Following stellar reviews from the SXSW film festival, Apple TV+ took over the Regency Village Theater in Westwood Thursday night for the Los Angeles premiere of its four part docuseries They Call Me Magic.
Following the success of Michael Jordan’s The Last Dance docuseries, Earvin “Magic” Johnson saw numerous bidders approach him with offers for the project. “We had a lot of back and forth with companies and then Apple came in and that was that,” Johnson shares of the negotiations.
The project hails from director Rick Famuyiwa (Dope), in collaboration with cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Black Panther) and editor Dirk Westervelt (Ford V Ferrari). Produced for Apple by XTR and New Slate Ventures in association with H.Wood Media and Delirio Films, the series has a long list of producers and collaborators.
“The inception of this project was around two years before The Last Dance came out,” says executive producer Rafael Marmor. “Once that series came out, we had everyone knocking on the door.”
Marmor considers The Last Dance a perfect docuseries, but he knew that They Call Me Magic could build upon that framework. “Our series is a character piece about the two different sides of Magic and Earvin, and the elements of his life that go far beyond the court,” Marmor shares.
A Michigan native, Johnson has one of the most compelling narratives in the history of sports, long before you factor in his ventures in entertainment, business, and his HIV diagnosis and subsequent activism.
They Call Me Magic features intimate, never-before-seen interviews with Johnson and his family as well as Larry Bird, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neil, former President Barack Obama, Dwayne Wade, Jerry West, and his former coach Paul Westhead.
Westhead’s relationship with Johnson has come full circle after public friction led to the coach’s dismissal from the Lakers in 1981. Before things soured between the two men, Westhead and Johnson brought an NBA championship to the Lakers in the 1980.
Playing against the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA finals, Johnson delivered an iconic performance in game six, scoring 42 points while starting as center in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The 1980 season was a whirlwind season for Westhead as much as it was for then rookie Magic Johnson. “I remember game six of the NBA finals in Philadelphia, which is my hometown,” Westhead recalls. “The year before, I was a college coach at La Salle University in Philadelphia with an alright team and now I’m in my hometown with the best team in the nation and Magic playing an amazing game to bring us the title.”
Westhead has had 42 years too reflection on that life changing moment, but he didn’t revisit the film head of his interview for They Call Me Magic. “I learned a long time ago when you’re going to be interviewed, don’t prepare or you’ll give stock answers,” Coach Westhead says.
Writer and NBA legendKareem Abdul-Jabbar spent a significant amount of time with Johnson and the press, reflecting on that 1980 game six performance. “I knew Magic was going to take over,” Abdul-Jabbar recalls.
“It’s an honor when you’re asked to be involved in something like this,” Abdul-Jabbar says of the docuseries. “Seeing aspects of his life that we didn’t go into as much as players, that’s what I’m most looking forward to seeing with this series.”
NBA star Dwyane Wade walked the carpet behind Abdul-Jabbar, followed by Marvel stars Don Cheadle and a lively Samuel L. Jackson (currently seen in Apple TV+’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey).
“This project celebrates Magic Johnson the person, the activist, not just the basketball player,” Jackson says. “You could make a compelling show just on basketball, but there’s so much more to him.”
Before Jackson entered the theater, he was asked about the recent Bruce Willis news and his aphasia diagnosis. Jackson has shared the screen three times with Willis, beginning with 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) and then M. Night Shalaman’s Unbreakable (2000) and its sequel Glass (2019).
“Bruce has always been a great guy,” Jackson shares. “I really hope for the best for him.” When asked about a conversation that stands out between the industry titans, Jackson shared the following: “He told me Die Hard would change my life and he was right.”
As the carpet came to a close, Grammy winning musical and singer Stevie Wonder came through with his children. Wonder reflected on his relationship with Magic Johnson and they’re similarities.
“He’s someone who’s from Michigan, as am I, and I believe there’s shared spirit to not let adversity stop you… from family to health, to the culture of the time,” Wonder says.
They Call Me Magic, a four-part docuseries, premieres globally on Friday, April 22, 2022 on Apple TV+.