“With the first pick in the NFL Draft…”
Millions of football fans tuned in to ESPN last night for the sport’s equivalent of Christmas morning. After months of anticipation and analysis, fans finally got to see which collegiate superstars will be wearing their favorite teams’ jersey next season. As each of the 32 teams are on a ticking clock, their coaches and general managers agonize over their options while the players wait helplessly to be told where their professional lives will begin. It’s a tense and exciting annual ritual that director Ivan Reitman is bringing to the big screen with Draft Day, which will star Kevin Costner as the embattled GM of the Cleveland Browns. (Is there any other kind?) The director of such hits as Ghostbusters and Dave brought his cameras to a mobbed Radio City Music Hall yesterday to take advantage of the NFL’s stagecraft and the buzzing atmosphere that can only be captured in a theater full of face-painting fanatics. “Our responsibility is not to get in the NFL’s way,” Reitman says, “but at the same time, be able to capture the reality, the energy, and in particular the emotions that come from the draft. Because no one’s told that story, the story of the remarkable effect that the draft has on people’s lives.”
Set within the confines of a single day, Draft Day tells the story of Sonny Weaver (Costner), who’s in the midst of one of the most complicated and stressful days of his life as he positions the long-suffering Browns — who’ve never reached the Super Bowl — to trade up for the draft’s No. 1 pick. On the other side of the dramedy are three highly regarded college prospects who are waiting for their professional careers to begin. One of them is portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, currently seen onscreen playing Jackie Robinson in the baseball movie, 42. “It’s a very tough role that he plays,” says Reitman. “Totally different than he is in 42 — that’s all I’ll say.
During yesterday’s filming, there was also a mini Dave reunion as Reitman directed Frank Langella, who plays the Browns’ P.T. Barnum-like owner, and Kevin Dunn (Luck). In the scene, Langella’s character is provoked by some raucous fans of the Seattle Seahawks — “What the hell is a Brown anyway?!” — and he responds with a soliloquy about the greatness of America, his blue-collar city, and legendary coach and owner Paul Brown.
Based on a Black List celebrated script from Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman, the movie also stars Jennifer Garner, Ellen Burstyn, and Denis Leary, who plays the Cleveland coach. Reitman and his crew enjoyed incredible access and the film clearly has the blessing of the NFL. Not only will several NFL personalities make cameos, but Houston Texans running back Arian Foster plays a significant role as one of the other top rookies. Ironically, the all-pro was overlooked by all 32 teams despite a solid career at the University of Tennessee and he wasn’t drafted. “He told me it was devastating,” Reitman says. “Not getting drafted, he thought his life was over. So I walked him into the room here and said, ‘Welcome to the draft,’ because he had never actually been here, and it was wonderful to look at it from his eyes now, as one of the great running backs in the league.”
The production will continue shooting at Radio City for two more days before heading to Cleveland to shoot the bulk of the movie. But not before they get the ultimate endorsement from the commissioner himself. “Roger Goodell is in [the movie],” says Reitman, with a proud smile. “He’ll be announcing our first-round picks on Saturday morning.”