Vital Thrills recently attended the press conference for the 20th Century Studios film White Men Can’t Jump. The all-new comedy begins streaming exclusively on Hulu May 19, 2023.
White Men Can’t Jump is a modern retelling of the iconic 1992 film that celebrates the streetball hustling culture of Los Angeles. Sinqua Walls stars as Kamal, once a promising player who derailed his future in the sport, and multi-platinum rap superstar Jack Harlow makes his movie debut as Jeremy, a former star of the game whose injuries stalled his own career.
Juggling tenuous relationships, financial pressures and serious internal struggles, the two ballers — opposites who are seemingly miles apart — find they might have more in common than they imagined possible.
Directed by Calmatic, White Men Can’t Jump also stars Teyana Taylor, Laura Harrier, Vince Staples, Myles Bullock and the late Lance Reddick. The film is written by Kenya Barris and Doug Hall.
Director Calmatic was asked about Los Angeles and the importance of showing the Crenshaw district in South LA. He said, “Yeah, man. I mean, I’m born and raised in L.A., you know what I’m saying? Like, I love L.A. more than a lot of stuff. And I feel like especially in film, Hollywood, you see L.A. presented in so many different ways.
“But being someone who lives here, I’m like, there’s a whole L.A. that the world hasn’t seen yet. It’s the L.A. I grew up in. It’s also a very influential part of L.A. that hasn’t been seen yet. Just the way we walk, the way we talk, the way we play basketball. You know, like I always say, like, James Harden, like, he went to Audubon Junior High.
“That’s, like, a very specific junior high. And if you see the way he play and the way he be doin’ his little weird step backs that look like they might be travel, like, that’s some Audubon shit. You know what I’m saying? And so, like, I think the way Russel Westbrook plays, like, he went to Henry Clay Middle School, and that’s, like, the crazy middle school where the kids are just running out of control, you know what I’m saying?
“So, that’s like, it’s all of that. So, I think for me, you know, it’s really just about, you know, showing the world my L.A. and how I see it. And hopefully we can continue to keep influencing.”
Sinqua Walls has a background in basketball, having played in college. Walls was asked about taking on the role and adding his own knowledge. He said, “Shout out the to Dons, okay? We almost made the tournament this year, but we made the tournament last year, so I’m still rooting for us. I mean, honestly, I think that was the most important part, was to make sure that this was authentic with basketball.
“And I think that’s something that truly Chuck really cared about and he was really critical about every time. I always talk about how a lot of the movie moved at a pace where we had to do single takes. And those movements don’t work unless someone can authentically play basketball to a level that makes the most sense. So, that’s why the basketball in it is so good.
“I mean, we’re all gonna be critical of it. I know Teyana’s gonna be critical of it. [laugh] And it was important to make sure that that was infused naturally. And it was just fun, man. To step in and use things that I’d already done for years. I mean, Chuck knows, I had been playing ball since I was six years old. So, it was something that can actually happen naturally and just move in that space.”
Teyana Taylor is a huge basketball fan and spoke about the fact that model Iman came to the set. “We gotta make sure we on point. But you know, to be able to sit back and watch it and, like, bask in it, it was so amazing. Sinqua is great. Jack is great. Yo, I’m impressed. The expert is impressed, you know? [laugh]”
Walls spoke about some of the changes in the story. “I think the best part, and to go back to what Chuck was talking about, is the way that we shot L.A., the intricacies of that. Because ’92 did something really great with Venice and streetball and telling that authentic story. But one of the special things, genuinely, is the fact that this brother can shoot L.A. better than anybody else. And he knew spaces for us to unpack. So, that’s what really updates it for now, is because you see parts of L.A. that you didn’t see in the original.
“But you see the people and the culture and the color and the vibrance. Like he said, the essence of, if you grew up in L.A., like, you know somebody from Watts and how they really move. Compton and how they really move, Gardena and how they really move. Crenshaw. All those places. And I think that really is different is because this time around, the city is its own character that lives in the story.”
Jack Harlow, playing his first movie role, spoke about the experience. “It was [a] coo learning experience. I’m thankful that I joined a group of people that were so humble and willing to let me learn and be patient with me and be willing to teach. I feel like I arrived into a egoless environment. And I was the least experienced person and everyone just kinda let me shine and try things and gave me the room to give my opinion.
“I gotta give a big shoutout to Cal for that. Like, if I felt strongly about something, it didn’t mean that it was gonna go that way, but Cal would hear me out and vice versa, of course. So, I was all for the lead vision, but I just appreciated that I could come into my first one and people actually cared what I thought. So, I just wanna give a big shoutout to everybody I’m sitting with here and everyone that was involved in the film, for making my first one such a seamless experience.”
Laura Harrier was asked about taking on Rosie Perez’s character from the original film and the changes that came with crafting the character. “I mean, it was definitely very big shoes to walk into. Rosie Perez is an actress I’ve always looked up to. And I think her in the original film is such an iconic role and character.
“So, I wanted to not try and reference any of that because I didn’t wanna try and do a recreation of what she was doing. I wanted to give Tatiana her own character and her own person and my own interpretation of who she was. So, I think the entire film we’re kind of looking at the original and drawing bits and pieces. But it’s definitely its own thing and its own retelling, so.”
