[Updated to include latest info on Landry Fields and Lin's love interest]
Avid New York Knicks fan and filmmaker Spike Lee has announced a shortlist of actors to play Jeremy Lin in his upcoming sports biopic based on the life of the Asian-American superstar who has taken the basketball world by storm.
The film, which currently has a slew of working titles including Linsanity, Lincredible: The Jeremy Lin Story, Lin Got Game, Linception, Linderella Man, Linvincible, The First NBA Player of Chinese or Taiwanese Descent, and Linning! (though Charlie Sheen has threatened to sue if this title is used), will be written by Academy Award winning scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin (selected for his familiarity with Harvard after The Social Network) and is set to begin casting next month.
Even though it is a sports film, Lee has emphasized the importance of selecting a Jeremy Lin with an acting background who can convey the emotions of the humble, deeply religious 23-year-old from Palo Alto.
The shortlisted actors (in no particular order) and Lee’s comments on each of them are set out below:
- John Cho (Harold & Kumar) — “He is the early favorite because he is a lanky Asian and he oozes a wholesomeness which reminds me of Jeremy. John is also goofy and funny, which Jeremy apparently is as well. Needless to say, Kal Penn (Kumar) will of course play (Lin’s teammate and buddy) Landry Fields. He’ll have to leave his post at the White House again, and maybe Obama will want to join him. I hear the president can ball!”
- Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) — “I always liked the Korean guy from Lost, but I was skeptical because I thought he couldn’t speak English. After watching the new Hawaii Five-O, I realized I was wrong, so he’s on the shortlist. Yeah he’s a bit old but non-Asians can never tell how old Asians really are, so I’m not too concerned. Sayid (Naveen Andrews) from Lost will play Landry if we choose DDK.”
- Jimmy Tsai (Ping Pong Playa) — “Jimmy is a relative unknown, but he showed that he knew a little about hoops and Asian culture in writing the hilarious Ping Pong Playa, so I would say he is the dark horse. As for Landry, it’ll probably be one of Jimmy’s black friends from Playa, maybe the one that speaks Asian.”
- Chris Pang (Tomorrow, When the War Began) — “Those Aussie actors are taking Hollywood by storm, so you never know, Chris could be the next Russell Crowe. He was crap in Tomorrow, When the War Began, but I think all he needs is a chance to show what he’s capable of, just like Jeremy. The guy who plays the Greek guy (Deniz Akdeniz) in Tomorrow will have to do as Landry.”
- Chi Cao (Mao’s Last Dancer) — “Cao already played one iconic Asian as Li Cunxin in Mao’s Last Dancer, so why not play another one? Ballet dancing and basketball are deceptively similar. Oh, and I think he can speak Chinese really good, which none of the others can. Unfortunately no black people in Last Dancer so it’s gonna be hard finding a Landry for him.”
- Robert Downey Jr (The Avengers) — “Robert’s one of the most versatile actors on the planet and after watching Tropic Thunder I’m sure he can pull this off. He’ll have plenty of Landries to choose from, such as Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes) or Zach Galifinakis (Due Date). My preference is Terrence Howard (Iron Man) but if we ever make a sequel I might replace him with Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2). Heck, RDJ is so damn talented he’ll probably play both roles.”
The shortlist of actors will be reduced to three finalists by the end of the week, says Lee. The finalists not selected will have a chance to play Jeremy Lin’s brothers, Josh and Joseph.
Noah Ringer, the kid actor from M Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece, The Last Airbender, will play the young Jeremy Lin. ”He fooled audiences once; he can do it again,” says Lee.
Actors rumored to play Lin’s inspirational father, Gie-Ming Lin, include Jackie Chan (Rush Hour), Jet Li (Kiss of the Dragon), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), Chow Yun Fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Ken Leung (The Hangover). Every actress from The Joy Luck Club is said to be vying for the opportunity to play Lin’s mother, Shirley.
Two of the Wayans brothers are said to be in talks to play Lin’s Knicks superstar teammates, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, while George Clooney is allegedly the favorite to play Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni.
Jesse Eisenberg will reprise his role as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network as Lin’s college buddy.
Lee will of course play himself, and Dallas Mavericks bench player and Chinese national Yi Jianlian is also rumored to make a cameo as Yao Ming, whom Lin apparently speaks to after every game for some reason.
Given the importance of Lin’s religious beliefs, God will of course play a major role in the film. The favorite to land the role should be Morgan Freeman, says Lee, though he is leaning towards Celtics sharpshooter Ray Allen, who has already played Jesus once in Lee’s earlier basketball film, He Got Game.
No Hollywood fairytale movie would be complete without a love interest, and while Lee has many fine actresses of Asian descent to choose from, he intends to stay true to the real Jeremy Lin, who is single. ”Look, I don’t want no bitches messing up Linsanity’s mojo, in my movie or in real life,” says Lee. ”But I know how love interests drive movies so I’m going to compromise and revive Wilson from Castaway, and get our make-up and CGI guys to reincarnate him into a basketball called Spalding (the official basketball of the NBA).”
One of the perceived obstacles to the film is that Jeremy Lin is 6’3″ (191cm) and there are no Asian actors in the world that tall. However, Lee is not perturbed. “Hey, Andy Dufresne from Shawshank was supposed to be a shorty and they got freaking Tim Robbins to play him,” Lee says. “And didn’t they just choose Tom Cruise to play Jack Reacher from those Lee Child books? Come on.
“If the chosen actor is shorter than 5’9″ (175cm), I will speak to Peter Jackson and employ the techniques he used in The Lord of the Rings on the dwarves and hobbits to make everyone else around Jeremy shorter. If the actor is more than 5’9″ (175cm) I will consult Tom Cruise to see how he manages to look as tall as his co-stars in all his movies.”
Shooting is expected to begin after the NBA Finals.