“I was really inspired to have a script come to me about a group of people who we normally don’t get a chance to see”: Ernie Hudson on Champions
Champions is a heartwarming comedy sports feature showcasing Bobby Farrelly in his directorial debut with a screenplay from Mark Rizzo, based on the 2018 Spanish comedy-drama film, Campeones. It stars Woody Harrelson as a minor-league basketball coach called Marcus with dreams of making it big in the sporting circuit and heading up a side in the NBA. A series of mishaps land him in front of a judge, who offers him community service coaching a basketball team with intellectual disabilities.
After casting his initial doubts, Marcus draws on the positive attributes of the group and has them match-ready during his 90 days of service. He also dabbles in a romance with one of the player’s sisters, Alex (Kaitlin Olsen), and learns to navigate this new path of friendship with his team, overhaul his approach to his future career and lean into the idea that he won’t always be right.
The Upcoming had the chance to speak to Ernie Hudson, who stars in the feature, as he discussed his role in the movie, working with Woody Harrelson and the positive impact of the story.
Can you start by giving us the premise of Champions? What can viewers expect?
Champions is about a young man played by Woody Harrelson. He gets several chances to have a great career but, because of his own shortcomings, he screws up and he’s sort of forced out of his job and finds himself in trouble with the law. To avoid a jail sentence, he is assigned to coach this team of young people who are, some would consider, “handicapped” or disabled, but, as we will learn in the film, these are people who are quite capable and a very special team, and they help our lead character grow up. There’s of course a love story and all that, but it’s about relationships and humanity and getting to a better place, I think. Now, that’s probably not the best description of the movie, but that’s what I take out of it anyway. It’s a movie about growing up and the importance of friendship and relationships.
Can you tell us about your role? What drew you to the script and what do you like about your character, Phil?
I play a well-respected head coach of a basketball team and Woody Harrelson plays a character called Marcus, who I‘ve hired as my assistant coach because he’s kind of screwed up along the way, and it’s probably the only job he can get that hopefully could lead to him working in the NBA. Unfortunately, early on in the movie, he just gets too passionate, and he screws up, and I’m forced to fire him. My character has known Marcus for a long time – since college. He realises the potential that he has, but he also recognises they’ve gone through a lot, and their history and their friendship is important. So he comes back from time to time to double check and make sure Marcus is on-track. He sort of goes out on a limb and helps him get started again. For me, it’s not just about being a good coach, but just being a good human being and being a good friend.
The film centres very much around disability in sport and the prejudices within it. How did you feel to be part of such a well-rounded project that is so inclusive and inspiring?
There are a lot of messages in the movie that I’m really happy to see. Because, for me, a lot of the movies that I see now are either about people turning into zombies, or people going into war and killing each other, so I was really inspired to have a script come to me that was about relationships and about a group of people who we normally don’t get a chance to see – a group of people who some people would classify as “handicapped” or disabled or “unable”. And, as we get to know these young people in the film, we realise that that’s our own pre-judgments, as these people are quite capable, and certainly more than capable and deserving of love and a chance to achieve in the acting community. Their performances will show that they are very, very capable and deserving of more opportunities.
You previously worked with Woody Harrelson back in 1994 on a film called The Cowboy Way. What was it like to collaborate with him again and build that friendship on screen as two passionate basketball coaches with perhaps two very different approaches?
Yes, we’ve worked together before on that. We became friends on that film and have been friends ever since. But really I’m a fan of his, there’s such humanity, kindness about his spirit that comes through him and all of his roles. Even if he’s playing the bad guy, there’s a sense of humour and a kindness that I always enjoy. So having the opportunity to work with him was really one of the big draws of why I wanted to do the movie. I think he’s just amazing in this movie. He’s a perfect guy, and what I loved about working on this film with Woody… I loved how he sort of connected with the kids, playing and goofing off with them when we weren’t shooting. Spending time with him allowed them and gave them the courage and confidence to step up and do these performances. I attribute a lot of that to Bobby’s directing as well. Also, Cheech Marin in this too, who I’ve worked with years ago and been friends with – he’s the perfect dad. I say that, but I’m probably older than him, but it was a great cast, and that was a huge part of my wanting to be a part of this.
Champions is released on 10th March 2023. Read our review here.
Watch the trailer for Champions here: