‘The Crossover’ Showrunner on How They Turned Actors Into Ballers

The Crossover (Credit: Disnety+)

Disney’s new basketball drama The Crossover isn’t just about sports. It’s a story of family, sacrifice and the responsibilities that come with being part of a team.

Jalyn Hall (Till) and Amir O’Neil (Madagascar: A Little Wild) lead the cast of the coming-of-age series as teenage brothers Josh and Jordan Bell — two young basketball stars whose dreams for the future come into conflict as they get older.

The drama is based on the bestselling novel by the same name from author, poet and educator Kwame Alexander.

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Alexander serves as co-showrunner and executive producer of the Disney+ series. In an interview with Urban Hollywood 411, he discussed the challenges of finding the right cast to bring his words to life.

“It took months, two, three, four months of auditioning people, and then putting people together. [There were] people we wanted and people who weren’t available,” Alexander said. “It was like a puzzle piece… then you sort of put them together and eventually you find the right configuration.”

He admitted Hall and O’Neil were cast more for their acting than their skills on the court.

“We got two amazing actors who could not play basketball,” Alexander said through laughter. “So we had to figure out how is that gonna work? And I got to tell you a year and a half later, these boys are ballers. So we chose right.”

The solution was to get them extensive training.

“They went to basketball camp,” Alexander explained. “We put them through boot camp before we started the pilot, during the pilot, and after the pilot, during the season. And they were up for it.”

Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) co-stars in the series as the teens’ father, a former professional basketball player who pushes his sons hard in hopes that they’ll make it to the NBA.

Sabrina Revelle (All American: Homecoming) plays the teens’ mother, who struggles to balance the demands of family and her career.

Derek Luke admitted he had to brush up on his basketball lingo — including “the crossover” —  which is a way of faking out other players by quickly switching the ball from one hand to the other.

“I thought I knew because I had some sports experience. And all I knew is how much I didn’t know,” he said in our interview. “I’m like what? The crossover? But the crossover is like poetry. It’s beautiful. Once you learn it, it’s like the court of life. You can cross anybody up.”

Revelle added, “I like the crossover. I like that move. I’m from Philly, so we call it ‘breaking somebody’s ankles.’ I love that our show is called The Crossover, because it’s a metaphor, right? It’s like when you think something is going one way and it goes in the opposite direction.”

While basketball is a central part of the story, Alexander hopes viewers take away a message about life.

“Don’t give up, because if you do give up, you’re never going to make the shot,” he said.

The Crossover is produced by 20th Television for Disney Branded Television. The cast also includes Deja Monique Cruz, Skyla I’Lece, Trevor Raine Bush and Daveed Diggs. who narrates the series.

Kwame Alexander, Damani Johnson and Kimberly A. Harrison serve as executive producers and co-showrunners. LeBron James, Maverick Carter, Jamal Henderson and Lezlie Wills also executive produce alongside George Tillman Jr., Bob Teitel, Robert Prinz and Jay Marcus of State Street Pictures, Daveed Diggs, Todd Harthan and Erin O’Malley.

The series is now streaming on Disney+.