‘Uncle Drew’ star Shaquille O’Neal is going Hollywood The next ‘Rock’?
By Jake Coyle
Shaquille O’Neal is already known by many names. Superman. The Diesel. The Big Aristotle. But he would like to add another to the list: Movie Star.
In “Uncle Drew,” which opens Friday, he plays one of the former basketball stars (all of them real pros under heavy old-man makeup) reunited by Kyrie Irving’s titular character (first created for a TV ad) to compete in a street-ball tournament at Harlem’s Rucker Park. Shaq’s character, known as Big Fella, is found running a martial arts dojo.
But post-NBA life has been far more successful for the four-time NBA champion. He’s an analyst on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” a popular pitchman and an active entrepreneur and investor. He has dabbled in everything from professional wrestling to law enforcement. He’s even a voice setting on the Waze navigation app. This summer he will tour under the name DJ Diesel.
“Uncle Drew” is just one of the projects that the 46-year-old O’Neal has going. Among his favorites is a TBS show he’s developing with Ken Jeong. Comparing their chemistry to Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, O’Neal says it will be “’Seinfeld”-epic-ish.”
In an interview, O’Neal spoke about his big plans in Hollywood, why the NBA has gotten soft and where he hopes LeBron James lands this off-season.
Q. What do you miss about playing in the NBA?
A. I miss all of it. I miss interacting with the fans. I miss having the unexpected adrenaline rush, the doubts, the fear, overcoming the fear. I miss everything.
Q. Your post-NBA career has been uncommonly busy. Why?
A. Seventy percent of all professional athletes have nothing, not even a job, after they’re done. The fact that I couldn’t even call a franchise to get an interview to be a coach frightened me. So nothing was simple. Educate yourself, be nice to people and save your money. If you do that, you should be OK.
Q. You have numerous TV shows and films in development. What are your Hollywood aspirations?
A. I want to be as big as Rock.
Q. Dwayne Johnson is the biggest movie star on the planet. That’s setting a high bar.
A. We come from the same place: athletes that transition. That’s my goal. I want similar type movies. I want to get thrillers. I want to get dramas. I want to do comedies. I want to be the next Rock. I want to do a thriller where I’m like a hero and beat up all the bad guys.
Q. It’s been 24 years since your big-screen debut, “Blue Chips.” Do you feel like a veteran actor?
A. Well, I have shot 15 movies. I always tell my friends I shot 15 movies but they say, “Yeah, but if you play Shaq in nine of the movies, that’s not really acting.” I say, “You make a good point.” I’m just happy to have the opportunity.
Q. The Lakers are rumored to be a likely landing spot for LeBron James. Do you want that to happen?
A. I just want the Lakers to be like they were back in the day. I want somebody that can beat Golden State. Golden State has turned into madness. The thing that would make me very excited is if LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard came to the Lakers. Then you’d have problems in the West. Then basketball would be fun again.
Q. Have you ever talked to Kyrie Irving about his flat Earth beliefs ?
A. No, because I said it, too. But I was playing.
Q. You were in make-up for four hours a day for “Uncle Drew.” How did you pass the time?
A. Sleep. When I woke up, it still wasn’t done.