Tracy Letts, Jason Segel, And DeVaughn Nixon Talk About The Latest Episode Of Winning Time [Interview]

"Who The F*** is Jack McKinney?" is the latest and aptly titled episode of "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty." Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) begins training camp with his team of star players. They initially resist the innovative methods of the new head coach, Jack McKinney, played by actor and playwright Tracy Letts. He wants the team to move faster and not waste a second of floor time. 

McKinney is often cited as the mind behind a fast-paced, game-changing style of play known as "Showtime," which helped the Lakers dominate for years. The Portland Trailblazers' assistant coach comes to Los Angeles to coach his way, but in the episode, he confesses he worries others won't see his vision. McKinney, along with his own assistant coach, Paul Westhead (Jason Segel), are the new guys on the block in "Who The F*** is Jack McKinney?", and they leave some of the players, such as Norm Nixon (DeVaughn Nixon), questioning their place on the team.

Recently, we talked to Letts, Segel, and Nixon about one of the first season's standout episodes.

'You got to impress these guys sitting in the stands right here'

This episode really shows the mental and physical toll of the game. DeVaughn, during the training camp episode, what was important for you to communicate?

Nixon: Everybody is vying for a spot. Dog eat dog, survival of the fittest. So, it's intense. I think the guys got intense and it was fun because I think that was one of the first scenes where all of us were together. So there was a lot of pressure looking at people I revere as great actors and idols of mine and I felt the pressure, because there was a sequence where I had to hit three for the whole thing to start. So, I was like, "All right, DeVaughn, all right, you gotta do it for your pops. You gotta do it for the culture. You got to impress these guys sitting in the stands right here."

So that was a little nerve wracking for me, but when I used to play basketball, I would always have to get my first shot out and it would usually be an airball because I would just get all of the butterflies in my stomach. I'd be so nervous. And once I took that first shot, then I was like, "All right, cool. I missed it. All right, cool. Let's go." So that's how it was for me. And it was intense and it got intense. We had to do it a lot. So it was tough on us physically, mentally, and we had to act in between that as well. So yeah, it was challenging, but it was fun nonetheless.

You see that Paul Westhead speaks through the arts, while Jack McKinney is more mathematical. Jason and Tracy, how'd you two find the common ground they have?

Letts: The training camp sequence is the first time I met Jason and got a chance to work with him, and it's not like you have weeks of rehearsal or anything. You're just thrown out in front of the camera and find a relationship, but I think Jason, we seemed to settle into a dynamic between the two of us. I mean, because it was on the page first and foremost, but we seemed to settle into a dynamic between the two of us that was very appropriate to the individual guys' personalities. Coaches who are finding their way. Jason and I both found our way in that milieu with the Lakers. Jason pointed out earlier, we were suddenly surrounded by so many men and all this male energy, competitive energy. It was something to try to feel our way into. Feel the chemistry of the thing, which I think we did. I hope we did. It was a fun sequence.

Segel: I think that for me, Tracy really hit something dead on. There was something very natural for me where Tracy is somebody who I relate to and feel like is a friend and contemporary very instantly. But then, also is someone who instantly I look up to and want to learn from. And so, it really fell into line with the characters. Someone said to me once on prep that the in between set dynamics always mirror the story in some way. It seems to fall in that way. It's maybe the way that actors or artists are subtly and subconsciously operating at all times, taking it where you can. But that's how I felt as soon as Tracy and I started hanging out. It was like, "Oh, this is both my friend and my superior."

'We're Team 'Winning Time' and f*** Team 'Succession'"

I think something that's great about episode four is that, even if you don't play or care for basketball, a lot of people can relate to the idea of, "I have a vision, but what if no one else sees it?" Like Jack says, "What if you're the only one?" For all of you, how'd you relate to that fear?

Letts: Well, I think it's one of the strengths of the show that though it is very much rooted in the game of basketball, a lot of it applies to life. These guys all have things they're trying to accomplish. They have goals and they want to be a part of something. If they could be a part of something great, all the better, but just to be a part of something, it's special once you're invited in and you're part of the thing.

It's weird, the way we do that, right? The way we huddle up, it's like, "We're Team 'Winning Time' and f*** Team 'Succession.'" [Laughs] There's a part of you just like, "That's my team. I'm part of that thing. I'm working on making that thing good. Those people are working on making their things good." I don't actually bear any ill will toward the people of "Succession." It's just wanting to be a part of a thing, and I think we all felt that. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be part of a professional sports organization. To be part of a team trying to win a goddamn championship. I can't even fathom it.

DeVaughn, what about you? That feeling of chasing a goal or creating a vision — how'd you relate?

Nixon: Man, I've been trying to get my break for a while. There were some odd jobs that I did. I used to model for Abercrombie. I worked for American Apparel, I did real estate, and always in the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to act. I remember one day I quit my job as a venture capitalist and I let go of the burden. Immediately, I literally just got this role on "Sonny with a Chance," this Disney show with Demi Lovato. And then, my career just popped off again, and this was when I was maybe 26 years old, because I had taken a long break. After that, I got a Disney movie called "Prom." Then I stayed in the Disney family, did a show called "Runaways."

So that definitely speaks volumes to me, because I've been chasing this dream for a long time and finally, I think it's coming true. When I look next to me on set and I see all these people that I admire and I look up to, yeah, it was just a really cool experience for me. I finally think I'm starting to get there. So, I hope this is it.

"Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" is now airing on HBO.