John C. Reilly And Hadley Robinson

John C. Reilly And Hadley Robinson

There can be no doubt that Righteous Gemstones came along at the perfect time to fill the void left by the viper-esque quarreling and greedy Roy family when Succession went off the air. Now, with that show on break, we look to Winning Time (which returned for its 2nd season on Sunday night) to take the baton, giving us a look at the dysfunctional (but far less mean, ridiculous, and destructive) Buss family and their central pre-occupation, the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers. That team is, of course, a messed up family unit in its own right, complete with locker room feuds, and power struggles. At the heart of all of this is owner Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) and his daughter Jeannie (Hadley Robinson), the master and the apprentice… if only father would acknowledge that his young daughter is the obvious heir to the throne and stop trying to make a square peg fit with his sons.

In the interview below (which was conducted prior to the ongoing Screen Actors Guild Strike), Uproxx spoke with Reilly and Robinson about the complex family dynamic at the heart of the show, fleshing out important stories by taking some artistic license (and the reactions — positive and negative — around the show), ambition, how the show has evolved, and there’s a special appearance from the late Jerry Buss by way of a bobblehead.

When the first season came out, there was, I guess you could say controversy or some complaints about some of the characterizations. I’m just curious, as an actor on the show, if you took it upon yourself or if you had an interest in something like the documentary Legacy: The True Story Of The LA Lakers, which came out in the interim between season one and season two.


John C. Reilly: No, I didn’t see that one.

Do you feel a sense of kinship, I guess, with the character to find out any other angles?

Reilly: I felt like in some ways a documentary about the Lakers is like a whole other exercise. What we were doing was filling in the blanks. Blanks that nobody really could fill in. You have to take artistic license to know what was said between two people, one of them is not alive anymore, the other one, whatever. The research for me on this was the script of our story, what we chose to focus on, and the arc that we chose to represent. That said, I understand why certain people who are still alive were bummed out to have their lives depicted in a semi-fictional way, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

There were crazy things that happened during this story and those are the things that people are interested in. You can look back at old game films and you can look at Wikipedia and you can even read the book that this is based on and get certain information, but what artists bring to a story is stuff that you just can’t get informationally elsewhere. What does it feel like to be the star of a basketball team? What does it feel like? Not just what do you have to say about it, but what did it feel like at the time?

That was more what I was interested in engaging with. Obviously, if we were depicting certain things like a press conference or something like that, I would watch the press conference, the original real press conference for sure. But you can get really bogged down in little details and I think the decisions that were made in terms of what to invent and what to do exactly as it really happened, are decisions that were made by the writing staff. I saw myself as just a tool in the process to bring all that stuff to life.


They’re important stories too, and not just from the standpoint of showing the largesse of the eighties or the rise of basketball and the importance of the culture, but even this season, I was really impressed by the way that the story is being told in terms of Dr. Buss’s decision to pay players more in free agency and the sort of shifting balance of power between the coaches and players.

Reilly: We talk about all of that. All that stuff is the story of America. Income inequality. What does a star deserve? If someone’s selling tickets, what should they get? All that stuff is all stuff that we examine. But it’s funny that you start out mentioning the people that were upset by what we did, but there are many, many, many more people that were really happy with what we did. Including Jeannie Buss, who is at the center of it as much as anybody. So, as I said, I understand how it could be uncomfortable to have certain things dramatized from your own life, but at the same time, that’s what artists do. That’s our job.

Absolutely. And I think you guys do a really good job.

Reilly: I wish how much LeBron loved the show got as much press as some of the other people that were not as excited.

That’s a very good point. Hadley, I’m curious about, in your opinion, what Jeanie’s objectives are in season two? How do you approach the character in season two?


Hadley Robinson: Well, I think her objective sort of remains the same and it’s a strong one: familial love and validation. That is something that everybody seeks, especially at a young age, and I think that that’s the goal: to fit into this family, to get the approval of her father, and to be a success in the thing that she wants to be a success at. And that drives through the second season and there is a shift there from season one. I think it’s also now with Honey as a part of the picture and her brothers are there. How do I fit into the family dynamic now and where’s my seat at the table, not just professionally, but also personally, and in this family, what role do I play? And there are a lot of obstacles she comes in contact with and it’s sort of watching her change her tactics and manage all those obstacles that arise.

You mentioned tactics. How important is strategy in terms of the way that she navigates the relationship with her father and the way she navigates the relationship with her brothers?

Robinson: Yeah, I think it’s actually left a little ambiguous in certain points because it is subjective. It’s not necessarily objective. For instance, when she trades her brother’s girlfriend, it’s left open-ended. Was that from a place of jealousy because she had to sacrifice so much for her work and her brothers weren’t doing the same amount of work and she was jealous that her brothers were dating girls and she didn’t have the opportunity to be dating guys because she was working so hard? It’s left open-ended and we don’t know if it’s because maybe there was some subconscious jealousy there and she wanted her out of her brother’s life or maybe it was just a really good trade and that was that. But yeah, little moments like that are left open-ended and I like it that way because maybe we don’t necessarily know what was actually happening in that moment historically and in the story, it could have been either, and it’s a choose-your-own-adventure, which I like that kind of style of acting and writing and I really like how it was written in that way. That happens at multiple moments in the story for Jeanie.

John, there are so many micro-feuds going on in Dr. Buss’s fiefdom with Pat and with Paul and with Magic and everything, and then the kids. What’s your view of what his dreams are, what makes him happy? Other than winning, obviously. Is he looking for contentment or is he comfortable in the chaos?


