Ath­letes can help movies score

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Josh Rot­ten­berg

From Seth MacFar­lane’s per­spec­tive, get­ting NFL star Tom Brady to do a cameo in “Ted 2” was a no- brainer, the cast­ing equiv­a­lent of hav­ing a re­ceiver wide open in the end zone.

Early in the process of writ­ing the com­edy se­quel, MacFar­lane knew he wanted the foul- mouthed, pot- smok­ing teddy bear and his best friend John ( Mark Wahlberg) to try to steal some­one’s sperm so Ted and his hu­man wife could have a baby. Who would that ideal un­will­ing donor be? For MacFar­lane, the an­swer was clear: “Log­i­cally,” he says, “for two guys from Bos­ton, Tom Brady would be at the top of the list.”

The fact that Wahlberg was friends with the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back — and that Brady had once done a cameo on MacFar­lane’s an­i­mated TV se­ries “Fam­ily Guy” — made the choice that much eas­ier. Though the prospect of be­ing the fo­cus of a raunchy set piece in an R- rated com­edy might have made some ath­letes un­com­fort­able ( these peo­ple are on Wheaties boxes, af­ter all), MacFar­lane says, “We f ig­ured we had a good shot with Tom.”

Brady is hardly the only pro­fes­sional ath­lete get­ting drafted into movies.

In July, re­tired New York Giants de­fen­sive end Michael Stra­han will strip down for a cameo in “Magic Mike XXL,” while Cleve­land Cava­liers star LeBron James will show off his com­edy chops op­po­site Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in di­rec­tor Judd Apa­tow’s new f ilm, “Train­wreck,” play­ing him­self as the sen­si­tive, “Down­ton Abbey”- lov­ing friend of Hader’s sports physi­cian.

Ath­letes have, of course, popped up in movies and tele­vi­sion for decades, whether it was Joe Na­math on “The Brady Bunch,” Brett Favre in “There’s Some­thing About Mary,” Derek Jeter on “Se­in­feld” or Mike Tyson in “The Hang­over.” Oc­ca­sion­ally a whole movie has been con­structed from the ground up as, es­sen­tially, one gi­gan­tic ath­lete cameo — think Michael Jor­dan team­ing up with Bugs Bunny in “Space Jam” or, less suc­cess­fully, Shaquille O’Neal as a 5,000- yearold ge­nie in “Kazaam.”

In re­cent years, though, as so­cial media have made star­dom an in­creas­ingly trans­fer­able com­mod­ity, the al­ready blurry line be­tween sports and en­ter­tain­ment has be­come more per­me­able than ever.

“Celebrity has be­come ubiq­ui­tous, and ev­ery­one touches the globe now,” says “Ted 2” pro­ducer Scott Stu­ber. “These sports stars tran­scend just ath­let­ics. They host ‘ Satur­day Night Live.’ They do tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials. They’re seen at the Met Gala with their wife, tuxed up and look­ing like a movie star.”

For some ath­letes, show­ing up for a quick scene in a movie is sim­ply a lark or an easy way to en­hance their per­sonal brand. For oth­ers, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to lay the ground­work for a fu­ture out­side of sports, no small thing in a field where ca­reers of­ten peter out once ath­letes hit their 30s.

Ul­ti­mate Fight­ing Cham­pi­onship f ighter Ronda Rousey, who has acted in the ac­tion se­quel “Fu­ri­ous 7” and the com­edy “En­tourage,” has stated that she wants to pur­sue act­ing full time once her fight­ing ca­reer ends, fol­low­ing a tra­jec­tory that Dwayne John­son, who started as a pro wrestler, made ear­lier.

“There is cer­tainly as­pi­ra­tion for a lot of ath­letes to cross over and do this for their own busi­ness,” says one agent who works with sev­eral high- pro­file ath­letes. “It’s not just a hobby: ‘ Come hang out and do some funny lines.’ There are only a hand­ful of ath­letes it re­ally works for, where when their hel­met comes off you still know who they are. But when the worlds col­lide and it makes sense, it’s great.”

