Interview With ‘Ballers’ Star Omar Benson Miller
Last year I described Ballers as being one of the best new shows on television. It was funny, was about football, and wasn’t afraid to bring up the subject of injuries in sports. Along with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Omar Benson Miller stars in the show as a former football *Charles Greane) starts looking to get back into the business. What makes his character so good is that he’s actually relatable. In the world of sports with millions of dollars being thrown around, it’s refreshing to see his character so interesting to watch as he makes his way through it with the best intentions.
Premise: A superstar during his football playing days, Spencer Strasmore tries to find the same success as a financial manager for current players in sun-splashed Miami. Heeding his boss Joe’s instruction to “monetize his friendships,” Spencer builds a client base of young phenoms and veteran stars alike, but his role in their lives far exceeds money management as he struggles to help them navigate the many traps that come with life as big-time “ballers.” The series is created by Stephen Levinson (Entourage, Boardwalk Empire) and stars Dwayne Johnson as Spencer, Omar Benson Miller as Charles Greane, Rob Cordry as Joe, John David Washington as Ricky Jerret, and Andy Garcia as Andre Allen.
Miller’s character is going through a bunch of difficult situations in his life. He’s going through things with his wife, he’s not sure what he really wants to do at times, and he has to deal with all of his friend’s drama. Miller nails it by being the person you really want to root for in the show, and that’s why Ballers is even better to watch because of him.
July 17th brings us the 2nd season of Ballers, and I had the chance to get to speak with Omar about the show, his past roles, his podcast, and sports.
Social Underground: Hey Omar, how are you?
Omar Benson Miller: Pretty good, man. I’m in sunny San Diego for the all-star game.
Wow, nice. A lot better time I’m having by having to deal with the Tigers. Are you from Detroit, or are you from LA? Wikipedia says Detroit, but IMDB says LA.
Oh, I’m from LA. You can’t believe anything on Wikipedia.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. That’s why it said ‘citation needed.’ Typical Wikipedia. The show is coming back July 17th. How’s that going? Are you prepared for all of this all over again?
It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been a crazy year so far. The show’s coming back, it pick’s everything back up and puts it into warp speed because of the visibility. People are really hungry for the show. I can’t tell you how many people stop to ask when the show is coming back and what happens this year.
You have 3 levels of society. You get people from celebrities to sports. There’s a great intersection in there the appeals to the audience.
What was great about the first season was –besides the first season, obviously – I got a couple of episodes from the first season and saw the great potential for it. I was surprised at first because Dwayne “The Rock “ Johnson was doing TV. The tone of the previews for the show didn’t give too much away, but then I turn it on and wonder if Ballers is going to do anything controversial with head injuries and CTE, which it did. Was there any hesitation from the NFL or anything when you guys did that?
Well, you know what, they didn’t call me, but I see that one of the things that is great is that HBO is as big as they get. These are real issues with society. So, it’s not like we’re spreading lies. Our show is a comedy. With that, there’s a lot of truth in jest, but then there’s a lot of fun escapism going on.
Yeah, no one wants to turn on a comedy and get depressed. That’s not the goal.
Can I go all the way back to 2002? Because 2002 was a huge year for you!
I was recently Netflixing and was watching The West Wing. I noticed that you were in that for an episode, which was really good (where you also played a football player). Then you were in 8 Mile in that SAME year. You were in the one of the biggest movies that year, and then you were in one of the biggest TV shows of all time. What was that experience like? It had to of been surreal.
You know what? That year changed my life. It was crazy. When I just got out of college, and got involved, it was just great. When you get those opportunities, you have to cherish them, but at the same time, it’s hard to cherish because you don’t know since you’ve never done it before and it’s hard really absorb anything. So now, being able to catch lightning in a bottle this go around with this show, it’s easier to sit back and love it.
I can’t wait. The movie 8 Mile was huge, and I’m from Detroit, so I root for you a lot because of your involvement in that film…
I couldn’t understand it until I was there for 5 months how important that film would be for the city.
It’s huge. Especially if I travel anywhere in the country and say, “I’m from Detroit,” because they’ll think 8 Mile and think I live in a bad area when I say the mile road I live on above 8 Mile. They’ll ask, “Do you live in a bad area?!” And I’ll respond, “Did you ever see the movie? It’s not like that! And no, I don’t know Eminem or Kid Rock.”
That movie really helped me recognize the power of film. Before you get into them, it’s hard to understand its reach of the media. Television and film, man, being on CSI: Miami for all those years, you get to see people all over the world who know who you are. It’s a powerful thing: television. The awareness it can cause for different ideas and topics. To help people going through stuff. I can’t tell you how many people come up to you and say, “Hey man, you really picked me up and made me laugh.”
Making people feel is something that I really take pride in with this job because life is difficult and a lot of life makes people go numb. They can pick up a piece of tape like Ballers for 30 minutes and laugh. It’s great that I can be a part of that for people around the world.
Touching on your character in Ballers, your character seems like he’s the emotional backbone of the entire show. When the camera cuts to you, your character is dealing with his wife, figuring out what he wants to do with his life, and so on…
I think so, too, and you know what, thank you for noticing that. I really think the show trusts me with that responsibility because some of the more relatable has to do with the life of my character.
Exactly, it’s kind of hard to relate to some of the others.
A lot of people can’t relate to spending a 12 million dollar deal or having sexual groupies coming after them in the bathroom. Everybody can relate to having a transitional period in their life, changing their career, having a child, or juggling life. For the show to trust me with that responsibility, I don’t take it lightly.
I haven’t previewed any of the episodes yet for the season, so I’m going into it fresh. What can you tell me about season 2 of Ballers?
They’re keeping them close to the vest this year!
Yeah, especially because of that Game of Thrones leak a few years ago.
In season 2, we have a whole know bunch of obstacles, more epic parties, more incredible injuries, some wonderful celebrations, a bunch of milestones, and some incredibly open vulnerabilities for some of the characters. I think this season is more mature, yet we still keep the fun of the glitz and glamour of the world. We picked up Andy Garcia. That’s like a huge agent signing like picking up Kevin Durant.
So, you started a podcast called The O-Zone, which I think is a great name by the way… I see what you did there.
Thanks, dude! (laughs)
Yeah, It’s my brother and I, it’s called the O-Zone: Sports. We’re in there talking like we’re in our living room, except there is a microphone. There’s been a lot of real conversations because there has been so much happening in society as far as sports trades, championships, sports in relation to the day-to-day, athletes taking a stand for rights, and people seems to enjoy it so far.
What made you want to start the podcast?
We argue a lot, and we argue with a lot of other people about sports. There’s no end to the opinionation of sports fans. Since I don’t play professional sports, the closest thing I can do is talk about them, so I’m in.
Yeah, if you just turn on sports talk radio, you hear people losing their minds over sports. People are swearing and getting their mic cut live on the air.
I mean losing it! There’s a place that sports play in our society that people don’t realize how really important that it is. As far as fantasy, escapism, idolization… the whole song and dance.
It’s been great talking to you, man.
Hey, thank you, dude. I really do love your hometown. I love Detroit. As a matter a fact, Willie Horton was my brother and my mentor. I love Detroit, I love the Tigers, I love the Illich family.
You can see Omar Benson Miller star in the upcoming season of Ballers on HBO on Sunday, July 17th at 10 PM EST.
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Jeff Sorensen is an author, writer and occasional comedian living in Detroit, Michigan. You can look for more of his work on The Huffington Post, UPROXX, BGR and by just looking up his name.