‘Ballers’ looks at hu­mour, drama in the lives of pro ath­letes

Cape Breton Post - - ARTS / ENTERTAINMENT - BY DAVID FIS­CHER

Omar Ben­son Miller spent three sea­sons on “CSI: Mi­ami,” but only this past year did he get a chance to film a tele­vi­sion show in South Florida.

“It was Mi­ami at the best time to be in Mi­ami: In the win­ter, which is just the mildest cli­mate,” Miller said. “They can sign me up for another 10 years of that.”

Miller ap­pears on “Ballers,” HBO's new se­ries that airs Sun­days. It stars Dwayne “The Rock” John­son as a re­tired football star try­ing to start a sec­ond ca­reer as a fi­nan­cial man­ager, goaded by his boss - played by Rob Corddry - to “mon­e­tize” his friend­ships. The show was cre­ated by Stephen Levin­son, whose pre­vi­ous cred­its in­clude HBO's “En­tourage.”

Miller plays a re­luc­tantly re­tired NFL line­man who's try­ing to ad­just to life af­ter the game as a car sales­man.

“He's very into his wife and into fam­ily,” Miller said. “He was re­ally into football, but now he's try­ing to tran­si­tion into be­ing a nor­mal mem­ber of so­ci­ety.”

Dur­ing his time on “CSI: Mi­ami,” Miller was shoot­ing scenes in Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia rather than South Beach. His fancy crime lab was built on a sound stage, and the build­ing that served as its ex­te­rior was ac­tu­ally a fed­eral credit union. But the cast and crew of “Ballers” didn't use sets when they filmed around Mi­ami last year.

“Ev­ery place that we shot was an ac­tual lo­ca­tion,” Miller said. “It re­ally did a lot to keep it au­then- tic.”

The show fea­tures an ensem­ble of ac­tors play­ing cur­rent and for­mer play­ers, fo­cus­ing on their per­sonal and pro­fes­sional strug­gles. Miller said be­ing on HBO lets them ex­plore adult themes that en­hance both the com­edy and the drama.

“It's a wild ride, but if you're open to some fun, you're go­ing to have a good time with it,” Miller said.

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Evan Reilly said the idea for the show came from a con­ver­sa­tion sev­eral years ago be­tween Levin­son and a pro­fes­sional football player at a South Beach ho­tel. While de­vel­op­ing the show, writ­ers pulled ma­te­rial from real ath­letes and oth­ers in­volved in pro­fes­sional sports.

“We spoke to a lot of pro­fes­sional ath­letes, both cur­rent and re­tired, and got a lot of their sto­ries and a lot of their points of view,” Reilly said. “Same goes for agents and peo­ple in the front of­fice or (with) pro­fes­sional teams - peo­ple who live and work in this world.”

The show's cre­ators de­cided to set the show in South Florida be­cause of its draw for ath­letes from all over the coun­try.

“It's set in Mi­ami be­cause it's re­ally a hot­bed for pro­fes­sional ath­letes in the off-sea­son and af­ter re­tire­ment,” Reilly said.

The set­ting also worked out lo­gis­ti­cally for the show's star. John­son owns a home in South Florida, and while he never played in the NFL like his char­ac­ter, he was a backup de­fen­sive tackle on the 1991 Univer­sity of Mi­ami na­tional cham­pi­onship team.

(JEFF DALY/HBO VIA AP)

Omar Ben­son Miller, left, John David Washington ap­pear in a scene from the se­ries "Ballers," air­ing Sun­days on HBO.

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