When Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder makes his entrance, it's usually on a polished wood floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena instead of a red carpet premiere.
But on Sunday night, hundreds of fans turned out at Harkins Bricktown Theatres to greet No. 35 as he made his movie debut in “Thunderstruck,” and Durant was happy that the enthusiasm for his work extended beyond the court.
“It was good — it was a nice turnout,” Durant said, smiling and leaning back in his chair during a one-on-one interview at Dallas' Ritz-Carlton Hotel the following Tuesday. “Everyone came out and supported it, and that was the best part for me. I had my family there, my friends and all the fans in OKC, the coaches. It was beautiful to see the support and love. It means a lot.”
That enthusiasm was shared by Durant's mother, Wanda Pratt, who makes a cameo appearance as herself and received a huge ovation from the audience Sunday. When she heard the clapping, it made her feel good about not only her son's first movie role, but her own.
“Kevin was a natural,” Pratt said of her son's performance. “When I saw the movie, it was all too real for me: This was my son in a major motion picture, starring him as himself.
“It made me want to cry,” said Pratt, who said she cried at the London Summer Olympics when Durant won a gold medal and set a record for the number of points scored in an Olympic basketball game. “I cry at movies, too. I've been crying all year.”
Making a move
“Thunderstruck” is a light comedy about 14-year-old Brian Newall (Taylor Gray), an uncoordinated towel boy at a fictional Oklahoma City high school. Brian has dreams of basketball greatness but cannot sink a shot to save his life. Then, when the teenager meets Durant at a Thunder game, a little movie magic takes place. Suddenly, in a reversal of fortunes, Brian has the skills to start for his Eastview High School Eagles, and Durant is throwing nothing but bricks.
In the beginning, “Thunderstruck” was not a slam dunk for Durant — he balked at first, mainly because of his tight training schedule. The film would require him to relocate for several days of shooting in Baton Rouge, La., which would take Durant out of his element for longer than usual.
“My agent at the time brought it to me and I said ‘No' at first. I didn't want to be a part of something like that because it takes so long,” he said. “But then I thought about it and said, ‘It will be cool and it will be something for the kids to watch.' I've got a lot of little cousins, so I thought it'd be nice for them to see their big cousin in a movie. So I thought, ‘Let's do it.'”
Basketball moves fast with few breaks, which is the exact opposite of on-set rhythms during a film shoot. Durant said he was able to spend most of his time in or near a gym, so he stayed in shape and kept up his game while the often tedious process of setting up shots took place in the background.
“You would film something for 20 minutes, and then you'd wait an hour for them to switch it up with different angles and take the same thing over again,” Durant said. “It's a long process, so I was asking questions of the director and the ADs (assistant directors) about the movies they've been a part of. One of the guys I became close with, his name is Marty (Eli Schwartz). He was the first AD, and he did ‘The Karate Kid' (the 2010 remake with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan). I asked him how long he was on set for that, and he said six months. I was only on set for a week and a half, so I have new respect for actors and actresses. They really work hard to make a good movie.”
Durant worked with an on-set acting coach, Richard Lawson, an actor and scene-study teacher with a 40-year career in film and television. Durant said Lawson told him to be himself and not overthink the performance.
“He gave me room to mess up and said it was natural, and I just became comfortable after a while,” Durant said. “That was the easiest thing I could do.”
When he was still a teenager and building his skills, the movies Durant watched in between games with the PG Jaguars in Prince George's County, Md., almost invariably centered on basketball. “Hoosiers,” “Coach Carter,” “Above the Rim” and “Space Jam” helped inspire him to greatness, he said.
Many basketball players have taken the plunge into movies, including Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal (who makes an appearance in “Thunderstruck”), and the Miami Heat's Ray Allen, but Durant chose not to ask any advice from those players-turned-actors.
“It's not because I think I know it all,” Durant said. “But I do like to go through things like this on my own, and I'm the type of guy who likes being surprised a little bit when I'm facing something new.”
Beyond “Thunderstruck,” Durant is taking on another art form, one he has pursued quietly but that will soon get more attention. He will make his rapping debut on a new hip-hop album by Stephen Jackson of the San Antonio Spurs, who records under the name Stak5 and released a mixtape titled “What's a Lockout?” in 2011.
“Yeah, I'm going to be on his album — we made a song together, and I hope people enjoy that,” Durant said. “We're going to do a video for it, too. I'm really involved in music, and I like it a lot. It's one of those things I do in my off time, so I'm not just a basketball player.”
Durant has a recording studio in his Oklahoma City home, where he creates his own beats and records, as well as inviting local hip-hop stars such as Josh Sallee in for freestyle sessions.
His major inspirations include Jay-Z, Drake and the late Aaliyah, stars who started early and built careers from the ground up. Durant, 23, said that is one of the biggest commonalities between basketball and hip-hop: Both art forms are populated by self-starters who developed their passions for their respective pursuits during childhood.
“I heard a rapper say, ‘Basketball players want to be rappers and rappers want to be basketball players,' and it's true, you know what I mean?” Durant said. “We respect each other's crafts, and I'm just trying to do it as a hobby for now.”
And so far, acting is still a sideline pursuit. Durant said he is happy with “Thunderstruck” and appreciates the local support, but emphasizes that while he is on top of one game, he is new to this one.
“It's a fun movie,” Durant said. “Take your kids to see it and go into it with an open mind. I know I'm a basketball player, and I know they're probably not used to seeing basketball players in films, but go into it with an open mind, and you'll enjoy it.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Warner Bros.