the story to be more complicated. He wanted basketball to be more exciting. And he wanted to use the story of his prep school sports team to convey a message about the country.

“There’s this athlete mentality of wanting to be challenged,” Bicewood said in a recent video interview. He posed the challenge as follows: “How does Season 2 of ‘Swagger’ turn the mirror on America?”

The series tells the story of an elite high school athlete, Jace Carson (Isaiah Hill), who ranks among the top local basketball players, wins a college basketball scholarship, and ultimately qualify for the NBA. is expected to obtain In the first season, Jace clashes with and bonds with those around him, including single mother Jenna (Sinel Azoro). his lifelong best friend Krystal (Qwavenzhané Wallis); and Ike (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), a tough but supportive coach. The second season plunges Jace into his senior year as the demands of budding fame and the pressure of rising expectations culminate.

Carson is loosely based on Kevin Durant, a Phoenix Suns power forward, multiple-time NBA Champion, All-Star, MVP, and one of the best players in the league throughout his 16-year career. While “Swagger” is set in the present day, Durant was in high school in the early 2000s, much of Carson’s biography draws inspiration from Durant’s own biographies, some of which include being raised by a single mother. This includes being a leading candidate from Seat Pleasant College. .

The concept for a show based on Durant’s life was the brainchild of Durant himself and his manager and business partner Rich Kleiman. “Rich Kleiman and I have had the idea for some time to do something that builds on my early years and revolves around the world of AAU basketball,” Durant wrote in an email. “We connected with [the producer] Brian Grazer a few years ago. “

When Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment first approached Bythewood with the pitch, “It didn’t really sound like what I wanted to do,” Bythewood admitted. But Durant was still playing for the Bay Area-based Golden State Warriors at the time, and Biswood, who was in Los Angeles, thought it wouldn’t hurt to jump on a plane and attend a meeting.

“I met with the man and talked about his life, and I felt an emotional connection to his story,” he said.

Bythewood first became interested in acting as a high school student in the Bronx. When she was in her senior year of high school, she starred in the NBC soap opera Another World. His soap star status has provided us with an opportunity to get a sense of some of the pressures a top athlete can face facing the spotlight from the middle of Seat Pleasant.

“The idea was that all of a sudden all eyes were on you,” he says. “I was really sympathetic to all the plights, the joys, the challenges.” Bicewood added his own perspective to Durant’s story, and from there “Swagger” was born.

The show’s contemporary setting made it possible to tackle contemporary political issues. In the first season, the characters grappled with Covid protocols and participated in Black Lives Matter protests. This season, Bisewood wanted to touch on “the change in this country” from “people who want to reflect on racism and reexamine themselves” stemming from the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, “critical racial theory is seen as one of the country’s greatest enemies,” he said.

He used the season’s setting of a predominantly white, upper-class prep school as a microcosm of the nation, depicting power imbalances and the unique hardships faced by black students.

Bythewood’s north star in “Swagger” is always real, he said. Given the serious nature of the subject matter off the court (which also touches on a wide range of social issues such as sexual assault, violence and homophobia), he finds sports action to be as compelling as drama. wanted to confirm.

“Basketball is supposed to be the best when you do something that heavy,” he said. “You can’t tell the truth about society and lie about basketball.”

From the beginning, Bythewood has refused to cheat or compromise when filming game sequences for “Swagger.” When someone dunks, they’re actually dunking over regulation hoops. No lowering the rim, no actors jumping on trampolines. Season 2 will include even more high-level athletic court action. “Never in our shows does someone shoot the ball and then we cut and see the ball go through the rim,” Bithewood said.

With a mixed cast of veteran actors and amateurs with basketball backgrounds, an obsession with realism was required. Actors had to learn to play the ball convincingly, and the ball throwers had to perform convincingly.

Wallis, the youngest actress ever to be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (2012’s Beast of the Southern Wild), said in a recent interview, “I didn’t play basketball very much before I started working on this show. ‘, said he couldn’t play basketball. It’s not just about dribbling the ball. Her role as a top women’s basketball player who aspires to become an All-American for McDonald’s has inspired Wallis to “be in the gym all the time, training with the boys, training on my own, playing free, It took months of intense training, including playing seriously,” she said. she said.

Jackson grew up playing basketball and remained an avid NBA fan, but said he underwent a lot of training to “get the gear a little bit sharper and the handle right.” His character as a coach isn’t as demanding to play serious basketball as some younger players. But in the season 2 premiere’s impressive long take, filmed without the help of invisible editing or CGI, Ike and Jace hit free throws and make it all together.

“Reggie was like, ‘Let me do something,'” Jackson said. “It’s like, ‘Reggie, I found you.'”

For Hill, who had a background in basketball and had no acting experience before being tapped to star in Swagger, the test was reversed. Dunks were more natural to him than dramatic monologues. In a recent interview, he said seeing other cast members “going all out and trying hard on the basketball court” kept him motivated to work hard on acting.

“Some of them didn’t know how to dribble three weeks before filming. They’re doing reverse layups and Eurosteps in Season 2,” he said. “Seeing them raise the stakes on the court every day made me want to raise the stakes on the acting side as well.”

Vicewood noticed the effort. “Isaiah did a great job on Season 1,” he said. “But at the end of season two, he’s no longer a basketball player who can act. He just happens to be an actor who plays basketball. The level of growth he’s shown has been amazing.”

Durant is also impressed with the series’ progress.

“It’s great to see the relationships between the characters evolve so much through seasons 1 and 2,” he said. “The story has taken off on its own. I can definitely see a part of myself in Jace, but his character is definitely a man going through his own challenges in today’s world.” It’s your own person.”

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