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Ketchikan native putting basketball skills on set of upcoming Hollywood film

Posted: November 20, 2011 - 12:07am

KETCHIKAN — Over and over again, Jesse LeBeau squared up against Kevin Durant from the top of the key and beat the NBA All-Star off the dribble for an easy basket.

The 5-foot-8, 160-pound LeBeau, a former Kayhi star, cut to his left and blew to the basket for an easy hoop as the 6-9 two-time NBA scoring champion and All Star was caught flat-footed. Then LeBeau beat the Oklahoma City Thunder star on another move.

The two were working on scenes for the Warner Brothers movie “Switch” in which Durant, cast as himself, has his basketball skills switched with a high school kid. The high school kid is played by Taylor Gray, star of Nickelodeon’s “Bucket & Skinner’s Epic Adventures.” LeBeau steps in as a body double for Gray during many of the movie’s basketball scenes, proving to Durant’s movie character that he had channeled his playing ability.

“It was great. We did different scenes where he was guarding me,” LeBeau said. “I had to use his moves on him to score, to prove to him I had his talent.”

Durant was on hand for filming for a little over a week. The outgoing Thunder player, known for his accessibility and smile, left a positive impression on LeBeau.

“He was great, really fun to work with,” the 25-year-old LeBeau said. “You forget that a guy like that is really just a 22-year-old kid. He was eating fruit snacks, going to Hooters, messing around on his phone. He was really nice to everyone and was very cool to me.”

After working with LeBeau on the movie scenes, Durant filmed a basketball commercial that also included a couple of LeBeau’s Los Angeles friends. Word filtered back to LeBeau, that Durant had admired LeBeau’s ability.

“He talked to them about me and told them I was a really good basketball player,” LeBeau said. “It’s flattering to hear someone like that say something like that about you.”

LeBeau, who initially made a name for himself around Los Angles as the streetball star Spin Cycle, had acted in a number of commercials, including an extended Nike Zoom Kobe VI commercial for Foot Locker. He was returning to Los Angeles after helping with a couple of basketball camps in Ketchikan when he got a call alerting him to a tryout for “Switch.” He got a call from a sports coordinator that lines up people for roles in movies and commercials, saying that there was a need for somebody like LeBeau in “Switch.”

LeBeau got a tryout the next day and went to the Warner Brothers movie lot to meet John Whitesell, director of “Malibu’s Most Wanted” and “Big Momma’s House 2.”

“We talked for a minute and went to a basketball court that had been built at the lot for George Clooney,” LeBeau said. “It was a cool little court, and I went out there and did some of the fancy stuff I’ve been practicing.”

LeBeau spent more time waiting for the director to be available than he did with the audition.

“I had to wait for maybe about 30 minutes. We talked for about three to five minutes, then went out to the court,” LeBeau said. “He had me shoot the ball, wanted me to look like Kevin Durant. I was out there for 10 or 15 minutes and at the end he goes, ‘Great, sounds good, we’ll see you next week in Baton Rouge.’”

The small budget ($7 million) family film was shot mainly in Baton Rouge to take advantage of financing and tax breaks. A few climatic scenes are set to be shot in Oklahoma City, but can’t be filmed with Durant there until the NBA lockout is over.

“The plan was for the movie to air in March, but the lockout is affecting the movie,” LeBeau said. “We have three days to shoot in Oklahoma City, but Kevin can’t go to the stadium during the lockout. It’s not looking good (for settling the lockout), which is a bummer for this movie and a lot of the commercials I do. This NBA stuff is putting everything on hold.”

Some of the stadium scenes were filmed at Louisiana State’s Pistol Pete Maravich arena, but a few scenes need to be done in the Thunder’s home arena.

Filming took place in September and LeBeau was flown from Los Angeles to the set.

“It was awesome,” LeBeau said. “Warners Brothers treated me so well. They had a rental car delivered for me. I was staying in a nice hotel. I was out there for exactly one month. It was a great experience and I met a lot of really great people.”

The lavish setup included an array of freshly-prepared food choices that LeBeau said threatened to ruin his ability to be Gray’s double.

“I put on a solid five to 10 pounds from eating all the amazing food they made us on set,” LeBeau said. “The joke on set was that by the end of the movie, I was going to be Jim Belushi’s stunt performer instead of Taylor’s.”

Jim Belushi is also in the movie. LeBeau said he has a scene where he dribbles through the legs of Belushi. Other actors in the movie include Brandon T. Jackson, William Ragsdale and Beau Brasseaux.

The 25-year-old LeBeau used to hate the fact that he looks much younger than he is, but he relied on those looks and his basketball skills to be able to fill in for teenage Gray.

“It was something that has always been annoying to me, but now it is finally paying off with the ability to look a lot younger,” LeBeau said. “I have a few good years left, that I can play the high school role.”

LeBeau and Gray played some basketball against each other while joking around on the set, but LeBeau said they couldn’t go all that hard against each other.

“It was kind of Hollywood basketball, we couldn’t take a chance on either of us getting hurt,” LeBeau said. “We were there about a week before Kevin Durant arrived, just to work on different moves and plays.”

The movie is still in preproduction and LeBeau said he hasn’t seen any of the scenes other than what they immediately played back to look at while working on the set. He networked with Disney and Nickelodeon stars in hopes of getting his foot in the door for future acting opportunities, and he had the good fortune of being immediately able to join the Screen Actors Guild.

“It’s definitely a big deal, a lot of people are out here for years trying to get into SAG,” LeBeau said. “Because of basketball, I was considered a special talent — the movie has to hire you to fill a role — so I was able to be eligible for the union. It’s a huge asset to get into SAG. You are in elite company with movie stars and presidents. It’s great protection for insurance and to be taken care of financially and for retirement as well, and it will give me a better shot at other roles in the future.”

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