In early February, I went to see the movie American Hustle and was stunned when Rey Maualuga appeared in the preview for a baseball flick.
“Everyone was like, ‘I think I saw you in a trailer. Did you do a movie?’” said Maualuga with a laugh.
In Million Dollar Arm, actor Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame plays a real-life sports agent named J.B. Bernstein who goes to India in search of baseball talent after losing the chance to represent a high-profile football star.
The script called for a football player of Samoan descent, so the casting agents reached out to NFL teams and encouraged candidates to try out.
“Domata Peko and I did an audition video,” Maualuga told me. “He did his own and I did my own. I don’t think it was a competition between the two of us – we just figured, ‘Why not give it a try and see what happens?’”
Maualuga got a member of the Bengals video department to shoot his audition and asked a fellow linebacker for some coaching.
“He asked me for some tips and we rehearsed some of the lines together,” said Vinny Rey. “I was a theater minor at Duke so I had a tiny bit of experience. When I heard that he got the role I was ecstatic.”
“I did it right here in the player’s lounge – it took about a half hour,” said Maualuga. “They e-mailed me the script. Vinny helped me stay comfortable and got me saying my lines the way the director wanted.”
“I told Rey that the most important thing is to just go for it,” Vinny told me. “Don’t be nervous, don’t be ashamed – just go for it and act like it’s real. Just play the character. I’ve been telling him that I should be getting 3% like his agent.”
Maualuga’s scenes were shot last off-season in Atlanta.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “It’s something I’ve never done before and something I never thought that people would be calling me and asking me to do. When I heard I got the part, I was happy and excited to get that crossed off of my bucket list.
“I didn’t know how it actually happens with the different camera angles and all the takes that you have to do. I got to see a behind-the-scenes look at how everything gets done. It was fun.”
While his character rejects the agent played by Hamm in the movie, the two of them hit if off on the set.
“He’s a great guy and obviously an awesome actor,” said Maulauga. “We just talked about being comfortable. It’s just like me being on a football field. Practice makes perfect. If you mess up, you mess up and obviously you try to correct your mistakes by doing what is necessary. He told me to calm down and said that he messes up a bunch.”
The film was released nationally last weekend and Maualuga watched it with teammates and Bengals fans.
“On Friday, Domata’s wife rented out a whole movie theater,” said Maualuga.
“Me and my wife noticed that Rey couldn’t go to the premier because we had practice and he couldn’t make it out to Hollywood, so we just wanted to have a little private screening for him in the Cincinnati area,” Peko told me. “We rented out a movie theater, invited our teammates and their families, and then we invited 50 people on Twitter and Instagram to come with us.”
Million Dollar Arm has received generally favorable reviews from movie critics, and Maualuga’s acting debut got high marks from his teammates.
“He looked really natural – I was surprised,” said Marshall Newhouse. “He’s spent enough time in California that I’m sure he has the whole Hollywood thing down. He did a good job.”
“I think he has a future in Hollywood,” said Peko. “All the fans that came to the screening said that he did a great job.”
Still, Maualuga’s movie role is sure to result in some good-natured abuse in the Bengals’ locker room.
“His character’s name was Popo so we’ll see how that goes,” said Newhouse. “We’ll see if that sticks or not.”
“We’ve been joking around and calling him Rey Travolta,” said Peko.
Several NFL players have gone on to have successful acting careers after their playing days including Fred Dryer, Ed Marinaro, and Carl Weathers. Might that be in the cards for Maualuga?
“I’m going to try to play football for as long as I can, but if they come calling I’m not going to turn it down,” he said.
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