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Jeff Ma on ’21,’ SXSW

Jeff Ma on '21,' SXSW

The upcoming release, 21, is loosely based on the true story of MIT students who learned how to beat the blackjack system in Las Vegas. At its premiere during SXSW 2008, real-life subject Jeff Ma came with the cast/crew to do press and just have a good time.

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(21 star Jim Sturgess, left, and real-life subject Jeff Ma play some pool at the SXSW 2008 Opening Night Party. Photo by Brian Brooks for indieWIRE.)

While he was at SXSW, Jeff Ma sat down with Quint from Ain’t It Cool News to discuss the film and his take on the adaptation of it all. From their great interview:

Quint: Were there any instances that were bang on exactly what it was like either in learning counting or the execution of it or the feeling of being in the moment?

Jeff Ma: There were a bunch of things. One is like the transformation that Jim goes through from being a nerdy MIT guy to all of a sudden being able to land Kate Bosworth as his girlfriend… That was something that definitely happened to me through the blackjack experience, where I became much more confident in what I was doing.

The first scene where they fly into Vegas and he looks out the window and sees the lights and everything like that, that was a feeling I certainly remember. That one scene where he is lying in bed and he calls and tries to get room service and he’s in his dorm room, not a hotel… Those kinds of things just happened all of the time, because of the craziness and sort of duality of our lives.

Quint: What about the big departures? I mean obviously they changed the race of your character.

Jeff Ma: You know what? I don’t know if… For me it wasn’t a big deal, because for about three years people had been asking me who I wanted to play me in a movie and I never was saying like “John Cho” or “Chow Yun-Fat” or “Jackie Chan…” I really wasn’t and I mean if I asked you who you would want to play you in a movie, you wouldn’t be thinking “I want the most similar person,” but you would be thinking ”Who’s cool?” or who do you think would personify your personality or who is a good actor or who is talented, so as much as I think people like to look at it at face value like that, the reality is if you ask anyone who they wanted to play you, it wouldn’t necessarily be “Who’s the most ethnically tied to me?”

I could ask three people who they want to play them and at the end I’ll ask them “So what ethnicity are you?” and they wouldn’t even know probably.

When Jim came to me for the first time, he took a lot of time to get to know me and throughout the process he really has and I don’t think many actors would do that, so I think I will always be happy about him as a decision and the cool thing too is that he’s not a huge name yet, so if he becomes a huge name, hopefully a lot of it will be because of this movie and for that reason we will sort of be forever linked together. You know what I mean? It’s like let’s imagine that Tom Cruise from RISKY BUSINESS was a real character, how cool would it be that Tom Cruise got his start from the movie that was about you?

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