Glory Road: An Interview with Josh Lucas
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Glory Road: An Interview with Josh Lucas
By Wilson Morales
After playing the romantic lead in two films last year (Stealth and An Unfinished Life), Josh Lucas’s next film is totally different. He will be playing the role of legendary basketball coach Don Haskins in “Glory Road”. In 1966, Haskins became the first coach to start five African-Americans for Texas Western in the championship game against perennial powerhouse Kentucky Wildcats. Throughout the years prior to winning the game and changing the course of college basketball, Haskins had to deal with widespread racism that his players endured. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Lucas spoke about playing Coach Haskins, gaining weight for the role, and how he hurt his hand while shooting “Poseidon”, his next film following “Glory Road”.
Can you talk about the research that you did for this? You spoke with Haskins as an older man, but you’re playing him as a young man.
Josh Lucas: You know, that’s a very interesting point. That was a hard thing to get my head around, because I spent a lot of time with Haskins early on and I realized I couldn’t quite play Haskins, what I was learning from him at that point. And also, even to the point that I’d done a lot of research, and I had sort of cocoon in my trailer of hundreds and hundreds of images from that 1966 season, and some stuff racially from the country as well, but more of it was about Haskins, and Haskins and I would actually disagree about his own life. He would say, ‘I didn’t ever wear a tie, and I always wore cowboy boots,’ and I’d say, ‘You know, Don, that’s not true. Once you won the national championship that’s true.’ But what I had to figure out was how to play him pre-national championship, because there’s a big difference between the respect that someone garners who is literally a girl’s basketball coach, living in a men’s dorm, to a national champion, and it was like one year and he was a different man, and he had a different confidence about him after that. He had so much to prove during that first time in his life, and I was trying to figure out how to grapple with that too, and the disrespect that he would sometimes get from his players that after that would never happen, and a lot of it just came down to having conversations with not just the real players, but particularly I had his assistant coach, who is now the head coach at USC, this guy Tim Floyd, and Floyd was with Haskins for seven years, and Floyd was with me almost every single day, talking to me about the way that Haskins’ coached and the way that Haskins was such a particularly eccentric coach in a sense, that he moved, the way he calls timeout, and there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t make it into the movie where he would particularly harass referees in this very, very funny way, that would be so sarcastic to listen to it would be fantastic and humorous and even kind of showy, but when it’s actually coming at you it’s even painful at times. And he did the same thing with his own players, where there was an intensity that is ferocious, and unrelenting, and yet at the same time he can be extremely lovely off the court. And my problem was the times I spent with him, he was just so great, so fun and so playful, and so it was like, ‘Wait a second, I heard that your players hated you.’ They hated him. And yet, this is a man who is bringing young black men down to Texas in the 1960’s and literally bringing their mothers to be there to basically say, ‘You respect this man. You play for him, you get good grades because of him.’ So he’s an odd combination of this power and anger and also charisma.
In the film when he’s on the court there was tension in his body language, does he still have that body language?
JL: Yeah, he does. This is a guy who would win games by 40 points and would be furious with his team because he felt they had not played up to their capacity or their talent, and I know stories about him, once winning a game literally by 37 points and being so angry at the way that he (maybe he meant they) played that he made them practice for six hours after the game. Literally, from the game he took them to a practice court, because he was constantly trying to break them of certain things, and what was tough was that when you’re filming 12 to 14 hours a day on a basketball court it’s not a two hour game, and yet every single point that Haskins – that score, Haskins was either very, very angry about or very excited about in his whole career, when I watched him coach.
Was there something within himself that he had to prove?
JL: Yeah. Now in his life he would talk to me about how he wished he wasn’t that way so much, but he would talk about how he would go take two six-packs straight out to the middle of the desert and just go through every single moment of the game, even when they won. It’s just the competitive spirit is extraordinary. My favorite experience in this whole event was going one night to dinner with him and Jon Voight and Jerry Bruckheimer and Tim Floyd, but it was Pat Riley at the head of the table with Haskins next to him, and Haskins lorded over Riley the entire time that he beat him - for the entire time basically. And Riley just had to sit there, and Riley hates the fact that he lost this game, even though he’s so involved in this movie. So one of the painful things for him has been that he has to relive over and over and over a loss, you know. And literally, this is a four time world champion. It’s an amazing competitive spirit.
Did you know the story?
JL: I didn’t know it well. I knew a little bit about it, what was daunting was that I realized not just how important the story is, but how the people who do know the story have extraordinary passion about the story, and particularly the Haskins. Haskins is a really, truly beloved man, in his community he’s a king. I suddenly realized what a huge pressure I had to get him right and to respect the essence of what I’ve come to learn is just an extraordinary, extraordinary person.
Was he aware that he was making history at the time, or did he just have the single focus of winning?
