After Playing Magic Johnson in HBO’s Lakers Show, Quincy Isaiah Is Ready for the Big Leagues

Were you intimidated by the prospect of playing someone so well-known, especially in your first major role?

I mean, yeah. I am playing a legend who everybody knows and is still very much in the public sphere. But at the same time, I’m an actor. This is what I do and I feel good about that. I have a really good team built around me, so I really lean on that. Having people who have been at a certain level made it easy for me to be a student. Again, that’s what I like about acting: Just reacting off of other people and working with the people around me, because that’s how you get better.

You were a college athlete, but I imagine the basketball workout you had as a part of the audition process was grueling in a different way. I understand that Rick Fox, who played for the Lakers, was brought in to work you out. What type of drills did he have you doing?

It was a lot of dribbling and a lot of sprinting—because Showtime was a fastbreak offense, so you have to be able to run. I had to run, shoot, sprint, touch the line, then catch the ball, shoot, sprint, and touch the line. Stuff like that. And honestly, what I think he wanted to see more than anything was am I athletic enough to at least get certain things down and was I going to work hard enough to get it down if I didn’t have it. And I like to think he saw both. But coming from being a football player, I kind of knew what it was going to be, so I knew to bust my butt and make it hard for him to be like, ‘Nah.’

I’ve always enjoyed watching football players on the basketball court. Many of them are just as technically skilled, but I think you definitely know what it means when someone says: “You hoop like a football player.” A lot of their games are all athleticism.

Yup, run and play defense [laughs].

So I’m really particular about on-screen basketball and how authentic it looks. There’s a level of physical preparation that you’re naturally going to understand as an athlete, but football workouts and basketball workouts are kind of different. Also, you were an offensive lineman in college and now you have to convincingly portray the point guard for the sake of this role. What did you do to not only sharpen your game, but also portray this basketball anomaly as realistically as possible?

First things first, I had to lean out. I was still big, but I had to get lean. I’ve been playing pickup basketball my entire life, but I had a basketball coach who helped me break down everything about the way I know how to play basketball—because I played like a football player. He wanted to build me up as a basketball player first before I really started working Magic in. Also, my trainer helped me move differently. Basketball players don’t do strength training the same way football players do. You have to train your body to move laterally so you float a little bit more and there’s more finesse. So those people helped me figure out my body and how to move, which really helped create that illusion that I’m a point guard.

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