LeBron James is bringing new heat to the small screen. As the executive producer of Starz’ new hit Survivor’s Remorse, King James adds syndication to his empire with a dramedy about balancing reality and your bank account. The six-episode series mixes SportsCenter with Entourage and follows Cam Calloway (played by Jessie T. Usher), a young baller who scores a multi-million dollar league contract—MVP speech included—and cousin-confidant Reggie Vaughn (RonReaco Lee). When family gets thrown into the mix, mo’ money starts to mean mo’ problems. While swerving through the streets of New York City, Usher and Lee phoned VIBE to discuss current affairs, their take on fame and if LBJ is intimidating.—Adelle Platon (@adelleplaton)
VIBE: Jessie, I heard that you character isn’t based on LeBron James so who did you look to for inspiration in preparing for your role as Cam?
JESSIE USHER: I get asked that question quite a bit but I didn’t necessarily look to anyone in particular for inspiration. I just really listened to what (executive producers) Michael O’Malley and Maverick Carter had to say, and really created this character based off their own experiences. From that, I created someone completely unique.
Did you identify with your character at all?
JU: Somewhat. Some of his characteristics are really identifiable because Cam is such a kind-hearted person and he’s really humble. Although Cam may be on a whole other level than what I’m on right now, Cam is still extremely relatable. He’s really down to earth and I like to think some of those same things about myself.
The show is very current. It touches on Donald Sterling. It touches on racism. It touches on social media so did real-life scandals help acting on the show easier?
JU: Not necessarily. While we were shooting the show, there were actually some things that happened that I was confused (about) and somebody had to explain it to me. Cam has a safe in his apartment (in one scene) that they use in case guests they may not trust a hundred percent are over. They may like keep their phones in the safe so that no pictures can be taken and sent out. Those kinds of things don’t necessarily make the acting easier ’cause we’re not really living that lifestyle.
RONREACO LEE: No, and I’m glad I’m not. If I was living that lifestyle, that would be terrible.
JU: Exactly. I can have people come to my house and I don’t have to worry about them taking pictures.
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Twitter is such a big part of a show’s success. In the age of Scandal and Black-Ish, what do you think Survivor’s Remorse adds to the conversation?
JU: I definitely think the family element. Apart of what’s going on right now with Scandal, Black-ish and How To Get Away With Murder, we’re fortunate to be dropping at a great time for television that focuses on African-American families but Survivor’s Remorse is so different in terms of tone, the look of it, the pace of it, how it moves. The writing is also out of this world. It’s not like anything I’ve ever been a part of before. Mike O’Malley isn’t necessarily writing for what you could imagine most people write for: a family from Boston, who now has money and in the reality of that comes something completely different that I’m certainly not used to seeing and don’t think the audience would be used to seeing either.
In terms of the cast, who’s surprisingly the complete opposite of their character?
RL: There are some similarities but Teyonnah (Paris) just isn’t [like her character] and she plays the character amazingly well. I was surprised like, “Yo, T, you cool as hell!” With music, we had things in common that I wouldn’t expect for her to really dig. Atlanta’s culture and music is kind of infectious, whether you want to listen to it or not. She had a couple of songs that she really liked that I didn’t even know about, like she was on Migos a lot. She’s a little ratchet. Aren’t we all?
I saw rappers like YG and Jeezy at the premiere. Any chance we’re going to see notable hip hop stars on the show?
JU: Well this first season, no, but I really hope so. Some of those guys [appearing] on the show would be hard.
RL: It also fits with the style of the show with Cam living this lifestyle and his family being involved in the circle. [Rappers] involved in it makes perfect sense and we’re rooting for it.
How is LeBron James in person? Did he intimidate you at all on set?
JU: He was doing the NBA Finals while we were filming so we didn’t get a chance to meet him there. So we met him at the Los Angeles premiere and he was cool. When we met him, it was still a pleasant surprise to see just how a champion really would act.
RL: I wasn’t expecting him to be… I mean, you would have thought he was a cat you knew from high high school.
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What does the show’s title Survivor’s Remorse mean to you guys personally?
JU: It means what emotions come with quote unquote making it out of humble beginnings, not even necessarily feeling bad about it but there’s a certain guilt that comes with knowing people who could very much use your help and ask you for it. We did a panel back in Los Angeles with LeBron, Maverick, Mike O’Malley and Tom Werner, and they asked them if they had “survivor’s remorse” and they said they would go on these trips, spend crazy amounts of money and live very elaborately. Then somebody back home would ask them if they have rent money and they’d say, “Nah, I ain’t got it.” You know there’s a certain guilt that comes with that and that is survivor’s remorse. But at the same time, you have to be extremely careful with how you help people. Sometimes you want to but you can’t because people will, in the least bit, use you up and drain you completely dry. Survivor’s remorse is that feeling you get when you know you got it but you can’t always extend that hand out.
RL: You know, listen, I hope and pray I get to a point where I do have survivor’s remorse. As long as I’ve been blessed, I’m very fortunate, even more so to be a part of this project. But LeBron James, Maverick Carter, Tom Werner, Paul Wachter, those guys are on the level that I can only dream to get halfway to. Once I get to that place, I’m sure it will become harder for me.