NBA Star Boban Marjanović Talks ‘Hustle,’ Gets Real About His Career in Film: ‘Acting Is My Second Love’

·8-min read

The NBA’s favorite nice guy is now dribbling his way into the hearts of movie fans.

Boban Marjanović, a center on the Dallas Mavericks, stars in the second film of his career with the new Adam Sandler film “Hustle,” now on Netflix. The film follows Sandler’s character, a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, as he discovers and transforms a Spanish player played by Utah Jazz power forward Juancho Hernangomez. Together, they turn the pick-up game hustler into the next NBA superstar. With numerous cameos from NBA players and personalities including Anthony Edwards and Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki, the film is a haven for basketball fans.

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“It was like, you already know all these people, but now you see them in a movie,” Marjanović told Variety. “It was so cool. The movie is incredible, but really what I like the most was all these guys playing there.”

Marjanović plays a supporting role in the new film as an unnamed Serbian recruit that catches the eye of Sandler’s character. For the Serbia-born Marjanović, playing a role such as this is a dream come true.

“I come from a small town, and now I’m walking the red carpet,” he explained. “I think my mom and my dad can be proud of me, and I’m proud of them because they raised me to be the person I am.”

In the 2019 film “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” Marjanović made his first appearance on the big screen. The NBA star, who measures 7-foot-4-inches, played a behemoth of an assassin named Ernest, who is dispatched by Keanu Reeves by a book during the opening of the film. “Hustle” marks a drastic change from his previous role, now working on a subject intimately connected to his first love of basketball. However, he isn’t done with his acting career.

“I want to go for more, obviously!” he excitedly said.

Variety spoke with Marjanović about his experience on the set of “Hustle,” what it was like to wave off NBA superstar point guard Trae Young, how acting has become his second love and where he hopes his acting career goes next.

Director Jeremiah Zagar and Boban Marjanovic as Big Serbian Center in “Hustle.” - Credit: Scott Yamano/Netflix
Director Jeremiah Zagar and Boban Marjanovic as Big Serbian Center in “Hustle.” - Credit: Scott Yamano/Netflix

Scott Yamano/Netflix

What was it like on set with Adam Sandler and the rest of the cast?

Boban Marjanović: You know, they showed me the script and immediately, because we’re shooting in Philadelphia, I saw some scenes with Juancho and others. When they did it, I remember I was there on set and I was waiting my turn. And I remember how they did, it was so good. And I remember [when I saw the film] I was like, “Man, I was in that scene behind the camera!” And, of course, for my scene, Adam texted me and I was like, “Wow!” And he really is a nice person, like, a nice heart. You know, he takes care of his friends and people. Such a nice person. Like, I knew him, but now that I worked with him in this movie, I learned what makes him who he is. He’s, amazing, amazing, amazing, and I do not have English words to describe that better.

In that near-final scene, we see your character playing with other NBA players like Trae Young and Aaron Gordon. Tell me, how does it feel to be able to wave off Trae Young and bring the ball up the court to show off your ball handling moves?

Marjanović: My character was, you know, a big man in Serbia. [Sandler’s character] had to find a player at the beginning of the movie, he tried to find the best player for an NBA team. And he really liked me a lot, but, you know, my age doesn’t get me to the NBA Draft. And this is the point! But at the end of the movie, I say, “Hey, no, no I gotcha Trae.” So that was a fun part, he was like “No, no pass me the ball!” [In the theater,] people started to laugh. And then I tried to show off, do some handles and things, just to make it even funnier. It’s like, they want to show in the movie that you can succeed, you can come to the NBA. They want to show that, every time, believe in yourself, work hard.

On a similar note, what was it like to see and participate in a movie with so many NBA players and personalities, including your teammate Luka Dončić? Would you guys talk about the movie outside of set?

Marjanović: Yeah, of course! You know, it was so fun. It’s hard because of the coronavirus, and there are things you need to do. Like you need to test, you need to quarantine seven days. This was the only hard part, the beginning. But after all this went away and I could be around all these people was so huge, it was so amazing. I love that. It was like, you already know all these people, but now you see them in a movie. It was so cool. The movie is incredible, but really what I like the most was all these guys playing there.

What is it like seeing this story about an international player, like you, being brought to the big screen?

Marjanović: You know, of course it’s nice. People can see it, they can see how people work hard. Of course, it’s not just players. It’s scouts, too. Scouting is very important part of basketball, you’re hired to really bring the piece home. Of course, the movie was shown from Europe, but this is all over the world. It’s all about what is most important to be a star.

How do you think the movie captures what it’s like being an incoming player to the NBA? Did anything resonate in particular with you?

Marjanović: You know, of course there is a bigger story there, but you cannot have the movie be 10 hours! But they do a pretty good job. They explain so much, like how important it is to your family, how much it means to people, how important it is to work hard, how important it is to build trust between two people. And they show the hustle of a scout, going there and trying to find the players. They know what they watch. Of course in real life they’re watching videos, but this time, the story is something different because they find the player on an outside court who is really good. And they have to build them up to become an NBA player and be completely professional.

So let’s talk about you in movies. This is obviously your second big role since “John Wick 3.” How did you get started with working in films? How was working on this movie different from “John Wick 3?”

Marjanović: Well, they both are different, right? One I play basketball, one I’m fighting! But it was cool to be in front of the camera. This has become my love, you know. Of course, basketball is first, but acting and these type of things is my life and I love to do that. You know, I’m a happy person. And I try to stay happy, I try to share the positive energy. Even if I play a bad guy! Of course, people know who I am, and I do the best I can [in these movies]. I love the feeling when you go there on set. And this is not easy by the way! I’ve repeated that so many times, but it’s so nice when you watch that. You eat your popcorn and you enjoy every moment of this movie.

What are your favorite kinds of movies?

Marjanović: “Hustle” and “John Wick 3!”

So now you’ve done an action movie with Keanu Reeves. You’ve done a basketball movie with Adam Sandler. What’s next?

Marjanović: Oh, I don’t know. We’ll see! I want to go for more, obviously!

What do you want to do next, then?

Marjanović: I don’t know, I go with the flow! Of course, basketball is my love. I love this, this is why I came [to America]. But acting is my second love. By talking with people, like what we are doing right now, I get to try to explain my story. I come from a small town, and now I’m walking the red carpet. I think my mom and my dad can be proud of me, and I’m proud of them because they raised me to be the person I am. You know, people want to be on the court because we’re basketball players. But, you know, character is better and you need to show your great, great heart everywhere and to help people feel good too.

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