By Connor Dziawura
Romeo Miller loves basketball. The entertainer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, who also played basketball for the University of South California in the late 2000s, will be the first to tell you the sport sticks with him to this day.
“You throw a basketball at the end of a mountain, I may just go walk there and grab it. That’s how much I love basketball. You put a basketball on the moon, I may go try to reach it. Anything dealing with basketball is always catching my eye,” Miller says.
“Game Day,” a basketball comedy-drama, is one of the recent projects that grabbed his attention. Miller stars in the flick, which was filmed in Chicago in 2015 and screened at festivals in 2017 but is only now seeing a limited release in several U.S. markets including Phoenix. It opens Friday, October 4.
Written, directed and co-produced by John Susman, the film co-stars Miller and Elizabeth Alderfer (Netflix’s “Disjointed,” NBC’s “A.P. Bio”) as well as a supporting cast including Fyvush Finkel and Chris Johnson.
In the movie, Ricki (Alderfer) is a tech wiz who faces personal and professional struggles when her startup venture falls apart. Because she has to join the male-dominated office basketball team at her new job, she seeks out the help of teenager Lucas (Miller), who reluctantly agrees to coach her.
The script spoke to Miller.
“When I read the story it reminded me of just life in general: Basketball saved my father’s life; basketball saved me from getting in a lot of trouble; basketball is a game of life for me, and what are the odds I was able to relay that in a film?” says Miller, the son of rapper Master P.
“It is more than just a basketball movie,” he adds. “It’s showing how the sport can literally be your guideline for life. The heart of it was just so real, and then being based in Chicago—just a city that’s a real city, it’s a beautiful city, but it has its dark times and dark moments—I just felt this was just the perfect situation for a great movie.”
The movie is more than just basketball for Alderfer, too. She says she was drawn to its sense of female empowerment, which is something she hopes speaks to moviegoers.
“I hadn’t actually seen a lot of films that were told from the perspective of a woman who is in a male-dominated world and has the opportunity to kind of take over and claim her own power,” Alderfer says. “I think that those are far more prevalent now, but even just four years ago it was so exciting to see a movie about a woman, and not only that but about basketball.”
It’s a film that gives a strong message, she says.
“In the film, Ricki is literally having to deal with a team on a basketball court, but metaphorically she also has to build her team and her life,” she says. “Especially now, I feel like the more we go online—the more of our lives go online and behind computer screens—it’s so important to remember that there are human beings everywhere in your life—whether it’s your neighbor, the kid on the basketball court, your colleagues—and look up and connect with them and let people in because that’s the only way we’re going to get through this life.”
Perhaps a testament to Susman’s writing is that “Game Day” can leave its viewers with different messages. Miller has his own interpretation.
“The message that I got from the film—there’s many messages, but overall—is that somebody always has a worse,” he explains. “You have to have this perspective of finding the silver lining and you have to have this perspective knowing that you’re not alone in this world.
“No matter how low things get, no matter how bad things are, you’re not alone and things could always be worse. But you have to find that family, you have to find your team, because you don’t have to do life alone. … The silver lining in his movie was that game of basketball where it brought two different worlds together; two different people who would have never hung out, who would have never met, who would have never spoken to each other.”
In a way, Alderfer feels her own personal life mirrored that of her character while she was filming in 2015. Noting real-life personal and financial struggles, she says the parallels were startling.
She recalls, “I completely forgot that going into this process I was feeling a lot of the same things that I imagine the character was—just feelings of not being able to trust people; feeling like the rug is just pulled out from under you. And coming from that place, it can be really hard to ask for help, to accept help and to let new people into your life and be vulnerable to those relationships, which Ricki experiences with Lucas, Romeo’s character, in a beautiful way.”
Her life mirrored that of her character in another way, too. When Alderfer read the script, she was immediately drawn to the physical aspect of basketball, something with which she had no prior experience. To pull off the role, she received training from basketball coaches as well as the support of Miller, who spent several years on the USC basketball roster.
“I danced in primary school and high school, and I think that I had some definite misconceptions about how much that would save me in just being able to physically fake it,” she explains. “But I was very fortunate to be able to work with a couple of really generous and wonderful basketball coaches—both before the film and during the film—who really schooled me on how hard basketball really is. Of course I always knew it was a difficult sport, but I have 300% more respect for anyone who can do that—and do that well.”
Miller, who has released music as Lil’ Romeo and mononymously as Romeo, and his father, Master P, composed original music for the film. Though Miller admits he doesn’t release much music these days, he says he still writes and records for fun, and has saved up hundreds of songs over the years. And when he does release music, he says he likes to do it through outlets such as his films. Sometimes songs come from his arsenal of unreleased recordings—other times they’re crafted specifically with the script and characters in mind.
“That process was just another fun experience for me which I do in all of my films,” he adds. “It’s more than just being an actor for me. Anytime I could be the producer, anytime I could do the music, anytime I can add more value, I’m always going to do that.”
“Game Day,” distributed by Alamo Content, opens in Phoenix on Friday, October 4. For more information, visit gamedaymovie.com.