Basketball is not an easy sport to simulate in film. Just as Jacob Ward told us in his interview about Somewhere in Queens, there are so many moving parts that go into it. Shooting Stars — the new LeBron James biopic about his high school playing career — was no exception, and we spoke to two of the stars of the film, Caleb McLaughlin (Stranger Things) and Marquise “Mookie” Cook — a five-star basketball recruit whose acting debut comes as The King himself.
The two had a great rapport that was clear as day from the moment I entered the Zoom room (in fact, they were having such a good time that McLaughlin didn't even realize I was the next journalist coming in and was just joking around with Cook). That rapport was palpable throughout the film between McLaughlin, Cook, and the rest of the “Fab Four” actors Willie McGee and Sian Cotton. The group spent time hanging out and bonding, and when asked about their favorite memories from the shoot, Cook simply said, “How much we [the “Fab Four” actors] bonded.”
“It was real, you know what I mean? It just felt like authentic, it felt genuine, you know what I mean? Regardless of all of our status or whatnot, we truly all care for each other,” said Cook.
He added, that the group still talks every day, and if Caleb ever needs $5, he's going to send him that money, no questions asked.
For McLaughlin, he didn't expect such a tight bond to be formed. “I feel like I've built a bond that I didn't think I was going to build on this [film],” he said.
Though he did add that the group stayed in the same hotel, two doors down from each other, so naturally, they hung out every night and every morning to eat breakfast.
“We'd get off [the] set at 2:00 a.m. [and say], ‘Yo, what [are] y'all doing?' [and they'd say] ‘Hey, we in Khalil's [Everage] room,' [and we'd all be] hanging out till the sun came up,” he added.
But that bond didn't break when the cameras stopped rolling for the last time as Cook pointed out. “Usually, when you're filming with each other and you're around each other, you're forced to be there and you're like, ‘All right, cool. Maybe it may work out after [the production],' but we're texting each other, sending TikToks, memes, FaceTiming each other almost every day,” said McLaughlin.
Cook added that they're still “linking up with each other” regardless of the night.
Granted, it's very rare to hear stories like these coming off of a set. Even McLaughlin acknowledged this. “No, it's super rare. A lot of people lie and say that they have [formed] bonds on set.”
He then channeled his inner Karen and with a high-pitched voice threw his arm around Cook and mockingly said, “We're best friends, we're so cool!” before stating that it's not usually like that and reinforced that he now has a “real” friend group thanks to Shooting Stars.
When it came to the basketball scenes, McLaughin — the non-professional player of the two — took the lead. He noted that he's not a “hooper,” but he noted that, “It [filming basketball in film] is totally different. I mean, I know how basketball runs — it's definitely a fluid sport, as you were saying — but as an actor, I understood that there are elements that [are involved], you know, there's a lot of pauses, we got more time [between] takes, but he [points at Cook] don't know that!”
To give Cook some slack — he put his head down in a joking display of shame — Shooting Stars was his acting debut, so while basketball may have come naturally to him, the film production side of things did not. McLaughlin noted that the first time that the two “bumped heads” came on the day of camera tests — Cook added that this was the very first day that they met.
“I'm passing the ball to him and I'm passing it wrong cause I'm not really a hooper. So I'm passing it wrong, passing [at] his ankle, his knee, his chest, his face [and] he's like, ‘Bro, pass the ball right!'” McLaughlin recalled.
“I'm like, ‘Just pass it to my hands, bro. Like right here,” added Cook with a laugh.
But the butting heads only lasted so long, as McLaughlin added that they “bumped heads” and “got into it a little but ultimately was able to make amends.
Caleb McLaughlin continued by saying that basketball and movies are two very different things, but Shooting Stars brought those two worlds together. He noted that they're both a very different type of experience, “especially when you have a hooper that doesn't know how like filming goes.”
That segued perfectly into a funny moment from the production. McLaughlin revealed that a month or so into filming, Cook asked when they gonna actually start filming.
“I'm like, what do you mean?'” McLaughlin recalled.
He's like, ‘When are we gonna actually, like, act?' I'm like, ‘This is what we're doing now.' He's like, ‘Wait, so you guys don't just do it all at one time?' He thought that we were rehearsing the whole time, and I'm like, ‘No, bro. Like literally everything that we're doing — ‘Cut!' ‘Action!' ‘Stop!' ‘Go!' — this is how it is.' He's like, ‘Bro, this is different,'” McLaughlin concluded.
Again, it's a first experience for Cook, so some slack should be given. Even if he didn't realize they were rolling cameras for the first month, you would not be able to tell. Cook gives a great performance as a young LeBron James. He not only looks the part, he exudes the right aura that LeBron James has.
But given that Cook is a basketball player first, what does his acting future look like? Does it even interest him? Is playing LeBron the pinnacle of success?
“Ah, nah man,” said Cook in response to whether or not acting was a one-and-done deal.
“Definitely, if I have another opportunity, I'm for sure gonna try to take it if it doesn't interrupt with my basketball [career],” he added.
Shooting Stars tells the story of LeBron James during his high school career. It tells the story of LeBron and his friend group, Lil Dru (Caleb McLaughlin), Willie McGee (Avery S. Willis), and Sian Cotton (Khalil Everage) as they change high schools to play varsity together. Wood Harris and Dermot Mulroney also star in the film.
Shooting Stars will be released on Peacock on June 2.