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By Derek Lawrence
March 12, 2021 at 10:30 AM EST
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Nothing could have prepared Sonequa Martin-Green for her new baller gig. Not killing zombies, not captaining the USS Discovery, not even pranking a group wacky loftmates.

After memorably proving her TV bonafides on The Walking Dead, Star Trek: Discovery, and New Girl, Martin-Green is making the big screen jump as the female lead in Space Jam: A New Legacy, playing Kamiyah James, the "strong-willed" wife of LeBron James.

"A question I asked myself before I read the script was, the Looney Tunes are not as popular as they used to be and so I thought, 'Well, how are they going to make this relevant for today?'" Martin-Green says. "'How are they going to catch the eye of the youth today?' And when I read it, I thought, 'Aha! That's how you do it! That's genius.'"

As part of EW's New Legacy cover, we chatted with Martin-Green about long feeling an attachment to Space Jam and her onscreen husband, trying to separate her character from the real Mrs. James, and making tacos.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Just like LeBron, you were 11 when Space Jam was released and really in the direct target audience. So was it a film that you long had a relationship with?

SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN: I did, 1,000 percent. I loved that movie coming up. It was very special to me, and it was a big deal in my household. So I've carried it with me.

Considering that, what's your initial reaction when they come to you with the possibility of being in a new Space Jam? That probably has to be pretty mind-blowing call to get.

That's exactly what it was. That's the best way to describe it, mind-blowing. Once I realized that it was going to be moving forward, it's a lot to wrap your head around, especially because of the position the original movie has in my childhood and in my heart. It was mind-blowing indeed.

Space Jam: A New Legacy
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

We know you are a Space Jam fan, but before New Legacy were you also a big LeBron fan? Growing up in Alabama you're kind of no man's land in terms of having an NBA team nearby.

Basketball is my favorite sport to follow, with the exception of the Olympics. I guess that probably is my absolute favorite, but I do love basketball, and that's another thing that was a big part of my childhood growing up, because we followed the NBA really closely. And I do have so much respect for LeBron, and I've seen what he's done, and I marvel, like everyone else, at what he's accomplished, and what he's capable of. So, yeah, my husband and I both, we watch him, we had chosen his team for the family, as like, "Okay, this is who we're going to follow in the Green household." And I had this odd connection with LeBron, in my mind, because I remember being in my living room when I was about to graduate high school, and back then we used to get Jet magazine. And there was an announcement about this young guy from Akron who was going straight to the NBA as soon as he graduated high school. I just remember thinking, "Oh, that's interesting. So I'm going to pursue acting and get my theater degree, and he's going to go to the NBA, but we're graduating at the same time. I hope he does well." And then that ended up being LeBron. It's just really funny to me.

That's awesome. Probably the thing with basketball though is it's a little faster to get going and end up on the major stage after high school as opposed to acting. But you both ended up in Space Jam!

That's true. Because he was on the court and I was still in the audition room. [Laughs]

So other than your Space Jam fandom and being destined to work with LeBron, was there something else specifically that made this a can't miss opportunity?

Well, I think it was everything. It was a lot of things rolled into one. It was being able to bring a franchise like this to this generation. I appreciated the fact that we were going to be returning to this, and that the youth of today would have a fresh Space Jam that they could experience and then hopefully grow to cherish. I was really excited about that. Then, yes, of course, the people attached, and being able to do something like this, it's quite different than what I usually do day-to-day, so that was another thing that was exciting about it. And then I just I really appreciated the script. I thought that the way they modernized the story was quite clever. And because a question I asked myself before I read the script was, the Looney Tunes are not as popular as they used to be and so I thought, "Well, how are they going to make this relevant for today? How are they going to catch the eye of the youth today?" And when I read it, I thought, "Aha! That's how you do it! That's genius." So I was fully onboard at that point, and really excited about the opportunity, even more than when I first heard about it.

We know Kamiyah James is married to LeBron and a mom to three kidd, but what else can you tell me about her?

What I really love about this character is it's not some peripheral wife. That's another thing that really piqued my interest, that it's not just this wife that is on the outskirts, or in the background, just taking up space or whatever. She's the matriarch and really keeps the family going, and it's reflected in the story. And so I'm very strong-willed, I have that feminine power, that's coupled with the comfort and nurture and all of those things that you would expect from a woman that's in this world, right? This world of fame, this world of impact. Then I also have a great sense of humor as well, I have to say. So I'm actually answering an earlier question too, because it was really how my character was written that excited me.

While LeBron is playing a heightened version of himself, in these situations it's often hard for audience to separate the real from the fictional. That being said, you're character is named Kamiyah, not Savannah, which is the name of LeBron's actual wife. How much were you trying to differentiate Kamiyah from Savannah, and did you ever have the chance to chat with her about it?

