SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details about the second episode of “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” Season 2, now streaming on Max.
Papa’s got a brand new bag on “Winning Time” Season 2. With his maiden voyage as owner of the Los Angeles Lakers yielding an NBA championship, Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) finds himself alone atop the mountain, keen to share his luxurious Inglewood basketball Mecca with family and friends.
Enter Honey Kaplan (Ari Graynor), an old flame of Jerry’s that finds herself back in the business mogul’s desires 15 years after their first relationship fell apart. Though Honey greets her ex with her guard up, trepidatious about his womanizing charm, she finds herself won over again as Jerry lures her into the throne room of his gold-and-purple empire.
Meanwhile, Jerry’s daughter Jeanie (Hadley Robinson) is grabbing the bull by the horns leading her father’s business. Already in charge of her own tennis franchise, the Type A twentysomething gets into a squabble with her brother Johnny (Thomas Mann) when she catches him more-than-just-canoodling with one of her team’s athletes — and a ripe trade asset at that.
“There is some jealousy there, but I don’t know if she would necessarily admit it to herself,” Robinson says speaking with Variety about the scene. “There’s rivalry. There’s competition between her and her brothers. That’s undeniable. But I think she also is just jealous that they have lives outside of this thing that she’s devoted herself to completely.”
Jerry and Jeanie’s relationship emerged as one of the primary emotional arcs of “Winning Time” Season 1, with the father and daughter both navigating the death of Buss family matriarch Jessie (Sally Field). The pair’s trust in one another has been a compass for the series’ dizzying dashes through history, as modern viewers understand that Jeanie will go on to be the controlling owner of the Lakers organization after her father’s death in 2013.
In an interview conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike, Reilly and Robinson spoke together with Variety about why Jerry and Jeanie see eye-to-eye and how Season 2 tightens the screws on the Buss family.
Hadley, a key scene in this episode involves Jeanie flinching at the accusation that she’s jealous of the men in her family and their carefree romances. Do you agree with that judgment?
HADLEY ROBINSON: It was alien to Jeanie that she was allowed to have fun. My interpretation is that she isn’t sheltered — it’s more that she’s been watching her father do this business her entire life, so she made it her life. It’s been her everything. Having fun and dating was kind of out of the question for Jeanie because it was just a distraction from the thing that mattered the most. That’s how she thought her father viewed it all. But, in this season, she’s finding out that he’s made women just as much a priority as all the stuff he does in this business. For the first time she does consider, “If I don’t have my dad’s attention, I’ll try and get somebody else’s attention.”
Why do you two believe Jeanie and Jerry are such reliable confidantes, able to return to each other when their other relationships fall into disarray?
ROBINSON: The thing they usually connect over is the professional. They both get excited about it. But when this new romance is blossoming for her father, for the first time you see Jeanie go, “Oh, wow. That’s not always what it’s about. I thought that was the thing that was going to yield my full validation in his eyes.” When that’s not the thing, she then starts to go, “I don’t really know what to connect with him over.” There is no separation between the two — the personal is professional, the professional is personal. That’s how their family functions.
JOHN C. REILLY: The reason Jerry constantly tried to mix personal and business — like having his family work in the organization, bringing his relationships to the games all the time — was because he just didn’t have a choice. He knew this about himself: “This is all I care about: the big dreams. So I either go it alone, which I don’t want to do, or I force my family to be part of it.” Some people were better at it than others. I think he wished it all worked a little better with the family, that there was less competition among the siblings. But it was what it was. And he wasn’t willing to keep the family at home. He was determined to make it a family business — which it still is to this day, unlike a lot of other sports teams.
John, in interviews for Season 1, you shared that you grew your hair out for Jerry Buss’ combover. Did you stick to that practice for Season 2?
REILLY: I was very determined to keep the look going. I don’t like to wear wigs. It probably would’ve been easier to wear a wig to tell you the truth. But I like the feeling of false authenticity that a combover gives you.
I’ve also seen you in-person – you’re a tall guy. Does that become an obstacle when you’re shooting around a bunch of actors playing basketball players?
REILLY: No, no. You remind me when I went to see the Lakers back in the day, when Kobe Bryant was still playing and Derek Fisher was on the team. I remember thinking, “Oh, I just love the little guy. Come on Fish.” He made all those amazing baskets at the end of games. Then I look at the program and it has the stats: Derek Fisher, six-foot-two. I was like, “That’s my height! I’m a little guy! I’m tiny!” Anyways, they have these super lifts shoes for a lot of the players to get that size differential. But I’m the exact same height as Jerry. So it worked for me.
The hair is real, the height is real.
REILLY: The teeth, however…
This interview has been edited and condensed.