While it’s more common for an actor to take small parts and work their way up to stardom, others jump right in. Plucked from obscurity for a big role in the Rupert Wyatt directed film, Anthony Kelley makes his feature debut in “The Gambler.” Picked from an open casting call to co-star alongside Mark Wahlberg, Michael Kenneth Williams and Jessica Lange in the crime thriller, Kelley, who claims to be “camera shy” has experienced fame in a breathtaking fashion.
“It’s a dream come true,” says the 22-year-old Los Angeles native who answered a local casting call seeking real basketball players to star in the film. Kelley, who has been playing basketball since he was three years old, says he was convinced by an uncle to audition for the role of Lamar Allen, a basketball player who becomes entangled with a gambler. “My uncle called me about the open casting call they were having in Watts, as they were looking for real basketball players. I have been pursuing basketball my whole life and I was at a crossroads. At first I didn’t want to do it, but I ended up going down there and got the part.”
Left to right: Anthony Kelley is Lamar Allen and Mark Wahlberg is Jim Bennett in THE GAMBLER, from Paramount Pictures.
Working alongside Wahlberg and Williams, Kelley got his crash course in acting on “The Gambler,” which is adapted from a 1974 film of the same name. “Acting is new to me and the most difficult thing was trying to portray the right emotion and learning how not to use my hands a lot,” says Kelley. “The emotion part was the hardest part, but having Mark and Michael by my side coaching me through the process was a big help. I even played basketball with Mark a few times.”
An L.A.-based story written by William Monahan, the screenwriter for Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” “The Gambler” aptly portrays the seedy world of gambling. The dark crime drama follows Wahlberg’s character, Jim Bennett, a nihilistic English professor and a high-stakes gambler who offers his own life as collateral when he borrows money from a dangerous gangster (Michael Kenneth Williams). With seven days till the debt is due, Jim creates a plan to absolve himself of his debt, and reaches out to his star athlete student Lamar (Anthony Kelley) to help.
“A lot of people deal with additions, and I think people are going to understand and relate to this movie,” adds Kelley who is working on perfecting his acting craft and has placed basketball on the back burner to focus on his acting career. “Michael sent me a list of different acting classes and acting coaches which I am going to look into as I am in love with acting and love portraying another character.”
One of the greatest concerns of any actor is the possibility of being typecast as a certain character. At 6:4 with an athletic build, Kelley could easily be typecast, but it’s something the charismatic actor clearly isn’t worried about. “I have a movie about a penitentiary in Louisiana and have been getting roles that are veered away from basketball and athletic stuff. They have been real acting and gritty movies and it’s going to really stretch me to a different dynamic that I have never done before as far as acting and take me out of my comfort zone.”
Rated R for language throughout and for some sexuality/nudity, “The Gambler” releases on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and VOD on April 28th and features over an hour of bonus content, including an extensive look at the filmmaking process.
Samantha Ofole-Prince is an entertainment industry specialist and contributes to Trendy Africa Magazine from Los Angeles. (Photo credit: Claire Folger)