The new Starz comedy Survivor's Remorse gives us an insider’s look at the lives of professional basketball players. Cam Calloway (played by Jessie T. Usher) is a young basketball player from the inner city who makes it to the pros and now has to deal with the gift, and curse, of suddenly being famous and rich. He moves to a big city with his eccentric family in tow—Tichina Arnold plays his mom; Mike Epps is his crazy uncle Julius.
The show is co-executive produced by Lebron James, though the story isn’t only based on his own life. Usher and co-star RonReaco Lee, recently spoke with ESSENCE.com about the show experiencing survivor’s remorse in their own lives, and getting to meet Lebron James.
Because Lebron James is associated with this show, you've probably heard it over and over again, ‘Is this about him?’
Jessie Usher: Of course. There are a lot of things on the show that could veer towards his story, but then of course there are some things that you're going to see and you're going to say, ‘That didn't happen to Lebron’ or ‘that wasn't Lebron.’ Anyone in that position, coming from humble beginnings who is now where Lebron is—they're going to have a lot of similar traits because they walk a similar path, regardless of if they're a professional athlete or a business person who made it rich. Cam isn't in anyway based on Lebron, but from my first audition with the casting directors, we were getting direct notes like, ‘Cam is gracious, Cam is humble, Cam is giving, Cam is kindhearted, Cam is passionate. He is all of these things and they need to see that just from the first speech alone. So, there's a lot to be related between Cam and Lebron.
Reggie, his cousin and manager is a bit of jerk.
RanRaeco Lee: Really? I like that. For sure! I was going for a**hole, because let me tell you, I have been fortunate in this, my life. I have worked and I have that face that people recognize but not the name. People come up to me and go, ‘You know, I forgot your name.’ People always associate me with being this nice guy. I was raised right, I owe it all to my mom and my dad, but it’s really nice for someone to be like, ‘Yo, you’re kind of an a**hole.’ As an actor you go, ‘Thank you, I appreciate that!’
When we see basketball players, most of us don't look at them as 3-dimensional figures. It's like, you have money, and you play basketball, end of story. Were you at all interested in the background of basketball players and what their reality must be off the court?
Usher: Not necessarily. Mike O'Malley [the writer and co-executive producer] says this show didn't necessarily have to be about a basketball player. This guy could have been a Tiger Woods; he could have been a professional golfer, a tennis player or anyone who now has fame and fortune.
So the show is also about the idea that when you make it, there's a bit of you that still stays. You want to help everybody in your family and your extended family. Could you relate to the fact that Cam feels guilty about all the people he left behind?
Usher: Raeco puts it really well. He always says that either you're the person with survivor's remorse or you're the person causing survivor's remorse.
Lee: I don't have survivor's remorse. I am surviving at this point. It's rough; we're starving artists and obviously this show is a great opportunity for both of us. Listen, I've been in the game long enough to know, I walk off of every set knowing that I might not return. In other words, it's a business. At the end of the day, if the dollars don't make sense, the show is gone. I am still in that struggle.
Have you met Lebron?
Usher: We have. He never made it to set because season one was shot literally during the NBA finals. They would yell cut and we would go watch him play.
Lee: We got to meet him a couple weeks ago at the premiere. I've been a fan of his; I watched him play on his first nationally televised games in high school when he was at St. Mary's. It was a dream come true for me. There are times when I've met celebrities and I’ve been awestruck because I may have grown up watching them or even had dreams of working with them and then you meet them and they're just a**holes. You're like, damn! It's always refreshing when you meet somewhere and you go, ‘God, you're nicer than I would have ever imagined.’ Lebron is that guy.
Survivor’s Remorse airs Saturdays at 9pm ET on Starz