Adrien Brody interview: ‘Winning Time,’ ‘Succession’

Few coaches in the history of the NBA were as successful as Pat Riley. He ranks fifth on the all-time wins list for coaches and won five titles as a sideline leader – including four as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Riley’s dominance with the team during the 1980s made him into a bonafide star. By the end of the decade, Riley was such a recognizable public figure – known for his Armani suits and slicked-back hair – that he even appeared on the cover of GQ, an honor not normally bestowed upon basketball coaches.

But that’s not the Riley who gets introduced on the HBO series “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Like many of the other future legends who are depicted in the hit drama – including Quincy Isaiah as Earvin “Magic” Johnson – “Winning Time” starts with Riley at a crossroads, retired from the NBA after a successful playing career, and trying to figure out what’s next.

“It’s much more interesting to watch a man climb up from something that you didn’t even know about him,” Adrien Brody, who plays Riley to great effect on “Winning Time,” tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview. “It was also more challenging, to be honest. For me to come in and do a ton of research on a guy who I relate to and… want to trust my interpretation of him. I look so different and feel so different from the guy [who everyone knows now]. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him too. So, I like where he landed and I’m eager to get [to the coaching championships] and speak to those years. I’ve been champing at the bit for us to honor that.”

Based on the book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s” by Jeff Pearlman, “Winning Time” spends its first season detailing how the Lakers became a dominant NBA force once the club drafted Johnson with the first overall pick in the 1979 draft. (Johnson’s style of play helped ignite the team’s fast-break offense, which gave the team its enduring nickname: Showtime.) During the start 1979-1980 season, Riley served as a color commentator on the Lakers broadcasts. But he later became an assistant coach under interim head coach Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) after head coach Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts) was seriously injured in a bicycle accident. Riley wouldn’t fully take over the team until Westhead was pushed out during the 1981-1982 season following a dispute with Johnson.

“Winning Time” offers glimpses of that history to come. As played by Brody, Riley is a fierce competitor – someone who puts the success of the team above all else. So at a key point during Game 6 of the 1980 NBA finals, when Riley steps forward to give Johnson a pep talk after Westhead’s rah-rah approach seemingly falls flat with the superstar, the seeds of the Riley-Johnson relationship are firmly planted.

“I know that connection and how united they are,” Brody says of the scene, where Riley tells Magic he lost the rookie of the year vote 63-3 against top rival Larry Bird. It’s all the encouragement Johnson needs to finish off the game and win his first championship as a Los Angeles Laker

“I think it was a big part of Pat actually becoming coach later in life and hopefully in the story,” Brody says of Riley’s relationship with Magic. “Magic trusting Pat, there lies the crux of that relation.”

Brody won Best Actor in 2003 for “The Pianist” and has worked on countless films with top directors like Wes Anderson. But he says “Winning Time” hits different with the audience than some of his prior projects. The show grew its viewership throughout its first season and HBO has made sure to renew the series for a second season, which is now in pre-production.

“So many people see the show and love the show and love the game. It’s very exciting to be a part of something that catches people and speaks to them,” he says. “So yeah, I’m really very much looking forward to [Season 2]. And you know, a lot is unknown to me as well – so I can’t wait to find out where and when things happen, because there’s a lot that has to happen.”

HBO subscribers have seen a lot of Brody over the last six months. In addition to “Winning Time,” Brody was one of the big-name guest stars who appeared on Season 3 of “Succession.” He played Josh Aaronson, a billionaire investor who seeks to find out what’s really happening between Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his son Kendall (Emmy winner Jeremy Strong) after the shocking events of the show’s second season when Kendall sabotaged his father in the final moments. Brody guest-starred in the season’s fourth episode, “Lion in the Meadow,” and his inscrutable character put the screws to both Roy men. The episode marked the first extended time Cox and Strong shared the screen together during the season.

“I realized that Jeremy hadn’t quite seen Brian for a bit and, you know, he’s very method about this and so I’m in the middle of that,” Brody says of appearing in the episode. “It was really fun for me because I’m a little bit like [Jeremy] and I’m a little like [Brian]…. They’re both such great actors and they were so fun to collaborate with. They were really generous and they’re really generous with each other. But it was interesting to see the approach and the level of commitment that is given to the depicting those characters. I thought it was really nice. It was nice to be on the inside of it and see it. Because I’m a fan. And so it was like I got to peer in and see how this whole thing is working and thrilling – and that is also what my character is doing. So it was like life imitating art.”

“Winning Time” and “Succession” are available on HBO Max.

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UPLOADED Jul 12, 2022 4:42 pm