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      ‘The Underdoggs’ Director Is Extremely High on Snoop Dogg’s Performance: ‘He Did a Hell of a Job’ (Exclusive)

      Posted by Derek Lawrence on Saturday, January 27, 2024 Under: 848CINEMA
      Snoop Dogg as Jaycen “Two Js” Jennings in ‘The Underdoggs’ Jacob Kemp/Prime Video

      ‘The Underdoggs’ Director Is Extremely High on Snoop Dogg’s Performance: ‘He Did a Hell of a Job’ (Exclusive)

      The new Prime Video sports comedy is inspired by the rapper's real-life role as a youth football coach and league founder

      The Doggfather is now also The Underdoggs star.

      Premiering Friday on Prime Video, the sports comedy takes inspiration from Snoop Dogg's admirable work as a coach and founder of the Snoop Youth Football League, which has served as the start for many future NFL players. Directed by sports movie veteran Charles Stone III (DrumlineMr. 3000Uncle Drew), The Underdoggs stars Snoop as Jaycen "Two Js" Jennings, a washed-up former star who is ordered into community service, forcing him to coach a pee-wee football team in his hometown of Long Beach.

      Stone is no stranger to making films with leads who aren't traditional actors, whether it be the late standup legend Bernie Mac (Mr. 3000) or NBA champion Kyrie Irving (Uncle Drew), and he saw something he could "work with" in Snoop.

      "He's super intelligent, and what I mean by that is just really understanding how people act, how people are," Stone tells The Messenger of the iconic rapper. "And so it made it easier for me when having to communicate with him or give notes. He would understand it, and thank goodness that he was just so open. He would always say, 'Whatever you need, man, come on!' He really wanted this role. He wanted this experience to happen — and it shows. I think he did a hell of a job.

      Ahead of The Underdoggs' Friday premiere on Prime Video, we talked with Stone about being drawn to sports movies, working with Snoop and letting kids curse.

      What was it about the prospect of teaming up with Snoop for The Underdoggs that appealed to you?

      Charles Stone III: A producer on the project, Jonathan Glickman, and I had done Mr. 3000 together 20 years ago, and he called me and told me about this idea because he had worked with Snoop on The Addams Family. And so they developed a relationship, and then they developed the story with Snoop's producer, Constance Schwartz-Morini, and he thought I'd be a great addition. I read the script and fell in love with it. And I've done this kind of movie before, but the angle of it being about these kids was unique. Yes, cussing kids was really funny. And I'm also a big fan of the Bad News Bears, which, back in the '70s, that was quite revolutionary to have kids cussing kids. And I loved the story because, to me, it was a different bent on the value of winning: what is winning, and not just winning a trophy, but other ways in which we can be victorious.

      Mr. 3000 and The Underdoggs are only a couple of the sports movies you've done, so what do you love most about working in the genre?

      I'm a big comic book, sci-fi, fantasy head, and sports is a way for me to do superhero movies or hero tales. If you really think about a sports movie, it always involves a hero and a villain, and, in some form or fashion, it always involves the hero having to get out of his or her own way to work through personal demons or fears in order to realize their superpower to its fullest. And then there's a physical manifestation of that struggle. Whereas in a superhero movie, they go to battle, in sports movies, they do that on the football field or the basketball court. So, I guess I've been able to work out my love of the hero's journey but in the sports realm. And I've played sports all my life, so I've experienced firsthand that level of competition and having to battle my own ego in terms of how to overcome adversity and not cave into a loss.

      'The Underdoggs' director Charles Stone III Mike Pont/Getty Images
      'The Underdoggs' director Charles Stone III Mike Pont/Getty Images© Provided by The Messenger

      Snoop has popped up in a lot of shows or movies over the years, but I had a hard time remembering the last time he was front and center carrying a movie like this. Coming in, what were your previous impressions of Snoop as an actor, and then now having worked with him on this, what impressed you about him as an actor?

      Knowing that it was inspired by his Snoop Youth Football League and his 20-plus years of actually coaching and producing a peewee football league, I could see in other pieces that he's done, smaller roles in films, that there was a foundation, acting-wise, upon which I could work with. And just like working with Bernie Mac on Mr. 3000, Bernie was really known as a standup comedian. But, in experiencing his standup, there was a definite sensitivity and understanding of life lessons and all that he's learned and experienced over his life that I felt like could come into play in that role. And here, Snoop, it's perfect because he's been a superstar. I am sure he's aware of his ego and moments where one feels bigger than their britches. And he loves sports. So he understood all the various dimensions to the story and to the character that I felt like, okay, because of that, I'll be able to work with him to really access his own life experiences and for us to forge the Two Js character.

