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Rising star's latest score: 'The Replacements'
ATLANTA (CNN) -- We are surrounded by the culture of sports, Orlando Jones and I.
We're sitting in Jocks and Jills, a sports-themed restaurant in CNN Center. Sports paraphernalia festoons the walls; TVs beam highlights from last night's contests. Even the topic of conversation, over beers and fries, is sports-related: We've just discovered that we were huge fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, the team that won four Super Bowls.
This is a bonding moment, as any sports fan knows.
"I grew up with those guys," says Jones, and he doesn't really mean that he grew up by hanging out with Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris, but that he grew up watching them on television. I know this because I grew up with those guys, too.
"Dude," I say, "Lynn Swann could catch a ball with one finger."
Jones, 32, agrees, because every football fan knows that Steelers' receiver Lynn Swann could, and often did, catch a ball with not much more than one finger.
"A gnat in a whirlwind -- he could catch it," says Jones.
We nod, basking in Steelers glory of days gone by.
Along with being a sports fan, Orlando Jones is a writer-actor, the guy who starred on Fox's "Mad TV" and is currently seen in those zany 7Up ads.
He's got the look of a professional athlete, though. At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, he's built like Lynn Swann (except for the hair, which spirals skyward with electrical flair); he's got the name that echoes baseball glory (Orlando Cepeda, Orlando Hernandez); and sitting in the booth at Jock's and Jill's, he's in sports-star pose, resplendent in gold-rimmed glasses, black sports jacket, black shirt, black pants and black boots.
Comedian suits up
The athletic aura is not entirely coincidental. Jones is here to promote his supporting role in "The Replacements," a new sports comedy being released by Warner Bros. this Friday Starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman, it's (very) loosely based on the 1987 NFL players' strike, in which the owners hired replacement players to fill in for stars who were busy walking the picket line.
Jones plays Clifford Franklin, a bug-eyed, speedy, hands-of-stone receiver, the type of guy who is not afraid to quote/perform a rendition of the Gloria Gaynor disco hit "I Will Survive" to help his fellow replacements make it through a night in jail.
"I think it's 'North Dallas Forty' meets 'There's Something About Mary,'" he says of the movie.
Jones also has four other films scheduled for release in the coming months, including the Harold Ramis-directed comedy "Bedazzled," which stars Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley, and "Say It Isn't So," a film by the Farrelly brothers of "There's Something About Mary" success. Jones' star, as they say, is rising.
"I have no complaints, man," he says.
Jones was raised in Charleston, South Carolina. He grew up playing sports, including basketball, football and track. But his interests turned to show business after high school, and he's been aiming for his moment in the spotlight for some time.
At 19, while attending college, he formed Homeboy's Production & Advertising. His work in a college play led to his fast break in Hollywood, where he found work writing on NBC's "A Different World," Fox's "Roc Live" and "The Sinbad Show." Next came his stint with "Mad TV," roles on the silver screen and those 7Up ads.
Jones says filming "The Replacements" was a unique experience, one that promoted camaraderie among the cast and crew -- much like spending a season with a sports team. Pre-production included a month-long training camp for the actors, Jones says.
When production started, director Howard Deutch wanted realistic on-field action to contrast the comedy -- meaning actors would not use stunt doubles for every scene involving physical contact.
Jones got physical -- bruised, too. "Dude, I was getting my hat handed to me," he says.
He has high praise for Reeves, who plays the scab quarterback who leads the team of rejects, including a former SWAT team officer (John Favreau) at linebacker, and a chain-smoking, retired soccer star (Rhys Ifans) at kicker.
"To Reeves' credit, he worked his ass off," says Jones. "He really zeroed in. He went for it. He was obsessed with his cadence. Obsessed. He would freak out about details the audience will never know.
"To get his cadence perfect, he would say the play 30 times, easily. All day, every day on the field. 542, on two, on two, 542!"
Jones was also impressed with Hackman, who plays the coach who inspires his team to overachievement. Jones calls Hackman "a legend," but apparently not to Hackman's face. This was a testosterone-fueled production, after all, with all the dynamics of a real sports team.
In other words, razzing old timers was a rite of passage for the young guns.
"Between scenes, I would give him holy hell," says Jones, as if recalling a play he made in last night's game. "He would finish a take and I would come over and go, 'Hey Gene, that sucked. Maybe you want to focus, because I swear to God, buddy, Howie (the director) is embarrassed for you. So I'm going to walk away. Good luck to you. Seriously, good luck.' He would erupt in laughter and say, 'Who is this kid?'
"And he would come up to me after a take and say, 'Uh, I hear they got Jimmy Walker at the airport, but don't be alarmed. I just heard he's coming in -- something about your part. Did I mention that they made a deal with him?' He would just ride me and I would ride him," says Jones. "It's a time I will look back on and think fondly of."
Is it real, or ...
The finished product, says Jones, has movie fans acting like they're watching an actual sporting event.
"We saw it with an audience in Times Square, and they were yelling and screaming and hollering and they gave a standing ovation at the end," he says. "We were like, Wow. We didn't know it was going to be as well-received as it is. People who hate sports love this movie. It's funny."
As Jones polishes off his french fries (he leaves most of his beer, just like a wide receiver might), a waitress walks up. Her name tag identifies her as "Love Girl." She smiles at Jones.
"Are you the guy in the 7Up ads?" she asks.
Jones is flattered, despite the fact that this has already happened on two other occasions since he walked in CNN Center. He and Love Girl exchange pleasantries, and she skips off to tell her co-workers.
Jones, too, must leave. He has more interviews lined up, a flight to catch, and still more interviews. He's done seven cities in four days, with the movie's premiere in Los Angeles still to come. Being drafted in the league of Hollywood stardom has its demands.
"I'm getting used to it," he says of the newfound recognition. "I kind of had it on 'Mad TV,' but not to this extent. At the end of the day, I guess it's what you hope for."
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