Hornets Chris Paul set to make acting debut in 'Hurricane Season'
by Mike Scott, Staff writer, The Times-Picayune
Saturday August 09, 2008, 7:37 AM
"Hurricane Season" producer Raymond Brothers, center, with NBA stars Caron Butler of the Washington Wizards (left) and the New Orelans Hornets' Chris Paul. The film was shot in New Orleans.Chris Paul, he knows spotlights. He felt their glare continuously during his two years as a standout member of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons basketball team.
He felt them brighten significantly after becoming the star point guard of the Hornets, New Orleans' suddenly, deliriously relevant NBA team.
And he's feeling them right now as one of the keys to the medal hopes of the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team. (First opponent: China. Sunday, 10:15 a.m., WDSU-Ch. 6.)
Come December, however, Paul can expect a spotlight of a different kind -- that of the Hollywood variety. That's when the Weinstein Co. feature film "Hurricane Season" -- which shot here this summer under the working title "Patriots" -- is scheduled to open nationally.
Focusing on the John Ehret High School basketball team's improbable, inspirational post-Katrina state championship season, and with Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker starring, it's set for a Christmas Day release, a time of year typically reserved for studios' award-season hopefuls. It also will mark the acting debut of Paul, the NBA's 2008 MVP runner-up.
Paul's role in the film isn't a big one, and neither was it a stretch for him. He and fellow NBA player Caron Butler of the Washington Wizards have cameos, cropping up in the audience at a pivotal third-act basketball game.
But to Paul, at least as important as his screen time was the opportunity to get an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at how movies -- a passion of his -- are made.
"I really love movies, and I watch movies all day, every day, " he said in June during a break in shooting a "Hurricane Season" scene at Tulane University's Fogelman Arena. "So to get to be around and see how much goes into it -- it's something I've had a lot of fun with."
The Hornets season had just ended with a game-seven playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs, but things had yet to slow down much for the star athlete. His trip to the Uptown New Orleans set had been shoehorned between a banquet in New York the day before and a pre-Olympics workout in Chicago the following day. A couple of days after that, he was scheduled to host a basketball clinic in Oklahoma City.
Still, he wasn't going to miss this. Sitting courtside at Fogleman with his brother C.J., Paul was positively wide-eyed. The arena had been transformed into a movie set, with all the requisite trappings: lights, cameras, generic Louisiana decals (featuring an image of a hot pepper) covering all the Green Wave logos.
In the stands, several dozen extras cheered -- silently, at the request of director Tim Story, but frantically -- as basketball action unfolded on the court. (A coach for the Panthers -- the "bad" guys -- calls a time out; Whitaker, playing Ehret coach Al Collins, exhorts his players to "spread it out this time.")
"I really love movies, and I watch movies all day, every day, " said Hornets player Chris Paul back in June during a break in shooting a "Hurricane Season" scene at Tulane University's Fogelman Arena. The story of the Ehret team is one Paul knows well. After claiming the Louisiana class 5-A title with a piecemeal squad comprising players from five schools -- many of whom had been displaced or lost homes after Katrina -- the team was honored with a Special Recognition ESPY Award from ESPN in 2006.
Paul was at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles that night for the ceremony, as the recipient of an ESPY for Best Breakthrough Player. So when he heard the Ehret story was being made into a movie -- and when cast members such as Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland, " "The Great Debaters"), Jackie Long ("Idlewild, " "The Comebacks") and Taraji P. Henson ("Hustle & Flow, " "Talk to Me") began regularly attending Hornets games -- Paul became intrigued.
"Me and Jackie had a mutual friend in (Hornets center) Tyson Chandler, so we got close, " Paul said. "For the rest of the season, he was at my house about every day. If he wasn't on set, he was at my house, eating dinner. We'd go out -- do stuff like that."
Likewise, Paul began hanging out on the set during his downtime and got to know most of the "Hurricane Season" principals, including producer Raymond Brothers, a sports agent and a graduate of Xavier University and Loyola University School of Law, who spearheaded the film's development.
"I got to know Raymond real well, and then just coming over here about twice a week when I didn't have practice, or after practice, I got to know Tim a little bit, and they said I could be in the movie."
Is it something Paul would want to do more of down the road?
"Possibly, possibly, " he said. But before that, there's some pressing business -- such as the Olympics, and the start of the Hornets season Oct. 29.
He hopes the film will be powerful enough to impart a few important lessons to movie-goers of all stripes -- including NBA stars.
"This story will show you what commitment and perseverance are all about, " Paul said. "I think the biggest thing about this movie is 'in spite of.' Because in spite of the circumstances and all the situations this team faced, they still fought through and accomplished their goal.
"It's about bringing a city together, and it's the city I represent: New