“When I sat there and I spoke with him, I started to see a narrative that wasn’t truly about basketball, it was about growing up in America,” explains director Reggie Rock Bythewood, recalling his initial meeting with NBA star Kevin Durant. Bythewood directs the Apple TV+ drama “Swagger,” which is based on the prominent sports figure’s life and youth basketball experience. We talked to him as part of our “Meet the Experts” TV directors panel. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“They weren’t looking for a biopic,” he reveals. “It was just using inspiration from K.D.’s life and then I was able to bring in points of inspiration from things I’ve seen with my kids and personal experiences.” Even though the series focuses on the lives of basketball players more than the sport itself, Bythewood wanted it to feel authentic, beginning with lead actor Isaiah Hill. “We had a wide search looking for the star of our show,” he recalls. “We auditioned actors. We auditioned ball players. Isaiah hadn’t acted before, but he was so legit as a ball player. When he dunks, he doesn’t just dunk, he puts some hot sauce on it. We got him with a great acting coach and he approached that process like an athlete. I was very proud of the work he did.”
The episode “#Radicals” shows the basketball team travel to a tournament in the South, where they encounter racists and experience other injustices relevant today. “We really drew inspiration from, arguably, the most famous 14-year old in American history (Emmett Till) and really ask the question of how we treat kids in America. That was an underlying theme not just for ‘#Radicals,’ but throughout the season. It’s their first basketball game since the pandemic shut them down. They’re dealing with the aftermath of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It was just a cascade of how the world is changing. These young people are trying to figure out what this is.”
In “Swagger,” Hill plays basketball prodigy Jace Carson, who must navigate a maze of pressure to overcome the odds against him and learn what it truly means to have “swagger.” Bythewood created the series that also stars O’Shea Jackson Jr., Quvenzhané Wallis, Shinelle Azoroh and Tristan “Mack” Wilds.
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