English-language remake aims to replicate success of Spanish hit ‘Champions’
By Guillermo Azabal
Los Angeles, Mar 10 (EFE).- American actor Woody Harrelson, best known for his role as a bartender in the iconic 1980s sitcom “Cheers,” is looking to make a splash with a new comedy: an English-language adaptation of the hit 2018 Spanish film “Campeones” (Champions).
Directed by Bobby Farrelly (“Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something about Mary”) and distributed in the United States by Focus Features, this heart-warming sports flick also starring Kaitlin Olson and Cheech Marin debuts at theaters in the United States on Friday.
Harrelson takes center stage with his depiction of Marcus, an irritable minor-league basketball coach who can only avoid jail time for a drunk-driving charge by reluctantly coaching a team of intellectually disabled adults at a rec center in Des Moines, Iowa.
After a rocky start, the team known as “The Friends” start playing winning basketball, putting themselves on track for the Special Olympics championship in Winnipeg, Canada and teaching their temperamental coach about the values of camaraderie, sacrifice, perseverance and friendship.
Along the way, Harrelson also falls in love with Alex (Olson), the sister of one of his players, a relationship that leads him to examine aspects of himself beyond the competitive world of basketball.
In keeping with the main theme of battling discrimination, the actors playing “The Friends” are all intellectually disabled themselves: Madison Tevlin, Joshua Felder, Kevin Iannucci, Ashton Gunning, Matthew Von Der Ahe, Tom Sinclair, James Day Keith, Alex Hintz, Casey Metcalfe and Bradley Edens.
“I think representation is incredibly important, and I think we’re both really proud of the fact that this movie has actors who are disabled,” Olson said in an interview with Efe prior to the film’s premiere.
“But that’s not the most interesting thing about them. The great thing about these characters is that they have full lives. They have jobs. They have friends. They have girlfriends. They’re really funny. They’re just cool people you want to hang out with.”
Harrelson, meanwhile, is one of six executive producers along with Brad Kessell, Alexander Jooss and Spaniards Alvaro Longoria, Luis Manso and Javier Fesser.
Fesser was the director of the original film, “Campeones,” which was a box-office smash in Spain and won the Goya Award for Best Film.
“I thought ‘Campeones’ was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. As soon as I saw it, I was so exhilarated, so happy, at the end of that film … so I immediately said yes” to making the English-language adaptation, Harrelson told Efe.
He said he knew the remake would be a success if the right people were brought on board, adding that Farrelly was the “dream director for this movie.”
“What he accomplished is that I think our movie is almost as good as the other movie,” Harrelson said.
Farrelly, whose brother Peter directed the 2018 Oscar-winning biographical comedy-drama “Green Book,” spoke to Efe about the transformation Marcus undergoes over the course of the film.
“Marcus … has to coach a team of people with disabilities, and he has preconceived notions of what that means and he’s sort of afraid of it,” the filmmaker said.
“When he goes and does it … he sees the whole world from a different way and it changes the way he coaches. He realizes that it’s less about having to win at all costs and it’s more about trying your best and just respecting the game and your opponent.”
“He learned more from them than they learned from him.” EFE