      And then the experience of it was fantastic; it was a real honor to work with him. He was very present, very open to really going there, even when there were uncomfortable moments. We all have our comfort zone, and to be able to break out of that if it's asked of a character, and there are moments where Two J's really witnesses the kid Tre (Jonigan Booth) acting just like him. That moment where Tre says, "F--- everybody, f--- you, f--- my coaches, f--- my teammates. I'm self-made." That's what Two J's said right at the beginning of the movie, and so that really needed to hit hard, and for Snoop to emote the embarrassment and the realization of, "I've been living this one way for so long." He's super intelligent, and what I mean by that is just really understanding how people act, how people are. And so it made it easier for me when having to communicate with him or give notes. He would understand it, and thank goodness that he was just so open. He would always say, "Whatever you need, man, come on!" He really wanted this role. He wanted this experience to happen — and it shows. I think he did a hell of a job.

      I’d have to imagine choreographing the actual sports in sports movies is already hard enough — and then you add kids. So, were there any new or unexpected challenges here in that regard?

      Yeah, of course. There was the worry with the kids, "Are they going to be able to play football well?" But one thing that we all agreed upon was that we had to also allow it to be kids playing football and not kids suddenly becoming pro football players and doing crazy moves that the pros do. Although, there are kids at that age who can do some pretty impressive stuff, and we do some of that. But it just helped to accept and celebrate the idiosyncrasies and the clumsiness and just what it will be without trying to force it to be something it's not. That helped us mentally.

      But I had this team I work with all the time called the Game Changers; they did Mr. 3000 and Uncle Drew. They're the ones who build the various football scenes, doing auditions, setting up trainings and boot camps, and all that stuff to get them ready. All the actors had doubles, but the actors did a bootcamp as well. I found the kids to be great and that did not pose a problem. I mean, attention span, sometimes. Kids want to become scatterbrained and stuff, but that was at a minimum. The thing that's hard is kids' hours. The child labor laws are really good and super strict, as they should be, to protect these kids from being overworked. But we had such an ambitious shoot that the tight amount of hours per day made it very challenging for us to get everything done, so we had to really be on our Ps and Qs.

      Snoop Dogg and his real-life Snoop Dogg All-Star squad Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images Reportage
      Snoop Dogg and his real-life Snoop Dogg All-Star squad Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images Reportage© Provided by The Messenger

      I appreciated how referential the movie is, whether it was a Harold & Kumar line directed at Kal Penn or, in my favorite scene, when Mike Epps does a hilarious monologue about Mighty Ducks. How much fun was it to let a performer like Mike Epps loose to do his thing with material like that?

      Anytime I can get a moment to be that referential or lots of wink-winks or making fun of tropes and being self-effacing, I just love to do that. I used to do that when I directed music videos in the '90s. I did a music video for the Roots a long time ago called "What They Do," and it draws attention to all the different visual tropes and techniques that music videos have used over and over and over again. So it was fun to do that here, and sometimes it was on the page, or I would tell the writers, "Let's have a moment that makes fun of this."

      In terms of improvisation, I love working with standup comedians because it just brings an added dimension to the movie. Like the carjacking moment, there were very specific lines in there that are important, but it was also really important for Mike and Snoop to just riff. My big note to Mike was, "Kareem is an OG and a 12-year-old mixed together," and he understood that and it really comes across like he's a big kid. And George Lopez, interestingly enough, he's more of a straight man. He's the Yoda of the story, and at the very end, with the big game, he gets to let loose. We had to let him do some funny improv from the stands.

      My logical final question is, what sport will you do for your next sports movie? You’re starting to run out of mainstream sports!

      If I do another sports movie, and I imagine I will at some point, I really want to explore the world of track and field because that's what I did as a kid and a teenager. And then one story I want to do is the biography of the Harlem Globetrotters. There's a script for it that's pretty impressive, and it's not like all fun and games; it's actually quite heavy.

      The Underdoggs premieres Friday on Prime Video.

      In : 848CINEMA 

      Tags: ‘the underdoggs  ’ director   is  extremely  high  on  snoop dogg’s  performance  (exclusive) 
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