By Kenneth Jones
20 Dec 2011
Daniels, 35, takes on the role of basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson, joining the previously announced 6-foot-5-inch Tug Coker (as Boston Celtics ballplayer Larry Bird) in Eric Simonson's drama about the rivalry and friendship of the sports stars.
A Broadway theatre has yet to be announced for the play, but Kirmser and Ponturo (who produced Simonson's football-centered Lombardi on Broadway) are hopeful that real estate will open up in time for spring. They're shooting for their production to have a March 21, 2012, Broadway opening following a Feb. 27 first preview.
Daniels — who is, for the record, 6-foot-5-inches tall — grew up in Houston and Irving, TX, and played high school basketball before becoming an actor. "I was 6-foot-5, I was black and I lived in Texas," he told Playbill.com, with a laugh. "It's in my blood."
Since landing the job last week, Daniels has been "scouring over every bit of youtube footage" of Johnson, his games and his interviews, the actor said. Daniels is impressed with Johnson. "No matter what interview, he's always that same guy — relaxed and laid back, with a confidence," the actor said.
Daniels said he has not met Johnson yet, but the sports star saw an audition tape, and was pleased, the producers said. They will meet in early 2012. In the meantime, Daniels plans to read Johnson's autobiography, "My Life," written with William Novak.
Daniels said the play is more character-based than physically-driven, but there will be some basketball moves in the production, directed by Tony Award nominee Thomas Kail (In the Heights).
As a hopeful young actor, Daniels moved to New York City when he was 17 to attend the Juilliard School. He said he didn't know the school's rich history of turning out stars. If he had, he said, "I would have psyched myself out."
What actors did he admire when he was younger? "I've always wanted to be one of those actors who could change from character to character, like Daniel Day Lewis or Jeffrey Wright. I remember my freshman year at Juilliard seeing Ruben Santiago Hudson in Seven Guitars and saying, 'I want to grow up and do that!' Years later, I got to work with him in [the TV movie] 'Their Eyes Were Watching God,' and thought, 'Well, I'm on my way now…'"
After graduation Daniels appeared in his first Broadway play, Twelfth Night, as the understudy for Antonio. Magic/Bird will mark his debut in a principal role on Broadway.
Currently a Los Angeles resident, he has guested on the TV series "Modern Family," "Franklin & Bash," "House, M.D.," "Chuck," "Law & Order" and "Brother & Sisters." His film credits include "Ladder 49" and "And Then Came Love."
His other stage credits include touring with LA Theatre Works for the staged radio play of RFK: Journey to Justice, playing Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.; an appearance in New York Theatre Workshop's Up Against the Wind; and Cornwall in King Lear with the Antaeus Theatre Company.
The rest of the six-person cast will be announced in the near future.
The creative team is David Korins (set), Howell Binkley (lighting), Paul Tazwell (costumes), Nevin Steinberg (sound) and Wendall K. Harrington (projections), "who will weave historic NBA film footage throughout the play," according to the producers.
The production has the support of the National Basketball Association and the participation of Bird and Johnson.
Here's how the producers bill Magic/Bird: "At the heart of one of the fiercest rivalries in sports history, two of the greatest basketball players of all-time battled for three championships, bragging rights, and the future of their sport in the 1980s. Johnson and Bird electrified the nation on the court, reinvigorated the NBA, and turned their rivalry into one of the greatest and most famous friendships in professional sports." For more about the project, visit www.magicbirdbroadway.com.