Walls spoke about the friendship between Jeremy and Kamal and his favorite moment. He said, “You know what’s funny, is I have, too. And genuinely, it moved in sequence of the movie. I think one of my favorite days was our first day where Jack and I were together. And we played and we really, like, got into the trenches with each other and really got a chance to know each other and listen to each other. And I always say this because we let each other be each other. And I think that’s just a testament to life in general.
“I think why people are responding to the chemistry that we have or the friendship that we have is because we generally just let each other, like, Jack and Sinqua, be Jack and Sinqua. We didn’t try to force or try to infuse. We just let each other come to each other naturally. And then, you see the progression over the film.
“At the end, you see, like, how we were having inside jokes. And how, like, Jack will say something and I pick up on it and I’m laughing and I’m still trying to stay in character. And you see that happen naturally, and I think those two moments, from the beginning of the film and then when we were at Leimert Park, are two of my best moments in the film.”
Harlow agreed. He said, “I know this is my first one, but I can’t imagine that there’s many experiences you can have with someone else that, like, create this sort of thing. I mean, it’s unforgettable. You know, whether we ever do another movie together again or whatever, wherever this leads, like, we always have this. And we had that month and a half, two months together where we just were interacting on and off camera and really got to know each other and feel each other out.
“I agree, the first day was definitely a feeling out process. I think the very first scene we shot, it was almost weird. Like, I don’t know what we were on, but we were just feeling each other out on that first take. And it low-key got real ’cause we were just like, yo, who is this guy? And, but after that, it was really smooth, you know? Great chemistry. I think everyone sees it.”
Walls added, “Also, what I will say, ’cause people ask this a lot. And I think one of the things that really meant a lot to me, and I say this all the time, is this brother called me, I think, like, before the first scene or two days before. He’s like, ‘Bro, let’s just go over the lines because I don’t want the first time that we work together to just be the first time we actually speak.’
“And I think that speaks volumes, because even though it’s his first one, he’s really professional and he’s really seasoned. And he just called me doing that. I was like I worked in this business for a while, had a lot of cast mates and a lot of people I worked with. And I can honestly count on my hand the people that have called me, and he’s one of them.”
One of the stars of White Men Can’t Jump is Lance Reddick, who sadly passed away recently. Calmatic spoke about working with him. “I think when his name came up as an option for Benji, it was like, d’oh. Like, we gotta go with Lance. We gotta work with that guy.
“And you know, as soon as we made it official, like, he came in. We had meetings. He did tons of research on his character and what illness he had. And he even went to go meet with doctors and he actually interviewed someone that had that condition. And so, when hecame to set, he was like super locked in.
“And it was one of those things where, you know, as a director when I’m watching actors perform, I’m always thinking about, okay, how can we do that different? What’s going on? But after every take I would go in there and I would just be like, ‘That was perfect.’ Like, you did it. That was it. Like, that’s exactly what this character needed at that moment.
“Like, I know actors hate to hear this, but I was like, ‘Let’s do it again and let’s try something different,’ you know what I’m saying? And he would do something different, but it was equally as perfect as the first one. And so, I think I quickly realized he was just like one of the best actors that I’ve ever worked with. And it’s such a shame that he’s not here with us. But you know, I think we all, just his presence aloneleft an imprint, a great impression on us, so yeah, man.”
Walls added that he was “super generous,” saying, “We had a couple times, especially in the hospital scenes. I remember, he had to eat some Jell-O or something. And he was supposed to be in the chair in his moment, going through his illness. And I think he accidentally hit the wrong Jell-O. And I remember him, like, just breaking character. He was like, ‘My bad, man.’
“He’s like, ‘Let’s just go ahead and take that back.’ And it was so funny ’cause he laughed, too. And then he, like, went right back into character. And I was, like, ‘Well, that’s a pro right there.’ Like, that’s legacy. He was really well trained. He was really well studied. But to see him break character, laugh, and then go right back into it was just a testament to his personality.”
Harlow remembered his presence on set. He said, “Yeah, like everybody said, I had one or two days with Lance. But I was really taken by his presence and the energy you had playing Benji just felt so real. I mean, when I think back, it’s hard for me to separate in between takes and what was going on on-camera. Like, he just had a warmth that the character he was portraying had. And kind as hell. I don’t know, simple as that. Kind as hell, that’s how I’ll remember him.”
Taylor spoke about seeing herself in her White Men Can’t Jump character. “Yeah. ‘Cause I do hair, for real, for real. Yeah, I be laying the sideburns and all that. But nah, some real sh*t, my husband being in the league. You know, we see the ups and down of that. And through the ups and downs, it’s your job to be there and support in any way that you can when you’re someone’s other half.
“So, it was easy for me to tap into Imani because besides doing hair in the living room, I been there before, having to support when it’s up and also having to ride when it’s down, you know what I’m sayin’? So, it was definitely easy to tap in and be there and bein’ loving and being able to get upside his head, but from a place of love, you know what I’m sayin’? Like, we in this together, and that’s what it’s gonna be. So, yeah.”