THE ACTOR TALKS ALL THINGS SHOWTIME BASKETBALL AND WHAT IT WAS REALLY LIKE TO BECOME JERRY WEST IN THE ANTICIPATED HBO SERIES WINNING TIME: THE RISE OF THE LAKERS DYNASTY.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MITCHELL MCCORMACK
You took on the role as Jerry West, who’s been immortalized as the NBA logo. Did you get to meet him before playing the part? No, I didn’t get to meet him. It’s always a delicate and interesting situation when you’re playing somebody real. I’ve done it before with Rob Hall in Everest or even Ted Kennedy [in Chappaquiddick]. I want to be respectful out of courtesy… but it was also the time when COVID was coming in and when Kobe passed away too. I knew enough about him to understand he’s The Logo and my first book in [to the research] was his, West by West. I wanted to [get to know him] through his own words and I loved that read. I got it on Audible because he narrates part of it and his son narrates part of it.
Did you pull from prior roles and other famous figures you’ve played for this role? You do, subliminally—all these people you’ve played, they’re in you somewhere and you can touch them… I remember watching Johnny Depp’s movement toward Captain Jack Sparrow, and you watch The Libertine before that, or you go and watch Heath Ledger’s movement toward Joker, and you watch him do Ned Kelly and you see the physicality, you can see the progression. I think the two parts [I’ve played]—Ted Kennedy and this thing [Catherine the Great] I did with Helen Mirren on HBO—have led into the freedom of just going there with Jerry.
“I’m from L.A., and I have an affinity to the Clippers now that Jerry [West] is there. I think basketball is America’s greatest sporting gift to the world.”–JASON CLARKE
What was life on set like with the cast, including John C. Reilly, who plays Lakers owner Jerry Buss? It was amazing. I’ve always wanted to work with John Reilly since forever. A, because he’s funny and he’s not just sitting there waiting for his closeup, and B, he works hard and comes prepared and he truly loves it.
You started the series and then had to stop due to COVID-19 restrictions. What was shooting like once things started to open back up? I remember we had a readthrough, a big group on Zoom, like 20 actors… You’re finally seeing everybody, and Reilly comes out with his sunglasses and a pair of pajamas on. It’s things like that, [things] that say, ‘Let’s get back into it, fellas!’ It was a great cast. [We even had] Rob Morgan and Adrian Brody on set [at times]. It was an extraordinary group of people, top to bottom.
Are you forever a Lakers fan now that you’ve played The Logo, or are you more of a basketball fan in general? I’m more of a basketball fan; I mean it’s hard with soccer and things I grew up with… I guess I’m a Lakers fan; I’m from L.A., and I have an affinity to the Clippers now that Jerry is there. I think basketball is America’s greatest sporting gift to the world.