Reilly: We tell ourselves different things. I think maybe he was telling himself he was looking for contentment, but that’s not what he was actually doing. He was chasing after this perennial dream every year. I think that the amount of strife that was going on on the team, these little micro-feuds you’re talking about, that just goes with the territory of any team. Anytime a lot of money gets introduced into the scenario, anytime competitiveness and big stakes get introduced into a group of people, there’s going to be intense relationship things going on, people are going to have to sort that out. So I don’t think it was out of the ordinary for a team to have to deal with all this stuff, but what I think made Jerry Buss a really special person was his ability to see people just like a great poker player, which he was, he was able to sit at a table and be like, “Oh, that guy is going to choke. That person has cards, but they’re playing it very cool. That person’s bluffing.”


He actually was really good at that. And he could read people in positive ways too. He could see in Jeanie, “This girl can do it. I know she can.” But in order for someone to take over for the king, the king’s got to get off the throne. So Jerry was on the throne for quite a while in the events of our story here. Anyway, I think that was his superpower, was his ability and his desire to touch people, to really connect with them, to give audiences what they wanted entertainment-wise, to bring the best out of players and have them function at their highest level, to encourage women in his organization to think bigger and to take more responsibility than they were getting at most places at the time.

Absolutely. A question for both of you. What was it about this role at the start and how has it sort of changed or evolved in terms of the thing that gets you most excited about this?

Robinson: I think when I first got the script, years ago at this point, I think I was just thinking about the woman who we all knew and usually loved, Jeanie Buss. I saw her as this being, this entity, this icon, this legend, this kind of untouchable thing. I think I was pretty nervous to step into those shoes, but, I don’t know, that was always right there. I think as I’ve continued to play her, that sort of dissipated and I feel like now it’s like, “Oh, it’s this human being.” And it used to be that it was exciting to play the iconic version, but now it’s exciting to play the human being. Do you know what I mean? I think she’s both.

I’m getting to know her more and that’s really exciting, just getting to know her more and more and more because the more I learn about her, the more I learn about people, and the more I learn about me. From a personal perspective, that’s what gets me excited. And that’s just from a character perspective. The show overall keeps evolving. You have to keep evolving. It just keeps evolving. And I watched the season and I didn’t expect to be so riveted, because you’re there. You know what’s happening. You read the scripts, but then you’re watching and you’re like, “Oh my god, this is incredible.” And you get tingles and you get goosebumps and you’re like, “How am I getting goosebumps? I know what’s going to happen.” But you do, because that’s the way it’s made and that gets me excited too, is seeing that product after all the work put in.

John, what gives you goosebumps?


Reilly: I came for the comedy, and I stayed for the drama. I think the funny parts of Jerry Buss are what actually attracted me in the beginning, when (Adam) McKay sent me the first pilot script. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is incredible. This guy’s swagger and his sense of male entitlement from the era.” There’s just something so funny, almost like a character out of Anchorman or something. He was a little bit less serious of a person when he started all this too. He was just trying to make something happen and then once he realized, “Holy shit, I might actually be able to pull this off,” he got very serious and very committed and dedicated to it, especially with people like Red (Auerbach, Celtics executive and coach) telling him that he wasn’t serious.

He was determined to prove people wrong. So yeah, to put it simply, I came for the comedy, I stayed for the drama because those scenes with, in particular, Sally Field in the first season as my mother and the scenes I had with Hadley this past season, those are really deep scenes. Those are really intense things to go through as an actor. I just did not expect it with this character when we started. So I was delighted with how deep it got.

Like you said, these characters were around for a long, long time. If this show goes 10 seasons and portrays the Buss family 20, 25 years beyond where we are in season two, is there interest in playing these characters at that stage of their lives?


Reilly: One of the reasons I’m an actor is because I have a low attention span. So I’m used to working, at the most, six months on something at a time. This job was a big challenge in that way, playing the same person year after year. It just was a brand new thing in my life. So some parts of it I didn’t like. One of the wonderful things about being an actor is the variety of the different people you get to inhabit. So getting to be the same person over and over, while it was nice to have job stability during the lockdown, I’m not going to lie, that was a great comfort during the lockdown to have a gig, at the same time… I mean, I want to do it as much as HBO wants to pay for it, let’s put it that way. (Laughs)

(Laughs) That’s a good answer. It’s an honest answer.


Robinson: Not very often do I answer questions with, “I don’t know.” But yeah, I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine. I think maybe just because focusing so much on the release of this season, I’m so focused on this version of her now. But I think yes and no.

It would be such a jump too for you. No offense, John, but Jerry Buss is cooked, he’s grown, he is a finished product, and obviously over the next 25 years of his life, there are changes here and there. But for Jeanie Buss, it’s a huge transformation from where you are right now.

Robinson: It’s true. It would be really great. I think there’s a lot to delve into, honestly. And I think I could definitely rise to meet that challenge without a doubt. And I think it would also be, I think it’s a story that would be important too. It’s the tip of the iceberg.

Reilly: Jerry Buss wants to respond to your question. [Reilly holds a Jerry Buss bobblehead up to the screen and channels the character] Jason, did you just say I was cooked? How dare you? I am an emerging story, a blossoming flower. Who knows where I could go after this? Thank you. That’s all.

[The Jerry Boss bobblehead saunters out of view with some help from burgeoning puppeteer John C. Reilly. Laughter ensues, farewells are offered, the interview ends.]


‘Winning Time’ airs Sundays on HBO


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