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Winning Time Season 2 Finale Director on Magic and Cookie Johnson’s Story – The Hollywood Reporter



[This story contains spoilers from the finale of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty season two.]

The title says all of it on the subject of the title of episode one in every of season two of the HBO sports activities drama Profitable Time: “One Ring Don’t Make a Dynasty.”

How the second season began — the Lakers celebrating their win over the Philadelphia 76ers within the 1980 NBA World Championship — isn’t the way it ended: Within the finale, the Celtics beat out the Lakers within the 1984 NBA Finals. However it’s the moments in between these defining video games that give audiences a clearer image of what the central gamers within the Lakers franchise had been up towards on and off the court docket.

Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) and his relationship with then-on-again-off-again girlfriend Earlitha “Cookie” Kelly (Tamera Tomakili) was a focus all through season two, which started with the 6 foot, 9 inch professional baller discovering out he’d fathered a toddler, his first son Andre Johnson, born to Melissa Mitchell in 1981. Over the following seven episodes main as much as Sunday’s finale, audiences noticed how Magic and Cookie navigated this and plenty of different hurdles in his early years within the league. And deciding how one can painting that journey was an vital consideration for finale director Salli Richardson-Whitfield.

“I’m trying to protect that love that I think is true,” says Richardson-Whitfield, who’s additionally an government producer of the sequence. “We’re not going to cover up all the dirty spots, but I feel protective of that storyline,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Although season one of many sequence created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht drew criticism from Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and former Lakers basic supervisor Jerry West for its dramatization of historic occasions, Richardson-Whitfield stands on the artistic staff’s diligence in not shying away from onerous truths.

“I think people have realized this season that if you just watch the show instead of judging the show without seeing it, it’s a great show,” she says.


You’ve got the bookend episodes of season two, beginning with the premiere after which the final two episodes. How a lot stress is that as a director?

I like doing this present a lot, however let me inform you, I feel that these three episodes have 90 % of the basketball in it for the entire present. So, the method, I all the time say it was like having a child. You neglect the ache, and that’s why you come again once more. However it was onerous. It’s a TV present, you get a restricted period of time. I did sports activities rising up and I’m aggressive, and me and Todd Banhazl, the DP, once we got here again this season, we had been like: We’re going to crush basketball this season. We felt like we did that within the finale of final season, however now I actually know the present. So, this 12 months, we had been pondering of tips — are we going to shoot within the mirror this time? Are we going to get a drone? We had been arising with all types of stuff to shoot.

How did enjoying basketball in highschool inform your selections as a director?

It’s positively useful. Are you able to direct this present when you don’t know basketball? Sure. However doing massive sequences and having to corral so many alternative guys, younger guys, on the basketball court docket, it makes it simpler for me as a result of I do know the language. I do know what it’s to possibly not be the coach, however I understand how I must be speaking to you and what I have to get from you. I do know when your protection seems lazy. I do know when that decide don’t look proper, and I don’t should depend on different individuals to try this. Simply as a basic problem, you don’t anticipate to see me, this little brown girl coming in and directing a present like this. So then there’s additionally that added factor the place I’m like: Watch this. I’m about to crush it. Good luck choosing this aside.

In distinction to the action-heavy scenes this season, episode six delved extra deeply into the romantic lives of lots of the characters, significantly Jerry Buss, Magic Johnson and Norm Nixon. What was vital to get proper as you explored their intimate relationships?

For me, with Magic and Cookie specifically, I all the time wish to be sure that individuals — it doesn’t matter what the opposite drama is of their life that’s portrayed — see that these are two individuals who completely love one another. In case you see Magic and Cookie now, all people would need for that love story, it doesn’t matter what the bumps had been to get there. They love one another and that’s what I see within the present. That’s what was written and once I’m directing it, I’m making an attempt to guard that love that I feel is true. We’re not going to cowl up all of the soiled spots, however I really feel protecting of that storyline.

Even with Norm, when he has to depart the Lakers, seeing how a lot he loves it and that harm was vital. It wasn’t nearly cash. The Lakers meant lots to him. Then on a private observe, I’m buddies with Miss Debbie Allen so I used to be not getting in bother. That is once I needed to take the reins from everybody. I used to be like: I’m choosing Debbie Allen out. She’s not gonna come struggle me. She’s gotta be a superb dancer. She’s gotta be beautiful. She’s gotta have a few of that spunk that Debbie has. And though she’s not within the episode that a lot, I feel you see Debbie Allen once you see who we forged.

Have you ever talked to Magic or Cookie in regards to the sequence?

I’ve not. It’s very onerous for me as a result of I do know quite a lot of these individuals. We’re not greatest buddies, however we’re buddies. I clearly got here on the present later, and I’m positive they perceive it, however when we’ve seen one another and we’re round one another, it’s this factor that nobody speaks of. I all the time say that I hope they know what I simply talked about — that it doesn’t matter what’s put earlier than me, I’m very protecting of constructing positive issues are advised in an sincere manner.

