The stars of the Walt Disney Studios biopic Rise, based on NBA Champion Giannis Antetokounmpo’s family story, have much in common with the NBA superstar and his family.
Rise Focuses On The Antetokoumpos Story of Determination
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s family’s story of persistence and determination is well known. His parents, Charles and Veronica (Vera) Antetokounmpo, migrated from Nigeria to Greece in hopes of a better life. It was there they had Thanasis, Giannis, and Alexis. Before they became NBA champions, they hit the streets with their mother selling sunglasses and trinkets to tourists to make ends meet while dad took on odd jobs.
The film, which was initially named Greek Freak, was changed to Rise after Giannis Antetokounmpo would focus not only on him but on his entire family. The film opens up with Charles (Dayo Okeniyi) and Vera (Yetide Badaki) fleeing Nigeria and leaving their oldest son behind because he was not old enough to make the dangerous journey.
After avoiding law enforcement and being deported, the Antetokounmpos settle in their new home of Greece and welcome three children, Thanasis (Ral Agada), Giannis (Uche Agada), and Alexis (Elijah Sholanke). Before they picked up a basketball, the Antetokounmpo brothers were big on soccer before they fell in love with basketball.
Both Thanasis and Giannis were late learners and caught the interest of a youth basketball coach who saw the potential in the brothers mainly because of Giannis’ height and Thanasis’ quickly becoming good. Their dad wasn’t too fond of his boys playing basketball, feeling it would bring too much attention to the family. Still, their mother convinced their father to let their sons hoop, a moment Giannis touched on during his emotional speech after being named the 2019 KIA NBA MVP.
The rest is history.
Well, their parents definitely remind us of our father. They’re both Nigerian, so there’s going to be a lot of similarities in the culture and the way they do things, so I definitely could identify with that wholeheartedly.
One of the prerequisites for this to happen is that all the cast members had to be Nigerian and that it had to be filmed in the Antetokounmpo’s native home of Greece to ensure accuracy.
As to who would play the NBA superstar in the film, finding an actor to play the 6’2 younger version of Giannis would be a tall task, no pun intended. After going though 400 submissions, director Akin Omotoso and producer Bernie Goldman found Uche Agada, a young man from New Jersey who checked all of the boxes. Agada’s father is from Nigeria, and he physically looked like Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But there was another bonus, Uche had a brother, Ral Agada, and he was perfect for the role of Thanasis. Our very own Bernard “Beanz” Smalls spoke with the first-time actors and discovered the Agada brothers and Antetokounmpo brothers have much in common and not just being Nigerian.
Step into the interview below.
Bernard “Beanz” Smalls: Rise is a story of persistence and determination, and being Nigerian-born, did you see any similarities between yourselves and the Antetokounmpos story or in your personal life?
Ral Agada: Well, their parents definitely remind us of our father. They’re both Nigerian, so there’s going to be a lot of similarities in the culture and the way they do things, so I definitely could identify with that wholeheartedly.
Uche Agada: First of all, I like your shirt, man.
BS: I appreciate it. I’m a Giannis fan, so I got the whole setup. Even the hat. The hat says the same thing [Freak] on the back.
UA: But yeah, one thing that was pretty similar was the fact that Giannis went to New York for the draft. He brought his older brother. And this one, I went to Greece for the movie. I was able to bring Ral as well, and we both were able to benefit from it.
But yeah, one thing that was pretty similar was the fact that Giannis went to New York for the draft. He brought his older brother. And this one, I went to Greece for the movie. I was able to bring Ral as well, and we both were able to benefit from it.
BS: That’s actually perfect. Now, you and your brother were both late to the acting game, and Giannis and his brother were late to play basketball. So do you both look at acting as more something you want to do and master just as Giannis did with basketball?
RA: For sure.
UA: That’s true.
RA: So many similarities in our stories, man. It’s crazy. But I definitely found a passion for this acting thing, man. It’s like we just said, it’s like a bug. Once you get it, you just can’t stop, man. It’s an amazing profession. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.
UA: It’s enjoyable, man. Just the whole process of learning everything and continuing to improve and working on your craft. It’s very fun. I can’t wait to do more projects in the future.
BS: Both of you guys are both great in the film, so I see a bright future for both of y’all.
RA: Thank you.
BS: I’ll be talking to you guys a lot more. I have a feeling about that.
Ral, I see you on Twitter a lot. You drop a lot of NBA hot takes, man. I did see them. So I want to know if you and your brother share the same hot takes. I see you are a Golden State Warriors fan?
RA: No. I’m actually a Bucks fan. The amount of slander that Curry’s been getting, as of late, it’s just ridiculous. Everybody said, “Oh, this guy deserves a finals MVP to be top 10.” Is like, yeah, this guy has single-handedly changed the way the game of basketball is being played. Put some respect on his name.
But I definitely, I’m a Bucks fan, for sure. I wanted them to win this year.
BS: Same goes for you [Uche] as well. Are you a Bucks fan too?
UA: Absolutely. Especially doing this. And we’re not just saying that, honestly, because even at this point, we’ve been watching them for two years, just following them, honestly. So it is hard not to root for the Bucks.
RA: Yeah. Especially knowing when Giannis first came on the scene, I was like, “Yo, that’s another Nigerian brother. I need to pay attention to him, and he is doing great, man, so it’s hard not to root for your own people.”
You can watch Rise exclusively on Disney+.