Disney+ Rise heavily focuses on the journeys of Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, as they attempt to break into professional basketball. However, the NBA sports biopic also places great emphasis on their parents, who risked a lot to give their children good lives. Veronica and Charles Antetokounmpo are extraordinary people, and two talented actors brought them to life – Yetide Badaki and Dayo Okeniyi. Of course, there’s a high level of responsibility that comes with portraying real-life people, and both stars certainly put in the work while preparing for their work in front of the camera.
For those who need a little bit of backstory, Charles and Veronica Antetokounmpo were both born in Nigeria but eventually made their way to Greece during the early ‘90s in order to build a better life for themselves. In the process, they were forced to leave their oldest son, Francis, behind. As the couple had their other children, they were forced to remain in hiding due to their lack of visas. But their world would really change once Giannis and Thanasis began to show aptitudes for basketball. In time, the two parents supported their kids’ ambitions, and the rest is history.
Rise (which sits alongside some of the best movies on Disney+) tells this story in a way that is both compelling and respectful to the family at the center of it, and the actors do a masterful job of portraying them. Yetide Badaki and Dayo Okeniyi were clearly conscious of how important their roles were, based on our conversation at the movie’s recent press junket. In regard to Badaki’s turn as Veronica, I asked the actress about how much time she was able to spend with the Antetokounmpo and, though they didn’t chat too frequently, the American Gods alum expressed appreciation for the conversations they did have:
Unlike his co-star, Dayo Akeniyi was unable to speak with the man he played on screen, as Charles Antetokounmpo unfortunately passed away in 2017. The actor also explained that there wasn’t too much footage of the late patriarch that was available to him. So how does a performer proceed in such a situation? Well, as he explained, he took advantage of other resources, and he and the production team settled on a cerebral approach to the role:
Biopics can be incredibly tricky to nail due to the astute point that the Fresh star brings up above. When a famous person is being portrayed, critics tend to dissect the small details, making note of what works and what doesn’t. (I’m currently praying for the actor portraying Lebron James in his biopic). That isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to someone who’s not as well known. I’d imagine that Dayo Okeniyi found comfort in that. Nevertheless, he went on to say that he still had to give a performance that was “honest” to the spirit of the loving father and husband:
A lot of work certainly goes into this aspect of the production. One, of course, can’t understand the effort that goes into crafting basketball sequences (which in this case were influenced by a Ben Affleck movie). But at the end of the day it’s the performances that truly make a story like this work. Kudos to Dayo Okeniyi, Yetide Badaki and co. for doing their due diligence when it came to depicting the heads of the Antetokounmpo family.
Rise is streaming now (opens in new tab), so be sure that you have a Disney+ subscription so that you can check it out. Also, do yourself a favor and take a look at CinemaBlend’s schedule of new movie releases to learn about what else is headed your way.