Interview by Jana Letonja

Delante Desouza is making his television debut playing Lakers ‘Michael Cooper’ in Adam McKay’s Los Angeles Lakers HBO drama series ‘Winning Time: The Rise of The Lakers Dynasty’ which premiered on March 6th. The show is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book ‘Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s’.

Delante, you’re making your TV debut playing Lakers ‘Michael Cooper’ in the series ‘Winning Time: The Rise of The Lakers Dynasty’, which just premiered on HBO. How did you get cast on this series?

It’s actually a crazy story, So, back in 2019 I was living in Baltimore and I was auditioning back and forth in New York. And I was on actors access, which is the website actors use for client jobs and auditions. And I saw a posting for this basketball show by HBO and they were looking for guys to play basketball players. So I was looking at one of the breakdowns for one of the characters and I saw that they were looking for a guy about six feet or taller, that plays basketball and he’s supposed to portray one of the Showtime Lakers. I clicked the picture and saw Michael Cooper, but I didn’t really know who he was at the time. And once I opened the picture, I saw that me and this guy really looked similar. So I had sent in my headshot and an audition tape and then a few days later, maybe like a day or two after that, Francine Maisler, who was the casting director reached out to me and she wanted to see a self-tape for the audition.
At that point I thought, this is strange, as I’ve never seen an HBO show on this website, but I said to myself “Let’s just give it a shot”. So I submitted a tape of me acting, doing the scenes, playing basketball, and then within the next week, Francine reached out to me and she asked if I’m available to talk with Adam McKay and the producers for this show. If you know anything about Adam McKay, he created ‘The Big Short’, ‘Vice’, ‘Don’t Look Up’ and he’s really big in the industry. So once, once I saw Adam McKay, Max Borenstein, Jim Hecht, Kevin Messick, I thought this is pretty serious.
I remember I was working, doing a job in real estate and it was maybe like 6:30 at night. I was still on the clock, I was still technically at work, but I ducked off, grabbed my laptop, and logged on to Skype to go on the producer session. When I got there, I saw Adam, Kevin, Francine, Jim Max, Rodney, all the producers for the show just sitting on this one couch, and Adam just basically asked me questions about what do I know about Michael Cooper. By this time I had done research on who Michael Cooper was, I was prepared. It was just a 15-minute conversation about my life and then at the end of the interview, he said something along the lines of “I’m just gonna tell you now that HBO takes a while to get back to us on this stuff, but so far you did really well”. That sounded promising and then sure enough, within two to three weeks later, I got the call that I’ve gotten the role of Michael Cooper for the pilot for ‘Winning Time’.

The series is based on 1980s Los Angeles Lakers during a decade that saw them win five NBA championships. It is delving into the professional and personal lives of the team and its management as they created one of sports’ most revered dynasties and a team that defined its era, both on and off the court. What was the most intriguing thing about this series?

Well, the thing that makes this series so special compared to other projects and other shows is that it’s based in such an iconic era of sports and basketball. To be able to portray a real-life athlete in a sports drama, that’s amazing. But being able to portray such a legendary team, in a pivotal era of basketball, that’s just top-notch. And then on top of that, being able to portray a five-time NBA champion and one of the greatest defensive players in the league’s history, I mean, that’s just pretty much a dream job. So, there wasn’t a lot for me to say no to with this series and this role. All the pieces were just in place, this is an amazing job and I’d be crazy to say no to this.

Have you ever played basketball in your personal life? Did you have any basketball experience prior to shooting of the series?

I come from a track and field background. I ran track and field in high school and a little bit in middle school. All the basketball that I played growing up was recreational with friends on the court outside in the park. I never really played in an organized, team basketball setting. One of the really cool things about this show and this opportunity was that we got to train to play organized basketball. So once I’ve gotten the role in late 2019, early 2020, the shutdown happened due to Covid and I got the opportunity to practice, playing organized basketball for two years. We practiced three hours a day, five days a week. So the skill level for me just increased exponentially, once I learned the fundamentals of how to play organized basketball and how the Showtime Lakers moved, how they played fast breaks, moving the ball up and down the court as fast as possible. That’s where I got to really learn how to play basketball in a new way.

Did it become your favorite sport now?

Yeah. Now I find myself watching basketball games and I’m like “Oh that was such a great, steal or that was some great defense”. I find myself commenting on basketball games now that I know what’s happening in them as opposed to before when I was just watching for entertainment. Basketball is definitely my favorite sport now. Sorry track and field, but basketball took my heart.

Your character Michael Cooper was a Lakers shooting guard, a “rookie” alongside Magic Johnson after recovering from a devastating knee injury. Anxious and unsure of himself, he was determined to prove his worth to the team. Do you see any similarities between Michael and yourself, besides the physical ones?