JL: He will only and always give himself no credit for that, and does not want to be looked at as a hero. He just does not like that title, or does not like the fact that he was considered maybe a bit of a civil rights leader, but what’s true about this is that Haskins had a best friend who was black when he was growing up who was a better basketball player than Haskins was, and Haskins was recruited in the NCAA and his friend was not, and his friend therefore did not go to college, and Haskins was enraged by that fact. So when he was in a situation to start recruiting at a school that did not care about him being a basketball coach, the best players he could get were black, but he’s literally psychologically, totally colorblind, to this day his best friends – there are three best friends in Haskins’ life, and he’s totally just a good old Texas boy, Chinese, black and Mexican. You go out drinking with these guys and you’re like this is so weird. There’s just something about him that is so special that way, so kind of forward thinking, that he definitely does not want credit for it and doesn’t accept it.
After the real players saw the film during the premiere did they come to you and say, ‘Hey, you nailed him pretty good’?
JL: No, I’ll be honest with you, we’ve gone through about three or four different phases of that, and I will go through it myself when I see a movie. First time you see a movie it’s impossible to see it, you’re just going through and you’re looking at all the things that are wrong about it in a way, and so what’s happened is that they – I feel like they themselves have gone through that process, and the first time they saw it they were almost speechless and they were so emotionally overwhelmed by it in a way, that it took a couple of different screenings for them to be able to just look at it and – so they didn’t really say anything for the first … I think all of them have seen it three or four times now, and now that they can talk about it a little bit, because it’s so tremendously important to them, what they say is, in a sense they say, ‘You have no idea, because you don’t know how what we went through – how much this means to us, how important telling this event of our lives,’ which is really the event of their lives, for all of them, what significance it has, because for us we’re actors portraying something, as opposed to the ones who lived it. And I don’t know if any of you were there at the screening the other night where they were, and watching them walk across the stage and the true power of what they achieved, a film can only present it, and so for them that’s consistently what they say, it’s just a real sense of incredible appreciation I guess is what it comes down to.
I heard you put on 35 pounds for this.
JL: I actually put on 43 to the point where Haskins was angry at me because he said I was going to make him look fat. I was like, ‘Oh come on, you were fat.’ He goes, ‘No, no, I wasn’t this fat.’ When I started filming I was really almost the same shape as the guys, and it wasn’t right physically because Haskins is a big guy, he’s a big, intimidating coach, and there’s a definite difference between athleticism of his players and him –
How did you put on the weight?
JL: It was just all beer, tequila and New Orleans food. And it was Haskins that came to me and said, literally from the moment I met him, the first moment I met him, he said, ‘If you’re going to play me, you’d better start drinking beer.’ But he was angry with me at the end, because he felt like I was going to make him look fat. I was like, ‘You were fat.’ He was like, ‘Not this fat.’
Did he tell you any other stories about what he went through that you weren’t able to get into the movie, some of the personal problems that he had?
JL: It’s a Disney movie and you’re definitely trying to present the harshness of it without having it be too in your face. But they threatened violence against his children is the truth of the matter. And the thing that’s so exceptional about what he did is that he kept going, and I think that’s incredibly difficult when someone is saying we’re going to hurt or take your baby is that they said to him and to his wife. And Mary protected him for awhile and then got to the point where she no longer could, because he didn’t realize how much it was coming at her, and she such a support figure, which is I think one of the nice elements of the story. She never was someone who was nagging or anything, she was constantly saying to him, ‘I believe in you, I believe in this,’ so when he found out he was actually very, very angry at her, because he was scared. He was scared enough for his players, but when it was about his children – and that’s I think one of the things that kicked in at that point, is that he realized what he was up against.
There are rumors recently that you might be going back to another comic book adaptation – playing Harvey Dent in the sequel to Batman?
JL: Yeah, you’re the second person who has said that, and I have no idea about that. Look, that would be cool.
This movie has historical demands on you and the cast, but it’s also a familiar sports template, was this an easy movie to make or did those demands overwhelm you?
JL: You know, I never really felt that comfortable, because I didn’t know basketball that well, and I had to for a lot of this movie, in a sense, be coaching and be coaching improvisationally as a very unique coach, he’s a very odd (in) sense and structure, the way he particularly would sarcastically try to inspire, and the way he would be very, very tough and forceful during games towards his players. He’s at times I’ve heard a bit of a one-man-show, not meaning to be, but because he so ferocious in the way he’s coaching, and he’s unaware of an audience, he’s unaware of anything that’s happening on the basketball court, other than what his players are doing. And so when you’re rolling five cameras and the actors are just running up and down, no one can tell me what to say, because it has to be based on what the basketball that I’m watching is. And then I’ve got real coaches, Tim Floyd, Pat Riley, these guys there watching me play a man who they know, and so I pretty much every day went home not feeling ever relaxed about it, that’s for sure. But maybe in the same way that I would talk to Haskinsabout how he never felt relaxed about what he was doing, he was always a coiled kind of rage inside of him to push himself and his players harder, in the same way I kind of had that with the making of this movie too, because it did start to mean so much to me. It’s way harder to play a real person and it’s real harder to play a real person who is there watching you.
