The actors playing Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis in a new Disney + movie have almost as improbable an origin story as the Milwaukee Bucks stars they portray.
Real-life brothers Uche Agada and Ral Agada had never acted, in anything, before they were cast as the two-time NBA MVP and his older brother, respectively, in “Rise,” the inspirational sports drama making its debut on Disney’s streaming service June 24.
It started, like many modern-day journeys do, on social media.
Specifically, a tweet from Giannis Antetokounmpo saying Disney was looking for someone to play him onscreen.
“I was on Instagram and I saw a screenshot of Giannis ‘tweet, and I said,’ You never know – what’s the worst that could happen? They just don’t reach back out to me. ‘ It’s not anything crazy, “Uche Agada recalled in a Zoom interview with his brother, Ral.” So I just auditioned, sent in a self-tape, a couple months later I had a callback with the director, and then a second callback.
“And then they asked me if I had an older brother.”
Uche, 20, did. But Ral, his 22-year-old brother, wasn’t so sure. He didn’t think the audition tape he was trying to make was any good and was going to give up on it.
“And then, my mom tells me… ‘Are you crazy? This is going to change your brother’s life, ‘”Ral said.” And I’m like, I need to at least try and see if I can do this. ”
Disney liked what he sent and asked him to send some video of him playing basketball.
The studio said: “We like that, too. Would you like to do a chemistry read with your brother? ”
A few days later, the two brothers – both born in New Jersey, with a Nigerian father – were off to Greece to shoot the movie on location.
Telling Antetokounmpo family story
Made with the active involvement of the Antetokounmpo family (Giannis is listed as one of the executive producers), “Rise” tells their inspiring story, from the struggles to find a better life in Greece after leaving Nigeria to Giannis and Thanasis getting attention for playing a sport that was new to them: basketball.
The movie focuses on that journey, capping it off with Giannis being selected No. 15 in the 2013 NBA draft by the Bucks – something “Rise” shows was anything but a sure thing, and a big risk for the entire Antetokounmpo family, who risked exposure and deportation if he hadn’t been drafted.
“Rise” also stars Dayo Okeniyi and Yetide Badaki as Giannis and Thanasis’ parents, Charles and Vera, and Jaden Osimuwa and Elijah Shomanke as younger brothers Kostas and Alex.
For Agadas, making ‘Rise’ was an education
For the Agada brothers, making “Rise” was an education from start to finish.
“The whole experience in general was a huge challenge, being first-time actors and everything,” Ral said.
“But we had extreme amounts of help,” Uche added, “from our director Akin (Omotoso), the older actors, Manish (Dayal, who plays one of the brothers’ agents), Dayo, Yetide. Everybody’s been a huge help to us. I think that was basically the driving factor – everybody’s support for us. ”
The brothers also took a lot from the Antetokounmpo family’s story.
“The No.1 thing I took from it was the fact that you can come from where they started, their very humble beginnings, the hardship they had to go through and, if they could go through that and then build their way up through hard work to where they are now – back-to-back MVP, (NBA) Finals MVP, 50 points in their last game to win the final – I mean, you can do whatever you want, I guess, “Uche said.” hope people who watch this who are struggling in their situations can look at it and be inspired and say, ‘You know, if they can do it, I can do it, too.’ ”
Giannis’ backstory was news to Uche and Ral. Growing in New Jersey, they hadn’t followed the Bucks much.
“I wasn’t a Bucks fan before, but I mustache a Giannis fan, “Ral said.” When I first discovered basketball, it was (former Marquette University star) Dwyane Wade who was my favorite player, so I was a Miami Heat fan for the longest. And then after he retired, I was more of like a general basketball fan. … But after learning about his story and everything, it’s hard not to root for Thanasis and Giannis and the Bucks. It’s really almost impossible.
“So I’m a Bucks fan now.”
Added Uche: “I was a (Oklahoma City) Thunder fan for years prior to this – it was before KD (Kevin Durant) and Russell (Westbrook). … (But) just watching him – the way Thanasis roots for his teammates – the energy is incredible. ”
The Agada brothers haven’t met the NBA stars they portray onscreen – “during the filming, they were busy winning the championship,” Ral noted – but they hope to, maybe see them at work. They haven’t been to Milwaukee yet, either.
“Maybe we’ll come out for a Bucks game,” Ral said.
For now, the young brothers said, getting more acting work is the priority.
“We’re doing as much as we can to keep this ball rolling,” Ral said. “It’s definitely a passion for me now, and I want to take it as far as I can.”
Uche said the inspirational themes in “Rise” have him looking to do more “stories that really inspire people and move the audience. That’s a good feeling for me. ”
But, Ral added: “It would be dope to be a superhero. That would be awesome. ”
Contact Chris Foran at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ cforan12.
MORE:‘Rise,’ the Disney + movie about Giannis Antetokounmpo and his family, gets a release date. Watch the trailer.