When you’re asked to play Wilt Chamberlain in a movie, you don’t say no. So when approached and asked to play the legendary University of Kansas forward in an upcoming film, junior Justin Wesley didn’t have much of a choice.
Wesley agreed to play Chamberlain for ‘Jayhawkers,’ a full-feature film by KU professor, writer and filmmaker Kevin Wilmott. He is best known for the film CSA: Confederate State of America, about America had the South won the Civil War.
Wilmott reached out to Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self for suggestions on who he thought should play the role. Wilmott suggested Thomas Robinson, but Self thought he was too bulky and muscular, so the two agreed on Wesley, the taller and slimmer forward.
“(Self) just asked me one day before practice mid-way through conference (play),” said Wesley. “I was kind of confused, but at the same time, I was like, ‘Ok, I guess so.’ And we just went from there.”
Wesley appeared on set with virtually no acting experience. He did, however, land a small role in a sixth grade play, but that was the extent of his acting practice.
He didn’t take any acting classes for the role, but apparently didn’t need classes.
“They basically told me I was doing a great job, so I just went with that,” he said. “I didn’t watch any playback, didn’t ask ‘Could I see any of that?’ I’ll just wait until the finished product.”
The role of the Big Dipper is no easy task, so Wesley took it as almost a challenge. He said that if he was going to do it, he wanted to do a good job with it. When he arrived on set with a very Chamberlain-esque haircut, the only difference appeared to be the three inches he was missing off his height. Chamberlain was 7-1, Wesley stands at 6-9.
“It’s hard not to take things as a challenge when you play competitive sports,” said Wesley. “I took it very seriously, but I had a lot of fun with it. I learned a lot about the movie experience.”
Wesley’s teammates could not have been happier that one of their big men landed in a feature film.
“He’s our actor over there,” said senior KU forward Kevin Young. “We joke about that with him all the time. I can’t wait until it comes out. I keep asking him when it’s coming out and where the premiere is going to be. We have a lot of fun with it.”
The support of teammates on the court is huge, but for most guys, it spills over into every part of life. Young smiled the entire time he talked about his teammate and left no question as to where he would be for the premiere.
“Definitely we’re going to go out there and support him,” said Young. “That’s what teams do. Even though we’re not an acting team or anything, we support him 100 percent.”
Freshman forward Perry Ellis said he has learned an immense amount from the other big guys on the team, even Wesley. The two have a solid relationship and, like Young, Ellis beamed when the topic arose.
“I definitely want to go see it, we all do,” said Ellis after asking those around him if they knew when the movie releases.
A release date has not yet been set, but that seems to be the only issue with KU players attending opening night.
What did he learn from the whole experience?
“I might have another career,” said Wesley with a laugh.