She came to set a few times, and we had lovely conversations and just some good quality time. I really loved being able to connect with her. But what I actually did was created this woman from the script. The parameters of the story are what I imagine in. Those are the boundaries and that's where I let my imagination run freely. I do know that there's going to be some similarities, of course, but there were a few interesting differences as well. So rather than trying to create a representation of her, I instead created what was there on the page, but knowing that it would automatically be a representation of her. And I was grateful to do that too. So I felt like all of those things were served at the same time in an organic kind of way.

In learning more about New Legacy I was glad to hear how involved your character is, since Theresa Randle didn't get to do much as MJ's wife in Space Jam.

Mm-hmm. Yes!

I'd assume there's a different kind of acting going on between you and LeBron as husband and wife versus him with Bugs and the Tunes. So what was it like working opposite LeBron, the actor, who is going through his first time as a leading man?

LeBron has his championship living mindset, and I saw that. Because even though it was his first time, he came ready to go. He came fully-prepared, ready to give his all, ready to give 110 percent. I respected that and we had a good time. We hit the ground running, jumped in the deep end. I think one of the first times we were together was to take family photos that would be placed around the home. And so we just had to be a fast family, but it was easy. Such a great group of people, and the kids were fantastic. We shared a lot of laughs and I think hopefully you can see it reflected.

Space Jam: A New Legacy
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Do you have a favorite memory from filming?

Oh man. Yeah, there's a few of those. It's hard to pinpoint one, but when we were still in prep, we all went to the house we shot in and made some tacos. [Laughs]

LeBron does love his Taco Tuesdays!

That was definitely the theme. And again, that was one of the first times that we were all together as a family, and it was so much fun, because we were in this house, we didn't know where anything was in the kitchen and were just making a complete mess, but were getting to know each other and feel what it's like for us. to be a family in this story. It came as a suggestion from the first director that was onboard, Terence Nance. And it ended up being so much fun. I do look back on that memory really fondly. I think that's the one I'm going to take with me and possibly cherish the most.

You've already been on some of the most popular shows on television, and now this is the biggest film opportunity of your career so far. And then add on top of it your personal affection for the Space Jam brand. Now removed from production, have you been able to reflect on how much this experience has meant to you?

Oh, gosh, yeah. I think I reflected on it all throughout the experience, from the very beginning and hearing about it, and then considering it, and then throwing my hat in the ring for it, and then getting it, and then getting there with everyone, getting with Bron, with the kids. I maintained that ever essential attitude of gratitude the entire time. For a good chunk of the film I was shooting the first episode of season three of Star Trek: Discovery at the same time. And so this was 2019, of course pre-COVID, and I was going from L.A. to Toronto, and then I was in Iceland shooting for the show, and then going back to L.A. to finish up Space Jam. So there was a lot going on in that moment, but I was so grateful to be a part of something that… I've said this before about other things that I've been blessed to be a part of, but, as an actor, you don't get to decide the impact that a project is going to have on people. You don't get to say, "It's going to affect this many people in this way." It's really not. You can only hope for that, right? But I've had the privilege and blessing to be a part of things that already have impact. They're a major part of society already. People already love it. I've had the honor of doing that, and this was the most recent one.

For those that do love Space Jam, my goodness, it was a big deal for a lot of people. And so there's the pressure of that. You feel it, and then you let it pass through you so that you can do your job, so that you can create freely, not from a place of pressure, but from a place of joy. But I would step back and marvel that I was able to be a part of something like this.

LeBron has played himself a few times in movies, and now after working so closely with him, if he wanted to branch out and do more, what do you think his future as an actor could be?

I wonder if he would be interested in doing more. We never talked about what his plans are in acting from here on. But, like I said before, he came ready, fully-prepared, and gave his all in a medium that he is not necessarily accustomed to. So, I was impressed just by his fervor. And I appreciated it as well, especially because we come from these two very different worlds, and he has his training and experience in his art of basketball, and I have my training and experience in this art of acting. We were able to come together and have both of them be lifted up, which was really cool. So, yeah, I mean, Bron can do whatever he sets his mind to.

I asked Don Cheadle the same question, and he said LeBron has the potential, while adding, "I would tell him, if he got too good at it, he needs to stay in his own lane. He's got enough shine!" Which I think is a fair way to look at it.

Absolutely. Yeah, if he approached it with the same level of dedication, for sure.

Sonequa, thanks for chatting Space Jam, and also thank you for being part of my New Girl quarantine binge, which I know for many people out there, myself included, was a very comforting way to spend a very uncomforting year. I will say that I was surprised to check your credits and find out that you were only in two episodes as Rhonda. She was so memorable that it felt shocking you weren't around longer. So I hope you're still out there in the world pranking people every now and then.

I know, right? Thank you for that, Derek. That's so funny. Rhonda is a trip. That's not necessarily the person you want to run into, you know?

Space Jam: A New Legacy premieres July 16 in theaters and on HBO Max.

To read more on Space Jam: A New Legacyorder the April issue of Entertainment Weekly or find it on newsstands beginning March 19. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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