"We loved each other so much," the first-time actor says of Sandler. "He took care of me from the first day."
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Hustle

Hustle

NBA player and first-time actor Juancho Hernangómez knew of Adam Sandler before starring alongside him in Netflix's Hustle, but he wasn't exactly a longtime admirer.

"Coming from Spain, I know his movies, of course, but I never was a fan," Hernangómez tells EW while enjoying the off-season in his native Spain. But when he met the Uncut Gems star, it was love at first sight. "From the first day we got through chemistry and fitting, we loved each other so much," says the Utah Jazz player, 26. "He loved me like his older son, and I looked at him like my dad. We had a good relationship in every way. He took care of me from the first day."

While their backgrounds are about as different as their heights (Hernangómez stands at 6 foot 9), the duo bonded quickly over their shared passion for the sport. "He loves basketball; he really, really, really loves it," says Hernangómez of his costar. "He watches all the games; he texts me after the games. It's crazy how good our relationship is. We spent so much time together; we developed some good chemistry."

HUSTLE. (L-R) Ainhoa Pillet as Lucia, Maria Botto as Paola, Juancho Hernangomez as Bo Cruz and Adam Sandler as Stanley Sugerman in Hustle. Cr. Scott Yamano/Netflix © 2022.
Juancho Hernangomez and Adam Sandler in 'Hustle'
| Credit: Scott Yamano/Netflix

Despite never acting before in his life (and never even wanting to before his sister talked him into doing Hustle), Hernangómez delivers a convincing, empathetic performance as Bo Cruz, a supremely talented amateur ball player with a major chip on his shoulder. When down-on-his-luck NBA scout Stanley Sugerman (Sandler) sees Bo's skills in a pickup game, he gives him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to audition for the big leagues.

"I don't know how it happened," says Hernangómez about his acting debut. "[Producers] asked my agent, and I told them no for like 5 or 6 months because it wasn't my dream, and I am so focused on my NBA career that I just wanted to give 100 percent to that," he explains. "I told my agent, 'I don't want to waste time on something I don't love.'"

But as the summer offseason dragged on, his little sister Andrea, a standout basketball player in her own right (she plays for Fairfield University), put on a little sibling pressure. "I was at home with my brother [fellow NBA player Willy Hernangómez] and sister at my brother's home all summer, and we were so bored," he recalls. "We didn't have anything else to do, so my sister pushed us to do something different and do the casting."

HUSTLE. (L-R) Tobias Harris as Himself and Juancho Hernangomez as Bo Cruz in Hustle. Cr. Scott Yamano/Netflix © 2022.
Tobias Harris and Juancho Hernangomez in 'Hustle'
| Credit: Scott Yamano/Netflix

They made audition videos together and sent them off to producers, all without knowing what they'd want out of his performance. "We recorded the audition video, and it was crazy because I don't know what they're seeing or what they're looking for, but they liked it, and they gave me a role."

Hernangómez credits his acting coach for getting him into shape, saying, "She taught me how to act in 2 months." But he also had Sandler by his side to give advice when he needed it. "He just told me to be me," Hernangómez says. "Enjoy yourself, enjoy every day. Just be you, be normal. You have a lot of takes, don't worry about anything."

Even when Sandler wasn't actively passing along wisdom, Hernangómez was always watching and listening. "Just seeing how he works every single day sets the best example ever," he says. "How he gets into character, how he can scream when he needs to scream, cry when he needs to cry, be dramatic when he had to be dramatic."

HUSTLE. Juancho Hernangomez as Bo Cruz in Hustle. Cr. Cassy Athena/Netflix © 2022.
Juancho Hernangomez as Bo Cruz in 'Hustle'
| Credit: Cassy Athena/Netflix

Hernangómez remembers being particularly impressed during one of the film's more emotional scenes: "One of the days, he had to be so, so dramatic, I almost cried. We were joking like 20 seconds before, like crazy joking, and when the director said action, he just changed his face, and it looked so dramatic. I was just like, 'What the hell? How'd you do that?'"

The movie delivers its share of emotional moments off the court, but there's no shortage of basketball in this sports drama either. While the action appears seamless on screen, choreographing the sequences took a lot of work and patience, which, somewhat surprisingly for a pro athlete and first-time actor, Hernangómez found to be the most challenging part of the production. "I'm used to playing basketball my whole life," Hernangómez says. "I love basketball, I dream about basketball, but I'm not used to playing 20 minutes of hard basketball, then stopping for 40 minutes, then playing again for 20 minutes, then stopping for 40 minutes, for 8 to 12 hours. Just physically and mentally, it was tough. Stop to go; stop to go ... Doing a movie is so hard."

Fortunately, Hernangómez had some support from his friends and coworkers in the NBA. Hustle features a plethora of stars from the league, both past and present, including a cameo from legendary Hall of Famer Julius Erving, a.k.a. Dr. J, and a scene-stealing performance from young Minnesota Timberwolves phenom Anthony Edwards, who clearly had a blast playing Bo's trash-talking rival, Kermit.

HUSTLE. (L-R) Juancho Hernangomez as Bo Cruz and Anthony Edwards as Kermet Wilts in Hustle. Cr. Scott Yamano/Netflix © 2022.
Juancho Hernangomez and Anthony Edwards in 'Hustle'
| Credit: Scott Yamano/Netflix

"I knew Anthony because we played one year together, so it was amazing having him," Hernangómez says. "When we first talked about the movie, I talked about how good he could be for Kermit. Everything worked out, and he did a crazy good job. We were so proud of him, and we have special chemistry."

He adds, "We had so much fun on set with everybody. We played one-on-one; we played full court. It was such a good environment and everybody loved the movie and acted so well, even the OGs. I have a scene with Dr. J in the movie; I loved that. It was a pleasure to meet him and to talk to him."

Now, with Hustle premiering Wednesday to positive reviews, and the prospect of another boring summer off-season ahead of him, can Hernangómez see himself making another movie? "I don't know; I mean, I'm never going to say I'm never going to do something because you know how crazy life is," he demurs. "I never expected two years ago to be talking right now about being in a movie. So that's how life works. We'll see. If Adam or [director] Jeremiah [Zagar] called me, I will do it because I loved it so much, but I'm going to keep working on my NBA career; that's been my dream since I was born. But you never know what'll happen after that."

Hustle, also starring Queen Latifah, Ben Foster, and Robert Duvall, is available to stream on Netflix.

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