For ath­letes un­ac­cus­tomed to per­form­ing on cam­era, an act­ing coach can be a life­saver. But for many, like Brady — who shot his part in “Ted 2” on a three­hour break from train­ing camp — the tran­si­tion from the f ield or court to the screen seems rel­a­tively ef­fort­less.

“Pro­fes­sional ath­letes have to be show­men in some ways,” says MacFar­lane. “Tom is a born per­former. He was able to get the joke from the out­set and sell it very con­vinc­ingly.”

In writ­ing the script for “Train­wreck,” Schumer ad­mits she in­cor­po­rated James into it be­cause, as a non- sports fan, he was pretty much the only bas­ket­ball player she could think of.

“I’ll hear a team and I’m, like, ‘ Is that hockey? Is that base­ball?’ I have no idea,” she says. For­tu­nately, James — who has launched his own pro­duc­tion com­pany, Spring Hill Pro­duc­tions, to de­velop TV and dig­i­tal projects — was com­pletely game.

“I think he just likes com­edy and wanted to play with us,” Schumer says.

When James showed up

to shoot his part, Schumer didn’t know what to ex­pect.

“We would never ask him to au­di­tion,” she says. “We were just, like, ‘ Please, please show up on the days you’re sup­posed to.’ We didn’t think about his act­ing un­til he was on set. We were, like, ‘ Thank God he can act!’”

Schumer and Apa­tow were savvy enough to know that bring­ing James into the movie — along with Dal­las Mav­er­icks star Amar’e Stoudemire and pro wrestler John Cena — could help broaden out what might oth­er­wise by the typ­i­cal fe­male- skew­ing au­di­ence for a ro­man­tic com­edy.

Sim­i­larly, the mak­ers of “Pitch Per­fect 2” were hope­ful that get­ting the Green Bay Pack­ers to sing and dance in the f ilm could help draw more men to the the­aters.

“We knew there were a lot of men who were fans of the f irst movie,” says Max Han­del­man, who pro­duced both “Pitch Per­fect” films. “So we thought, ‘ What bet­ter way to ac­knowl­edge that head- on than to put f ive pro football play­ers into our movie, em­brac­ing and lov­ing singing a cap­pella as much as the girls do?’ ”

The play­ers’ scene was even show­cased in a trailer dur­ing the Su­per Bowl, months be­fore the movie opened.

“I 100% be­lieve that fea­tur­ing the Pack­ers as promi­nently as we did was a driver for men to come check out the movie,” Han­del­man says.

Still, in­cor­po­rat­ing ath­letes into a movie can come with un­fore­seen com­pli­ca­tions, as MacFar­lane dis­cov­ered. Months af­ter f ilm­ing the cameo on “Ted 2,” Brady be­came em­broiled in the con­tro­versy over def lated foot­balls known as De­flate­gate. The di­rec­tor knew the f ilm needed to ad­dress the f lap in some way. “It felt like it was be­ing talked about so much that it would be con­spic­u­ously ab­sent,” he says. So dur­ing post- pro­duc­tion he had Wahlberg loop in a new joke.

Out of all the pos­si­ble sports scan­dals out there, MacFar­lane knows how lucky he was to have one that lent it­self so easily to one more crude punch­line.

“Given what some of those guys are up to,” he says with a laugh, “we were in the shal­low end of the pool.”

Mary Cybulski Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures

L e BRON JAMES ap­pears as a “Down­ton Abbey”- lov­ing ver­sion of him­self in “Train­wreck,” here with writer- star Amy Schumer.

Allen J. Schaben Los An­ge­les Times

MICHAEL STRA­HAN lends mus­cle to “Magic Mike XXL.”

Michael Dwyer As­so­ci­ated Press

TOM BRADY is key to one of the big jokes in “Ted 2.”

GREEN BAY PACK­ERS play­ers go a cap­pella in “Pitch Per­fect 2,” a pitch aimed at male movie­go­ers.

WRESTLER RONDA ROUSEY ap­pears as her­self in the movie “En­tourage,” above, and is also seen in the block­buster “Fu­ri­ous 7.”

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