Chat with Quincy Isaiah

Quincy Isaiah stars as Magic Johnson in Adam McKay’s critically acclaimed HBO series 'Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty', which is premiering its second season today (6th August). Quincy will also be starring in and producing the drama 'Grassland' and he just received the ‘Rising Star Award’ at The Critics’ Choice Celebration of Black Cinema & Television. 


Quincy Isaiah stars as Magic Johnson in Adam McKay’s critically acclaimed HBO series ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty’, which is premiering its second season today (6th August). Quincy will also be starring in and producing the drama ‘Grassland’ and he just received the ‘Rising Star Award’ at The Critics’ Choice Celebration of Black Cinema & Television. 

Quincy, you are starring in HBO’s critically acclaimed series ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty’. How exciting was it to be cast on this series, about the legendary Lakers’ era? 

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that came to me early in my career and I’m still wrapping my head around it. Getting to work alongside these industry heavyweights, John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Sally Field, Jason Segel, Gaby Hoffmann, Rob Morgan and Jason Clarke among others, and seeing these artists, who I’ve looked up to my whole life, act at the highest level has been the biggest privilege. And watching them behind the scenes and in between takes, seeing what their process is, has really been a masterclass in acting. I can’t think of a better experience and role to start off with in this industry.

 What can we expect from the upcoming second season? 

Definitely higher stakes and more drama. Specifically with my character, you get to see him deal with the challenges of becoming a father, maintaining relationships, both professional and personal, and performing on the court. And of course, you get to see one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports play out on screen, Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird.  

How did you prepare to portray the iconinc Magic Johnson? Have you played basketball yourself prior to being cast on this series? 

I was deeply invested in the prep process. I’m playing a very particular version of Magic during a specific time in his life, so the best tools I had were footage, writing, etc. from that time period specifically. I read as many books as I could, watched documentaries and period movies focused on that time. The show is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book ‘Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s’, which was a helpful tool for me. I also had a strict workout regimen and of course, played lots of basketball. I’ve been playing pickup basketball from a very young age. I’ve always loved the game, so it made it that much more enjoyable to get into character.  

Soon, we’ll also be able to watch you in drama ‘Grassland’, which you are also producing. How was it being in the role of a producer, as opposed to acting?  

I’m really loving it. It’s been eye-opening working on ‘Grassland’ and getting to see the whole process from a bird’s eye view and gain a holistic understanding of filmmaking, as opposed to just the acting side. Getting to be part of the process from start to finish, from getting a script, attaching talent, announcing at Cannes Film Festival, raising funds, getting a crew, etc. to shooting and just being on set in case something comes up and we need to problem-solve has been an amazing experience. We haven’t finished shooting yet, but I look forward to post-production, where we start submitting the film to different festivals and doing screenings. Also, can’t speak enough about the team that I am working with as well. It’s felt very familial on set.  

Do you plan on doing more producing or also directing in the future? 

Definitely. Would love to be able to produce throughout the rest of my career. Directing may come a little bit later, only because I think I would want to be able to fully focus on directing once I make that choice. I took a directing class in college and loved it, but it’s a totally different muscle than producing and acting. It requires an incredible amount of energy and time. I’m focused on acting right now and producing feels complimentary to my acting journey.  

‘Grassland’ is about the criminal justice system and racial disparity in marijuana arrests. How well does the film portray these real life issues? 

We get to see a Latina single mom who feels like her only choice is to grow and sell marijuana during the summer of 2008, when weed is highly criminalized, to stay afloat. The story starts through the lens of her young son, who is forced to grow up a lot sooner than he otherwise should due to his circumstances. A struggling police officer and his grandson move in next door. While the grandfather grows suspicious of his neighbor, the two boys strike up a friendship. My favorite part about the film is that it doesn’t blame the people in the story, but the system that has put all these characters in a very difficult situation. We also want to bring awareness that while weed is largely legal and decriminalized across the country, there are still many people locked up strictly for marijuana offenses who deserve a re-evaluation.  

Racial discrimination continues to persist in the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana-related offenses and cannabis use is still illegal in many states. What are some of the implications for marginalized communities affected by these disparities? 

The laws that have and are still incarcerating people for marijuana are disproportionately affecting minorities and make it difficult for even the lesser offenders to get jobs once they re-enter society. This causes people to break the law again because there are no opportunities for them to make money, which puts them in a hamster wheel of crime. Hopefully this project is not only able to bring awareness to the issue, but also gives insight into how we can make life fairer for our fellow citizens through our impact and advocacy campaign, which will engage communities most directly impacted by the social justice issues raised in the film.  

How did you get into acting? Was it always a passion of yours, and what do you love specifically about the craft? 

I saw ‘The Miracle Worker’ at the Muskegon Frauenthal Theatre when I was about seven and felt something in that moment I remember thinking “I want to do that”, but not having the vocabulary or vision of how to start. I did a musical in high school, but I truly fell in love with the craft in college. That was where I realized just how freeing it was to be an actor. Honestly, being a large black kid growing up, it always felt like I had to suppress my emotions. Acting allowed me to be as crazy, angry or vulnerable as the character required. It felt bigger than me and gave me permission to get lost in that.  

Who from the acting industry or any other industry would you say is your biggest inspiration and why? 

I try to take a little bit from everyone I encounter and watch, but if I had to pick which careers I admire most, I would have to say Denzel Washington, Jennifer Lawrence, Don Cheadle, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Steve Harris, Wood Harris, Eddie Murphy, Dominique Fishback, Daniel Kaluuya and Rob Morgan among others. They’ve all had roles that are in the same tone, genre, space that I dream of emulating in my career, but there are so many more who have inspired me. I love seeing actors kill scenes and I feel inspired any time I see someone genuinely appreciate the craft.  

Quincy, when you are not filming or producing, what are some of your other passions in life? 

I love being an uncle and a friend to those who are close to me. Traveling is always something that I’m trying to do more. Being in nature is always a nice reset for me, and relaxing at home. And last, but definitely not least, I’m really starting to love fashion. Working with the fashion legend Van Van Alonso has definitely sparked that interest for me. Whether it’s getting dressed and taking pictures with friends, being part of photo shoots, going window shopping or just figuring out what I’m going to wear for the day, it’s become a big part of who I am and a form of self-expression.    

Talent: Quincy Isaiah
Photographer: Phil Chester & Sara Byrne
Stylist: Justin Ramirez
Groomer: Simone Frajnd for Exclusive Artists using Le Domaine Skincare and Living Proof
Editor: Timi Letonja

This interview was done for Numéro Netherlands by Jana Letonja.

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