Todd Banhazl talked to THR about episode three, which he directed, and constructing as much as the rivalry between Magic and Larry Fowl. By the tip of the season, we begin to see them maturing a bit and creating a way of mutual respect. How do you see their relationship being central to the sequence?

Todd’s episode was so vital. Lots of people mentioned it felt like this sort of standalone episode and I mentioned, properly, if we don’t really feel for Larry, if we simply see him as a villain, then we don’t care about their rivalry later. We all know that Larry and Magic now have a friendship they usually respect one another very a lot so we needed to get to that time that you just perceive who these persons are. You want nice athletes who work onerous and are devoted as a lot as these two. Everyone’s personalities aren’t excellent, however they do have an admiration for one another and I feel you positively see that all through this entire season.

You and Tanya Hamilton are the one feminine administrators on this sequence and also you’re each Black girls. How distinctive of knowledgeable expertise has that been for you, maybe outdoors of engaged on Queen Sugar?

I used to be simply so joyful. I used to be joyful to see her final 12 months and I used to be joyful that she was introduced again once more. Tanya tells an excellent story. She is aware of how one can actually dive inside of those characters and that’s all it’s about— Black girl, white man, you need individuals who can inform an excellent story. And it’s fantastic that the present has been capable of see us as simply administrators and storytellers. That irrespective of if it’s basketball or no matter it’s, these two Black girls can inform this story.

What was the impetus for you making the change to directing after working as an actress for therefore lengthy?

It was Ava DuVernay once I was capturing her first movie, I Will Comply with. I Most likely had too many opinions, however sooner or later, she mentioned to me, “You know, I think you’re a director and you don’t know it.” Generally it takes another person to see one thing in you that you just don’t even know is there. Actually her simply talking these phrases into me, unexpectedly, I thought of all of the instances I’ve been paying consideration differently. Like how I’m not simply hanging out between takes, I’m subsequent to the monitor. I used to be fortunate that these producers gave me a possibility. Clearly, I went and did my due diligence and talked to different administrators and did some shadowing. However once I directed Eureka for the primary time, I went, “Uh-oh, I get this.” And as issues moved shortly, I noticed that every one these years of performing had been my coaching floor to be a director.

It does appear your directing profession exploded pretty shortly. Do you are feeling alternatives have come extra simply on this house than in performing?

We’ve positively gotten extra alternative, however there’s nonetheless much more available. Folks assume that unexpectedly, it’s solely Black girls directing stuff. We’re nonetheless a really small minority specifically in characteristic movies. But in addition, with alternative, when you don’t get these first alternatives to be taught, then you may’t get to massive exhibits like this. I used to be very fortunate that I had individuals who had been keen to imagine in me to start with to offer me the chance to get the coaching I wanted to have the ability to do a present like this. I say that to say that we simply want the chance as individuals of coloration and girls. We are able to do that job, however you may’t do it when you don’t get a shot to follow.

In a profile within the LA Occasions final 12 months, you talked about how at a sure level once you’re on set, individuals finally get the message to not mess with you. How do you set that tone and has that been simpler to do as a director versus an actress?

Positively. As an actress, you continue to have that feeling, particularly as a Black actress, that you might get replaced at any level. There’s one thing about turning into a director on this house. I’ve discovered my voice. I’ve mentioned this earlier than: I don’t really feel replaceable. I really feel like what I do and the way I do it’s particular. I’m fortunate to be there, however they’re fortunate to have me. I’m from the South Aspect of Chicago. Generally they see this little actress who was fairly with slightly ingenue face they usually could take that as weak point. And I feel that as quickly as I begin speaking and in sure conditions, they go, “Oh wait, hold up.” Rodney Barnes, who is likely one of the writers of the present, is all the time like, “Why you gotta be so mean?” I’m like, “I’m not mean, I’m just firm.” And let me inform you, when you could have a present like this, with this many transferring elements, it’s a giant machine. They usually have to know, with kindness, however with energy, that I’m the boss. That is what I have to occur, and let’s get transferring. Let’s have a good time, however do what I ask you to do.

Jeff Pearlman, the creator of Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the Nineteen Eighties, has been encouraging individuals to observe the present within the hopes of it being renewed for a 3rd season. There are quite a lot of various factors at play, the double strike being one in every of them, however have you ever heard something a few season three and what it’d appear like?

Clearly, you see how the season ends. So we might like to have, on the very least, though we are able to do that for years, yet another season in order that we are able to get the Lakers successful towards the Celtics. We don’t wish to finish with the Celtics successful. That’s terrible. I feel individuals have realized this season that when you simply watch the present as an alternative of judging the present with out seeing it, it’s an excellent present. It’s a well-written present with unbelievable performances. And also you don’t should be a basketball fan to take pleasure in it. I feel that what Jeff was making an attempt to say is that he simply hopes that individuals discover this little gem that’s on the market, as a result of it actually is a superb present and I’m proud to be part of it.

Interview edited for readability.

Profitable Time season two is now streaming on Max.

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