Articles: Lisa Leslie: “Uncle Drew is a light hearted comedy with a really good message behind it”




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By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Photos Courtesy of Lionsgate

(left to right) Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), Lights (Reggie Miller),
Boots (Nate Robinson), Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), Dax (Lil Rel Howery),
Preacher (Chris Webber), Maya (Erica Ash), and Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie)

“To have the opportunity to play someone who is in their 80s, I thought was pretty cool especially with all of the prosthetics,” says Lisa Leslie of her role in the warm-hearted comedy “Uncle Drew,” a film which follows an aging team of former ball players who compete in a basketball tournament. “Initially when I went in for the audition, I actually dressed up as an old lady, talked to everybody like an old lady and was moving slowly with a bible in my hand.”

Leslie plays Betty Lou, a staunch Preacher’s wife, who is initially skeptical about letting her husband return to basketball with all its temptations.

“She is feisty, fierce, independent and she doesn’t take any mess,” Leslie describes. “She’s bossy and she likes to be in control, but she is also very in love with her husband and just wants to make sure Preacher stays on a positive path.”

One of the funniest characters in the film, it’s a character the WNBA champion modeled on her grandmother who she says is a devout Christian.

Lisa Leslie -Photo by Marion Curtis - StarPix

“She is definitely a church lady and she walks kinda hunched over, but on Sundays she would have on her suit head to toe with a blazer and a hat. She is one of those ladies who has always been in the church.”

For Leslie, a four-time Olympic Gold Medal winner and Basketball Hall of Famer who first started  acting while playing basketball in high school, and has starred in movies “Love & Basketball” and “Think like a Man,” taking on the task of playing an elderly woman was a challenge she embraced.

“I love acting and I think it’s the closest thing to the feeling that I felt when I played basketball and I really love it and I hope to do more.”

To perfect the look of Betty Lou, layers were added to Leslie’s cheeks, forehead and chin, a daily process which the actress says took a couple of hours.

Lisa Leslie as Betty Lou in UNCLE DREW

“When I first saw her in the testing scene I did not like the way she looked.  I didn’t want her to look too ugly as I am out here with these men and I thought she was too masculine. It was important for her to look a little more feminine so I showed them a picture of my grandmother as I wanted them to see that black women age a certain way. They really listened and we took a little bit off and brought it down to what I would really look like if I was aged,” she adds.

With humor and a heartwarming message “Uncle Drew” follows Dax (Lil Rel Howery) a shoe salesman who has been dealt a series of unfortunate setbacks, including losing his team and his gold-digging girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish) to his longtime rival (Nick Kroll). Desperate to win the basketball tournament and the cash prize, he stumbles upon the legend Uncle Drew (NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving) and after convincing him to return to the court one more time, they cobble together Drew’s old basketball cronies. 

The bunch of seniors includes the grumpy Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), a sight-impaired gentleman called Lights (Reggie Miller), the charismatic character Boots (Nate Robinson), who is obsessed with his hoop shoes and Preacher (Chris Webber) who after retiring replaced his basketball with the Good Book of the Lord.  Dax is initially skeptical of Drew’s elderly squad, but with no other options he’s forced to go along with Drew’s plan that a group of seniors can still win the big league.

Lisa Leslie in Uncle Drew

“There is that underlying message which is that if you fall you have to get back up,” Leslie continues. “It happens in life and we have a lot of things that we hold on to that happen to us in life and we let that shape us and it can be something that is negative. Howery’s character was holding on to something that happened that was so traumatic and because it was negative it held him back in so many other areas of his life. It is a comedy and it’s light hearted and it’s fun, but it also has a really good message behind it.”

A predictable, but delightful sports drama directed by Charles Stone III (“Drumline”), “Uncle Drew” has a bunch of definable and lovable characters, which exalts the humor and it releases in theaters June 29.

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