It’s game-on for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the rest of HBO’s “Ballers” cast and crew Sunday as the series premieres, and according to executive producer Evan Reilly, everyone involved is already gearing up for multiple seasons.
“He’s over-the-moon about the material and the fact that he can invest in a character over the course of several seasons, rather than it being a two-hour movie where you kind of have to jam it all in,” Reilly told TheWrap about Johnson.
Landing the wrestler-turned-Hollywood player, which occurred between Steve Levinson penning the pilot and Peter Berg signing on to direct, was “as big as you can get,” the writer said.
“The primary thing that interested me in the project was the fact that Dwayne was going to have an opportunity to do television… an opportunity for him to stretch … to show comedic chops and dramatic chops,” Reilly added.
While he touted the “Childrens Hospital” star’s “comedic brilliance,” Reilly promised that Corddry’s Joe will grow over the course of Season 1.
“It’s not all jokes and gags… his character may come across that way early on, but he’s a real serious player in this business world,” he said. “We didn’t want his character to be just a comic foil, we did our best to really ground him.”
In some ways, it’s fairly easy — or maybe just lazy — to draw comparisons between “Ballers” and “Entourage,” with the former taking place in the sports world and the latter obviously in entertainment. But aside from their HBO home and some shared producers, Reilly doesn’t really see it — or at least he doesn’t really think about it.
“I understand the comparisons or how the comparison might be made, but to me, they’re two completely different shows,” he stated. “Once people get past, after a little while, they’re going to see that.”
Like the “Entourage” series, “Ballers” will feature cameos from the world of pro sports, lending “some authenticity to the world,” as Reilly put it — but those pop-ins will be less frequent than they were in Vinnie Chase’s Hollywood. Some of that is intentional, though much is just pure, simple logistics — after all, “Ballers” was shot during the NFL season.
Unlike the Adrien Grenier series-turned-movie, “Ballers” characters are not based on real-life inspirations, Reilly said. But they do have athletes in their writer’s room and producers are constantly picking the brains of former pro players, agents and other personnel.
As such, on “Ballers,” the writers explore serious storylines that are commonplace in the football world, such as the growing concussion issue. Reilly stated that one of his goals if for the show to humanize the players and those who they have relationships with. It’s all done through humor, he explained, so don’t worry about the material being heavy-handed a la fellow HBO offering “Real Sports.”
In other words, “This show is a far cry from any kind of smear campaign on one point-of-view or another,” Reilly said. “They are very definitely real issues and we don’t dance around them, but we definitely don’t point the finger at any one party.”
For now, Reilly and company can only hope that critics and fans are as fair and balanced. So far, so (pretty) good: “Ballers” currently has a 68 score on MetaCritic and a 71 percent Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Ballers” kicks off Sunday night at 10 p.m. on HBO.