Did you hold character with the actors on the set between scenes because you’re supposed to be mean to them?
JL: I was pretty much in it, in the sense that we went out to dinner before we started shooting once, and kind of had a conversation saying, ‘Look guys, this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to come at you very hard, so don’t take it personally.’ And then we never had much of an issue that way though, because they were very respectful, there really wasn’t much rebellion in this at all, because everyone was on the same journey, and everyone really respected the story and the movie, and they were very committed. They are young actors who some of them don’t have a lot of experience or any experience, and so they were very excited and proud to be there.
Were you helping them?
JL: We were all together. They helped each other a lot, and then there were moments where I would come into that as well, but a lot of it was – I honestly kept a bit of a separation, because Haskins himself had to keep a strong separation, partly because he’s not that much different in age, and I’m not that much different in age from the actors, yet he’s the coach, the father figure, all the different things, so I also had to do that. And these guys were having an amazing time if you talk to them. They were very close and they played and partied like madmen, and the only thing that would get to me sometimes is that I felt every once in awhile you’d walk in and there’d be fifteen of them asleep on the basketball court literally, you know, ‘Get up.’ They were up all night, and that was the point, I was like, ‘Guys, come on, come on.’ But mostly people were pretty committed to this, and at times they would come and ask for little pieces of advice, but mostly, honestly, they were very unified together in terms of helping each other, which is very special for a movie.
You did (The Glass) Menagerie in New York – how did that go, and how important is it for you to get back on stage?
JL: I had not a great time honestly. It was not a very well received production, which that doesn’t bother me as much as just that I found that Broadway community to be very cold and judgmental and very, very tight in a way. I think the state of theatre in this country is very stuck, and particularly in New York and Broadway, and Broadway dramas in particular.
Something about the Manhattan Theatre Club.
JL: Yeah, honestly, so I just didn’t have a great time.
You still live in New York?
JL: I live in New York, yeah.
Are you’re a sports fan?
JL: You know, I like sports and this whole experience has made me have a much different love and appreciation of.
Were did you hurt your hand?
JL: Doing Poseidon, yeah. What I did was, I tore the muscle so the muscle actually rolled back up into my thumb and they had to put in two two inch slits on either side to go in and rebuild it, and reconnect it through surgery.
How was shooting that film?
JL: Poseidon was physically insanely difficult. Basically his whole thing was, I do not want to have a movie that relies on CGI, so what I’m going to do is I’m going to have real situations. When you watch the movie you’re going see the walls are imploding from the pressure of the water, and there are massive canons of water shooting at us, there are fires and all of it’s real. And so what happened is pretty consistently - first of all, you’re under water for massive chunks of time, so you’re sharing the germs and bacteria with a crew of two hundred people, everyone was very sick for about four months of a six month shoot. And then physically everyone kept being hurt, and there’s not much you can do about it. It was as safe as you possibly could make it , but you can’t create situations where they look that dangerous and they’re totally safe. The fire and the pressure of the water consistently kept causing injuries is the truth of the matter.
Were you a good swimmer before?
JL: Yeah, you had to be.
Is Mr. Petersen a bit like Don Haskins?
JL: He is in a sense that he’s obsessive, but he’s very, very lovely, so it’s a funny mix where he’d come to me (I think he means he would go to him!) and be like, ‘It’s going to kill me.’ And he’d be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m so sorry, let’s go again.’ I’d be like, ‘Wolfgang, I’m really scared, I really am genuinely afraid that someone is going to be very badly hurt,’ and he’d be like, ‘We just need one more.’
Is the storyline the same?
JL: It’s absolutely not. That’s one of the things that we all realized that we have a movie that is revered by people, and that many people love, and so the idea from the beginning Wolfgang said is we got to make a totally different movie. We’ve got to have a movie that is the same structure in that the cruise ship gets hit by a wave on New Year’s Eve, and everything else about it is different, which will both be very, very good for the movie, and I’m sure some people will say there’s a whole religious element to the book and the first movie, that isn’t in the second movie.
What do you play in it?
JL: I play this man called (John) Dylan who is a poker hustler, in the position it would be similar to Gene Hackman in terms of what he does through the whole thing. The difference is there’s a reference to the times being so different, this is a very roguish, maybe self-involved personality, who does not want to save everyone, in fact he’s very different in that way, but he ends up growing tremendously because he starts to care for the people that he’s going through the ship with. But unlike Gene Hackman he’s totally not a man of God, he’s quite the opposite, he’s maybe not even a good guy in a way, but is becoming much better because of what is happening to him and because of how much he’s starting to care for the people that he’s with. But he does not set out to save everyone, in fact if anything he’s not happy about it.
What do you have after this?
JL: That’s it.
Where did you get your Texas accent, because I come from 200 miles from El Paso, and it sounded real to me.
JL: Just trying to figure out what Haskins sounded like then as opposed to now a little bit.
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