Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted and completed prior to the start of the SAG/AFTRA strike.
Sports were Austin Aaron‘s guiding light. The structure of athletics gave him the opportunities and discipline he needed to adapt to any reality. “I played football, baseball, and basketball my whole life, and they all taught me so much about myself and shaped me into the man I am today,” he says. “Football got me into my dream school, UC Berkeley, and allowed me to meet my dream girl Kristen (now wife), who was a cheerleader at the time! It taught me how to be a great teammate, properly manage my time,and show up even when I don’t want to or really don’t feel like it. All those things have helped me become a better husband, actor, and cat dad! Getting up at 4:30 am every day for training before practice and school now helps me memorize a script or clean our cat’s litter box; sometimes you have to put your feelings aside and just get things done.”
Falling out of love with football allowed him to flirt with an old flame: acting. Austin’s first break so impressed the powers that be that they transformed it into a larger part on the spot. “I gave up college football after two seasons to focus on getting my degree at Cal. I truly did not love the game anymore, and you need to have an insane passion for it in Division 1, or you will either get seriously hurt or struggle mentally. I realized I just loved to entertain people and always had a dream about being an actor after being the lead of a Christmas play in the 5th grade. I booked the role of jock #2 on 13 Reasons Why during my sophomore year at Cal after leaving football. After doing my one scene, they created the recurring character of Luke Holliday for me. I was able to return for 23 episodes in seasons 3 and 4. Some days were tough doing long shoots, then coming back and doing homework, but I didn’t care. I was so used to college football life and was doing something I truly loved!” A penchant for acting cultivated the fondest memories of his childhood. Watching memorable characters inspired him to dream bigger. “I remember I did a High School Musical skit my senior year of high school where I played Troy Bolton and had an absolute blast performing it in front of our school! Also, I was the biggest Friday Night Lights fan and the character of Tim Riggins made me want to be an actor. I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet. My parents were huge movie buffs too and we always watched all the classics together when I got home from football practice. We probably watched my favorite movie, The Truman Show, 42 times. I remember wanting so badly to be on the screen and make people both laugh and cry the way Jim Carrey did!”
Austin’s athleticism comes in handy for his current role as Mark Landsberger on Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. The series is sure to scratch anyone’s postseason itch. “Basketball fans, season 2 will be your heaven. Instead of waiting for the NBA season to start in October, our show will be your vice during these slow sports summer months! I know personally that I love watching a good guilty pleasure reality show with my wife and cats, but I miss basketball oh so bad during this time of year. We really got into the Celtics and Lakers rivalry this year, and you will be blown away by what we created! Sean Patrick Small, who plays Larry Bird, is incredible too. He is not only one of my dear friends, and an amazing new dad, but a darn good actor and a breakout star!” Portraying Mark was as much an honor as it was an exercise in unbridled and unapologetic silliness. Goofy was the aim for both Mark and Austin. “It was important to be true not only to the character, but also to myself. He was a physical, incredible rebounding center, but maybe his biggest contribution to the team during his four years on the Lakers was simply making everyone laugh. That was my goal on set every day, to just put a smile on everyone’s face and keep everyone as loose and light as possible. Mark was the class clown of the team, so it was an absolute blast to portray him and show up every day with the goal of creating laughter and positivity with all our cast and crew. In real life, I too never really know if people are laughing with or at me, so Mark and I are very similar.” The wave of enthusiasm and the almost magical energy that enveloped the Lakers during that zeitgeist transformed the very essence of basketball. “Watching these showtime Lakers was not just a sporting event, but incredible entertainment. They made people want to go to The Forum, see every celebrity in Hollywood in attendance, and watch this new fast-paced and exhilarating style of basketball. The rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics only intensified people’s passion for the game during the early 1980s, and it became not just a hobby, but must-see television. I’m from Napa in the Bay Area, so I will always be a die-hard Warriors fan, but I will admit these Lakers teams are the reason the NBA is the success it is today!”
Forty years later, innovation remains the driving force behind all leagues. Progress galvanizes a renewed commitment to the game. “It is so crucial that our sports continue to reinvent themselves and to go along with new knowledge or what the fans need. Ratings were hurting, as the game was too slow in the 1980s before Magic and the Lakers sped it up and added pizzazz. Similar to how the NFL has added more safety precautions due to discovering the impacts of concussions, or the MLB getting rid of the shift/adding the pitch clock, our sports must continue to keep changing and growing. Our show does an incredible job showing the importance of reinvention as each new season brings on new players and a different set of challenges that must be overcome to get the end goal of a championship!” Regardless of a player’s stats, perhaps the greatest influence can be found in the spirit of camaraderie that they provide. Mark is proof of the strength of humor. Wins are well and good, but laughter is what endures! “Like I said, Mark was one of the best rebounders in Lakers history, a two-time champion, but his lasting legacy will be, in the words of Jeff Pearlman, ‘the unequivocal laughter he provided.’ He kept the locker room loose, light and had people cracking up by Mark just being Mark. I was able to speak with him on the phone a few times, and he was absolutely hilarious without trying to be funny. He is such an amazing guy. We have a great relationship, and I would always keep him posted on how everything on our set was going during season 2. Mark may not have been the best shooter or passer, but he added so much heart and joy to those Lakers teams. From being in a locker room my whole life, I can testify that that can be just as impactful. There are some lovely Landsberger moments in season 2 that will have you just smiling and leaving in a better mood than when you started!” Through Mark, Austin learned that nothing can compete with authenticity. “I would say that it is totally okay to just completely be yourself, whoever that is. Whether you are confused, sad, dance poorly, look stupid, or make bad dad jokes, be yourself, and people will respect and love that about you! Mark reminded me that you don’t need to act cool or have it all together, but that you can create so much joy in the world by being true to yourself. Also, just be a good person! That might sound cliché, but in any job, people want to work with others that are respectful, decent, kind-hearted humans. You never know what someone is going through on any given day, and the power of being a positive, good person that truly cares about others is so underrated when it comes to the skills of being a good actor.” Kindness and self love will score you the most points in life. The second season of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty premieres on Sunday, August 6 at 9pm EST/PST on HBO and will be available to stream on Max.
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Austin Aaron Shoots for Success and Smiles in Season 2 of “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Photo Credit: Darla Aaron.