Space Jam's Ceyair Wright Says He Fibbed About Basketball Skills to Get Role as LeBron James' Son
Ceyair Wright has excelled in football and on the track and even dabbled in soccer and lacrosse. One sport not really on his radar? Basketball. But he didn't tell the casting directors for the just-released Space Jam reboot that.
"So here's the story," Wright, 18, tells PEOPLE. "So I was auditioning for something, and I remember looking over and in the waiting room there's a bunch of different projects being auditioned for at the same time. And I saw that they were auditioning for Space Jam 2, which was the title at the time. ... So I called my manager."
His manager encouraged him to ask to audition, so Wright — who started acting after appearing in a Tide commercial at age 7 — did just that. And he was turned down: "[The casting director was] like, 'No, you're too old.' "
Wright walked away disappointed but returned to the same building a few weeks later for a different audition. During that meeting, casting director Kim Coleman asked Wright if he played basketball.
"And I was like, 'Oh yeah, I played basketball. I played varsity in my high school,' which was not true, but that's what I said," he admits now. "And so then, two days later, I got an email for the audition for Space Jam, and it was for the older brother this time."
A few months — and some dribbling practice later — the role was Wright's. And luckily, he says, his natural athleticism and a basketball trainer helped make his little fib turn into a reality.
In the film, Wright plays LeBron James' son Darius James. James, he says, is "an awesome, awesome person."
"He is definitely somebody who goofs around in between takes. And if anyone tells you otherwise, do not listen," Wright tells PEOPLE. "He gets his work done, though, for sure. He was coming in at four or five in the morning and working out before anybody else would get there. And then he would come in and get on set and I feel like that was really time to have fun and just be himself and not have to worry about the stresses of basketball."
Wright also thinks that having himself and the other children playing James' kids on-set helped the 36-year-old basketball titan "enjoy himself" more. Adds the young star, "We had a ton of fun just making jokes and passing around and doing whatever, just playing basketball, whatever it may be in between takes."
The young star is now headed to the University of Southern California to play football and plans on majoring in business and minoring in cinematic arts. His aspirations to be a multi-hyphenate across disciplines mirrors James' own career as of late.
"I feel like one of the reasons we connected so well is just because we're both athletes and I aspire to be able to be at the level that he's at and especially being able to have the same character that he has when I hopefully reach that level," Wright says. "He talked about just the importance of taking care of yourself and being yourself and remaining the same as you move through your life. ... He was saying, as long as you stay grounded, you'll be a lot more successful."
The original 1996 animated and live-action Space Jam followed Michael Jordan as he helped the Looney Tunes win a basketball game against a group of alien bullies. In the follow-up film, Lakers legend James takes over the lead role.
In Space Jam: A New Legacy, James' onscreen youngest son Dom's tech skills get him and the athlete sucked into an entertainment server by a CGI humanoid, who wants to steal some of his social media followers. To escape from the virtual world in which they're trapped, James gathers the Looney Tunes for a basketball game.
Listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on Space Jam: A New Legacy.
"It's a new take on an original idea and with different people," teases Wright. "And of course, it still has the Looney Tunes in it, it still has basketball incorporated in it, but the focus is different. I feel like this movie is a lot more familial than the first one."
Space Jam: A New Legacy is in theatres and HBO Max now.
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