I say all the time that me and Michael Cooper, in my opinion, really aren’t that different personality-wise. I mean, there are some things I had to learn for portraying the character, like mannerisms and how to appear half of a foot taller than I actually am in real life. But when it comes to personality, the essence and energy of Michael Cooper from what you see in interviews, how he plays, how he moves, his underdog mentality in that quiet, confident aura, I just took that from my own life and put it in the character and they worked beautifully. I always say that me and Coop could be twins in another life.

You already mentioned that you grew up in Baltimore, where you graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park. While at Univerity of Maryland you were the recipient of Maryland’s prestigious Howard P. Rawlings Guaranteed Access Grant and were chosen to participate in the six-day leadership program, an institute that challenges participants to lead with integrity while working towards a vision grounded in their deepest value. What’s the most important value that you have gained through this program?

I would say the most important value that I gained is empathy. I think when you place empathy with passion and love, nothing can stop you from making an impact and change in the world. One of the biggest things I took away from leadership and doing the six-day leadership training is that when you look at great leaders, like Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi or Muhammad Ali or even leaders of today, like Will Smith, all these pivotal figures lead from a place of love, they care, they’re empathetic, they’re passionate about what it is they care about. And I think that’s one of the most important qualities to have in order to achieve anything in life, no matter what it is you wanna do.

You’re also an excellent dancer and rapper. Which style of dance is your favorite?

I actually studied modern and jazz for a few years growing up. I used to go to this community theater called The Arena Players in Baltimore, where we would do plays, but we would also do musicals and dance recitals. That’s where I kind of got my roots in acting and in stage and in theater.
I would have to say my favorite dance style is tap. But once I’ve found my passion for acting, that kind of became my main focus. I will say though, I still enjoy a good dance recital. I love watching musicals whenever they have dance numbers, I’m always into those. I still have love and the passion for it, but it’s kind of on the back burner now to acting.

Is being a rapper just a hobby of yours or have you ever thought about being in the music business and producing your own music?

I’ll drop a freestyle every now and then or jump into a rap cipher, but it’s just fun for me. It’s not something I’m pursuing as a career, although I will say music production has been the main kind of passion for me growing up. Aside from acting, that was number two for me. Me and my roommate in college, we used to DJ and MC at parties to kind of pay bills and pay for food, to live. That’s kind of where I found my passion for music. And I always say that in another life, if I wasn’t an actor, I would probably be a music producer.

You relocated from Baltimore to Los Angeles for your career. What do you love most about life in LA and California?

I just love how LA is so free and laid back. It’s very different from the hustle and bustle culture of New York, where everybody’s moving, you gotta get to where you were going yesterday and it’s just high frequency, high energy. LA is more coast-like, more laid back, more chill, more relaxed. And obviously the weather, that’s just a given. I just love the environment, I love the culture, I love the energy of LA. This is where I wanna be.

When you have some free time, what are some of the things you enjoy the most?

Usually, in my free time I like to go out with friends, maybe some of my castmates or some other friends I made, and just enjoy time out on the town. I would say I’m still relatively new to LA, I’ve been here for about two years, and I’ve probably seen like 10 % of what the city has to offer. So I like to explore, I like to go on hikes. I just like to be out and have new experiences with people. Recently I’ve gotten a lot into darts. And I’m also an avid video gamer. I just got PlayStation 5, so that’s kind of been the focus of my time as of recently. But I would say traveling, adventuring, exploring, hiking and video gaming are my hobbies.

What’s your favorite travel you’ve done so far?

I did a two-week trip to Costa Rica with my former boss when I was doing real estate. And it was such an eye-opening experience. The thing that I love the most about Costa Rica is that the culture is so simple, but it’s so beautiful. They have this saying ‘Pura Vida’ and it’s just the amount of happiness and contentment with life. Outside of the United States it just opened my mind up to a whole new perspective of how to live. When we went to Costa Rica, the whole team and I were talking about how we would see kids with the bare minimum, kicking around a can of soda and they’re having the time of their lives. It’s a beautiful thing to see in addition to the warm beaches and beautiful, clear water that you can actually surf on. I got to learn to surf. That was awesome.

Your acting career is at the beginning and starting to really bloom. Where will we be seeing you next? Do you already have some new projects lined up?

There’s stuff in the works that right now I can’t really talk about publicly, but what I can say is this isn’t gonna be the last time you see me. There are some pretty special and interesting things that are on the way.

Photographed by Shane McCauley @shanemccauley
Styling by Carolina Orrico @carolinaorrico
Grooming by Taylour Chanel using NARS at The Only Agency @taylourchanel