‘Winning Time’: DeVaughn Nixon Explains Secret Recordings That Helped Him Portray His Father — Q&A

"I went on my Daniel Day-Lewis kind of thing because I wanted that tension," Nixon explains about his big scene.
Episodic of Devaughn Nixon on 'Winning Time'
"Winning Time"
Warrick Page/HBO

Not too many child actors have such an auspicious career start as DeVaughn Nixon. Nixon was eight years old in 1991 when he played Danny Dyson — the son of Myles Dyson, who inadvertently brings upon the apocalypse in “Terminator 2”. Nixon would follow up just one year later playing Whitney Houston’s son, Fletcher, in “The Bodyguard”.

“’The Bodyguard’ was incredible for me honestly, because it was the first time I had ever seen snow,” Nixon said. “We filmed in Lake Tahoe. I vividly remember Whitney was very religious, she read me Bible verses and sang to me.”

After roles in “Snowfall,” “Marvel’s Runaways,” and “Secret Life of The American Teenager,” Nixon is playing the role of a lifetime as Nixon’s own real-life father, NBA player Norm Nixon, in the HBO drama “Winning Time.” The series chronicles the rise of the L.A. Lakers during the 1980s under the leadership of team owner Jerry Buss.

The preparation in playing Norm Nixon onscreen included listening to recorded conversations with his father to craft the elder Nixon’s Southern dialect. “[There were] secret recordings when I’m talking to him, [and I] put my phone in my pocket asking him some things I didn’t know,” Nixon told IndieWire. “But really what it was, was the physical aspects. I had to cut weight, get down at his weight, mimic his style of play. I had an ugly shot when I first started training. Our trainer, Idan Ravin, actually helped me craft my shot and mimic my dad’s shot.”

IndieWire caught up with Nixon via Zoom, and discussed the intense Method acting he practiced in recreating a pick-up game with Magic Johnson (played by Quincy Isaiah), the importance of Black writers telling this story, and why viewers should tune in. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

INDIEWIRE: In Episode 1, Norm Nixon and Magic Johnson have an intense 1:1 match at a party. How did you prepare for that scene with Quincy Isaiah?

DEVAUGHN NIXON: I didn’t talk to him all day. I went on my Daniel Day-Lewis kind of thing because I wanted that tension. I wanted the audience to feel that friction between us. Quincy’s mom was on set that day, so I told her, “I’m going to bring it to your son.” I had to call him the next day because of the scene where I step over him when he falls on the court — that wasn’t scripted. I saw him on the ground, and I was like, “Let me piss him off.” I wanted to get that reaction out of him. The next day, he asked, “Are we good, bro? Do we have a problem?” I told him, “I just wanted to push your limits. I just wanted to elevate the acting.” I wanted to elevate the scene and I think that translated on screen.

episodic from "winning time"
“Winning Time”

Rodney Barnes (“The Boondocks”) is one of the writers for “Winning Time.” How important was it to you to have Black writers on staff?

If you’re writing a project about the Lakers, you gotta ask some brothers and sisters up in there. We got Afros; we got all kinds of stuff. We are going to keep it real. I’m not going to go get my haircut over [at] Supercuts. I can’t tell Jim from Supercuts “Give me a fade.” It was good to see people of color on the set, and definitely, that made me feel more comfortable.

What has the reaction been like from your dad and the general viewing audience?

I’ve heard the feedback is pretty good. Everybody liked that one-on-one scene a lot because it was very glamorized. It brought the drama. I’m glad I was a part of that. It was a cool scene to shoot although my dad told me he never wore a fur coat or got a pedicure! He’s said, “I’m from Macon, Georgia. I’ve never worn a fur coat.” He is watching and rooting for me. I’m hoping to get a smile or a reaction out of him. I know he’s proud of me and he just wants me to be successful, he wants all of his kids to be successful.

Your first two starring roles were in “Terminator 2” (1991) and “The Bodyguard” (1992). What were some of your memories from those projects?

In “The Bodyguard,” one thing I distinctly remember about that shoot is the scene when my character is about to get blown up in the boat. Everybody asks me, “How cold was that water?” I replied, ” I was chilling in the jacuzzi.” Because what they did is they took one of those standalone jacuzzis, those tall ones and they put the camera back and put it so that the jacuzzi looked like a part of the lake. If you look at the movie, you see steam coming off of me if you pay close attention. Yes, that’s a little fun fact.

For “Terminator 2,” I remember the scene where I roll up with the remote-controlled car into Joe Morton’s foot — I remember seeing the brilliance behind James Cameron because it’s a scene where Arnold cuts his arm open and shows the machine. I remember him having his arm behind his back in this mechanized thing that was moving and people around me had remotes and they were moving the arm and all that.

Magic Johnson has gone on record saying he will not be watching or supporting “Winning Time.” What would you say to people who may be hesitant checking out the show because of this?

It’s a love letter to all of those people. Everybody that put their heart and soul, blood, sweat, and tears into this are true NBA fans. I remember going to Adam McKay’s office. He has a bathroom full of all-NBA cards, rookie cards, everything that you can imagine like laminated on the walls. These guys studied the game of basketball. Everything’s a little bit dramatized and embellished. But ultimately, it’s a good story. It’s fun. It’s exciting. We mean no harm. We’re just trying to have fun. Just tell a great story, captivate audiences, and just pay our tribute to the game of basketball.

“Winning Time” airs Sundays on HBO.

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