Considering he already has seven seasons, five All-Star Game selections, an Olympic gold medal and an NBA championship under his belt, it’s easy to forget that Kyrie Irving is only 26 years old. While the young Celtics guard is still making his mark on the sport, he’s also getting ready to conquer a new frontier in Hollywood, starting with his big screen debut in “Uncle Drew.”
Thanks to his dedication to the craft, Irving has seamlessly made the move from the court to the film set, and now joins the pantheon of basketball legends who’ve gone on to find success as both an athlete and an actor. In particular, Irving’s ability to transition from comedy to drama impressed his “Uncle Drew” co-stars like Lil Rel Howery, who couldn’t help but praise the baller for his acting chops.
“Kyrie, just as an actor, is really good,” Howery tells Metro. “He’s actually extremely talented, which makes you feel bad because, whenever he gets time off, he can just come and do my job but I can’t show up at the Garden [and do his].”
Irving’s skills in front of the camera have improved immensely since he first tried his hand at acting during a high school production of “High School Musical.” The Celtics star revealed to Metro that he wanted to perform in the play as a way to help him overcome his fear of public speaking.
“I had a terrible, terrible anxiety,” Irving says. “I was like, if I could sing in front of people and deliver these lines and emotionally be connected, then it was something I will recover from.”
Aside from helping him break out of his shell, the world of entertainment has always played a big role in Irving’s life. Whether he’s chatting about finding inspiration in Spike Lee’s “He Got Game” or having a laugh over his obession with the sitcom “Friends”—he has the show’s logo tattooed on his arm and loves Joey (played by Newton’s own Matt LeBlanc), but thinks “Ross is cool too”—you can hear in his voice the passion he has for show business.
“I love seeing art just coming to life,” Irving says.
Although “Uncle Drew” is rooted in comedy, surprisingly, the film is filled with poignant scenes between the titular character and his fellow, elderly teammates as they try to rekindle their broken friendships. Irving admits that he was able to find deeper connections with his character in those more realistic and dramatic moments.
“I have a really old soul to begin with. It made sense to just have this character come to life in a way that I felt like I wanted to convey of who I want to be when I’m older,” Irving says. “In the film, they were fully accepting of my personality and the mistakes that I made, but I hadn’t forgiven myself, and I think that holds true sometimes in the real world, as well and in my life too. Certain mistakes that have happened, you just got to forgive yourself over that.”
What started as a small, fun part in a viral Pepsi Max short film has blossomed into a career-changing role for Irving, and he couldn’t be happier with his journey as Uncle Drew.
“It started as just a series, and then it was a commercial, and then it turned out to be a movie,” Irving says. “Now, you kind of see it all just come together as one really nice project that I’m so proud to be a part of.”
As for what’s next for the baller-turned-actor, Irving has a lot of interests he’d like to pursue, including starting a television network. He’s also down for a “Space Jam” reboot, but he’ll “have to talk to Michael Jordan first” to get his blessing. For now, Irving is just trying to find the right balance between his various passions and basketball.
“I have so many passions and interests. Right now, it’s just figuring out, like, how do I direct them in the way I want to,” Irving says. “Whether that’s TV, whether that’s content creating, whether that’s fashion, I literally have a knack for doing some of these things. I don’t necessarily believe in being the face of it, but I love having a hand in it.”
“I don’t need everyone to know what I’m doing with everything that gets released, and I love it that way,” he adds. “I just show appreciation to the team that I have around me, my friends and how much I learn from the culture and how much it affects me and influences me to be who I am.”
As for his future with the Celtics, it’s unclear whether Irving will remain with the team after next season. However, he does have a lot of love for the Hub, especially since his parents met while attending Boston University.
“I felt that before I even got here, there was an excitement,” Irving says. “There was a great, great, great energy that I felt. As soon as I put that number 11 jersey on, it felt like it was home. I have been waiting for this opportunity to wear number 11 for Boston. My dad and my mom, these are the connections I have to the city. I wouldn’t be here without them meeting here, so it just made sense. It felt right.”
“Uncle Drew” opens in theaters June 29.