Champions follows Marcus, a hot-headed minor league assistant basketball coach who is fired after confronting the head coach during a game. Humiliated by his firing and becoming a joke on television and social media, he crashes into a police car while drunk, resulting in court-ordered community service. Marcus’ community service assignment is to coach a team of intellectually disabled basketball players at the local community center called The Friends.
Over time, coaching The Friends forces Marcus to become a more understanding coach who connects with his players, leading the team to an unexpected victory streak. Marcus and The Friends soon discover that they are on track to go further than anyone ever expected, straight to the Special Olympics. Champions is directed by Bobby Farrelly and written by Mark Rizzo. Champions stars Woody Harrelson, Katlin Olson, Ernie Hudson, Cheech Marin, and Matt Cook.
Screen Rant spoke with Bobby Farrelly about his new sports comedy, Champions. He discusses exploring each character’s story in the movie and the revelation of Darius’ refusal to play for Marcus. Farrelly also breaks down the chemistry between Harrelson and Olson.
Bobby Farrelly On Champions
Screen Rant: Bobby, amazing job on this film. It is hilarious, inspirational, and full of heart. What was it about Champions that drew you in as a director?
Bobby Farrelly: Well, there was an original movie, we can’t take full credit because it was an original Spanish movie, Campeons. And the arc of the story was all in that movie, and we really enjoyed it. What we wanted to do, of course, is make it an American story, and Woody was the perfect guy to play the basketball coach. So we just thought he knows basketball as well as anyone. He’s the right guy, and we had so much fun.
Now, I love how you give insight into each of the players’ lives, whether it be their home life or their work life. Can you talk about why that was important for you to include in the film?
Bobby Farrelly: To really make them all well-rounded. We didn’t want to just comment “Oh their funny, and they have good quips,” and all that. We wanted to show that each one has their own life and has their own story, and they are well-rounded individuals. They’re just disabled and Woody didn’t know that community, Woody’s character, Marcus. He didn’t know anything about that community. So he had preconceived notions that after spending time with them, he found out they were all wrong.
There’s a scene where I got a little misty-eyed when we finally learned why Darius has a problem with Marcus. It’s a really powerful scene. What inspired that story point? And can you talk to me about what those two actors brought to the table on that day? ‘Cause it was quite emotional.
Bobby Farrelly: That was a great scene. I got to give credit to Mark Rizzo, our screenwriter. He had written that scene beautifully, but our two actors, I knew Woody could nail his side, but the other guy Darius [Joshua Felder], who had never acted before in his life, and he played this character of someone who had suffered a brain injury and it comes out. It was hidden in the story, and it finally reveals why he’s upset with his new coach. And he played it so beautifully. He played it so real. Everybody on the set was like, “Wow. That was some serious acting.” We were at the director’s monitor watching it, and we’re welling up. He really moved us. So tremendous acting by Darius and really all the cast, The Friends, each one stood out when they had to. And that was Darius’s moment there.
They were incredible. Now, I also love the chemistry between Woody and Kaitlin Olson. Can you talk about collaborating with them to find that push and pull?
Bobby Farrelly: The thing we wanted to capture with Woody and Kaitlin is we wanted it to be real. We just wanted to feel like she’s a real woman and I think Kaitlin played it really, really well. She’s a woman that is held back because she thinks she’s doing right by her brother, disabled brother. But in a way she’s not because she’s not letting him grow, and she’s not giving him enough faith that he can be fine on his own. So she’s a little overprotective and holding him back. But she played it in a way that I thoroughly believed it. I thought Kaitlin was really, really good in it. And it’s a key part of the story because we wanted it to feel real.
Minor league basketball coach Marcus is fired, humiliated, and in trouble with the law. He is given court ordered community service, coaching a team of players with intellectual disabilities at the local community center. While coaching The Friends he learns how to be a better coach, better person, and discovers that working together this team could go further than anyone believed.
Check out our interview with Champions star Cheech Marin.
Next: Champions Review: Woody Harrelson Leads A Predictable But Feel-Good Sports Movie