Vancouver's Solomon Irama Opens Up About Kevin Durant-Inspired Series 'Swagger'

Irama got his big break in his first feature series with the Apple TV+ show 'Swagger,' inspired by basketball player Kevin Durant’s experiences.

Solomon Irama on a bus with a mask

Image via Publicist

Solomon Irama on a bus with a mask

Vancouver-born Solomon Irama, 19, got his big break in his first feature series with the Apple TV+ show Swagger, inspired by NBA superstar Kevin Durant’s experiences. Directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood, who also serves as showrunner and creator, the series revolves around prodigy player Jace Carson (played by Isaiah Hill) while O’Shea Jackson Jr. stars as Ike, the coach. And Durant serves as executive producer of the series.

Solomon, who stars as strapping young basketball player Phil, spoke to us about his experience on the show, working with Jackson Jr.,and more.

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How did you get involved in this project and how did it come together for you?
I’ve been acting for a while. It was just like any other audition. From the moment I saw that I was auditioning for this and had the synopsis and everything and what it was about and I was like, “Wow, this is super cool. This is definitely nothing like I’ve ever done before.” It’s cool and different and I’ve never really seen in film or TV before.

This is your first big acting project. What was the audition like?
I went out for a character, Jace, the first time and it was just like a monologue. And that went OK but then they wanted me to audition for a different character, which is the character of Phil. I think I was a good fit for Phil. Like, aesthetically, I think, I really look how they envision the character to look. And yeah, it went well, it was another monologue just like me introducing myself as a character. That was super cool and then they also made me do like another audition where it was just like me shooting around playing some basketball. They wanted to see my skills and stuff and then also sent them like some film of me playing on my school team.

How similar are you to your character Phil?
I say we’re quite similar. I mean, I guess I we’re from different places and like definitely our home lives definitely different but I’d say the type of person I am and like with my passion for basketball and everything we definitely are similar people for sure.

“One of the reasons why I feel like I’m so blessed to really get this job [is] because it’s already telling the story about a part of a life I already live.”

To play a character like Phil, what was your preparation like? I’m guessing you’re passionate about basketball like Phil?
Yes, I am. I definitely had to prepare for shooting quite a few scenes that he had because he’s definitely going through some stuff, you know? But I’d say with any character that you’re going to act as, you definitely got to prepare for if you’re gonna do like an emotional scene or something different you know, switch up the flow. But I think preparation wise, just practice and work and if it’s like an emotional scene or something you got to really work on getting there and being able to express those emotions properly, to display what your character is really feeling why he’s doing what he’s doing.

Basketball players lined up on the show Swagger

What did you learn making the series about youth basketball and what goes on behind the scenes that perhaps you didn’t know before?
I was already in the basketball scene even before I started filming so I already knew how a lot of this stuff goes, like recruiting and just a life as a basketball player. I mean, it’s just really a lifestyle being an athlete in general, but specifically a basketball player. And that’s one of the reasons why I feel like I’m so blessed to really get this job [is] because it’s already telling the story about a part of a life I already live, you know, and I love it so much.

“If you really have a true passion, and you feel like you belong somewhere, you really want to pursue something, you can’t let anybody tell you can’t be something or do something.”

The show is inspired by Kevin Durant. Did you get to talk with him and was he getting on everything behind the scenes?
He wasn’t really there that much for like the real making of it. Like, it was more the real director Reggie Rock Bythewood, our best director ever. It was more like his input and our basketball coaches and everything. We Zoomed with them a few times during the filming, but I didn’t really get to meet him face to face until the premiere.

You filmed pre-pandemic and then had to pause and then came back filming through the pandemic. Talk a little about what that was like, shooting during the pandemic and maybe that added stress.
I definitely miss shooting before the pandemic, for sure. It was still good shooting when we came back, like, I remember we were just filming forever and then it was like the last couple of weeks and so many productions everywhere were getting shut down because of COVID. And then we took out a five-month break and then we came back and we’re going strong and steady. But it’s definitely a lot different for sure, with COVID protocols and all that, like wearing masks and social distancing, and always putting on hand sanny every single second of the day. It was definitely different but we definitely made it work. It was great, for sure.

It’s a really powerful story about the real-world obstacles young players face on and off of the court while pursuing their dreams of becoming the next NBA star. So with that in mind, as an actor, what were some of the real-world obstacles you faced while pursuing your acting dreams?
Partly what the show is about, and what I think what it really tries to teach you, which can apply to all aspects of life, is that you got to keep going. Like, even when in times of doubt, life’s not a straight line. It’s never going to be going completely smooth and you should never let anyone or anything that happens along your journey make you quit or want to stop doing something, because if you really have a true passion, and you feel like you belong somewhere, you really want to pursue something, you can’t let anybody tell you can’t be something or do something. You always got to believe in yourself and keep trying and I really think that’s a really big message that the show really gives out and that the audience will definitely take from it.

Solomon Irma Canadian actor headshot

O’Shea Jackson Jr. is phenomenal in this as well. What was it like working with him?
He’s super good. He’s a funny guy, super down-to-earth guy. It’s great working with him. He’s a very jokey and really laughy and makes you have a great day on set, but when it’s time to work, he gets straight to it, right back into character, but that’s how you got to be for sure. You get to work. You got to take your work seriously.

As a Canadian, you’re a big Raptors fan?
Love the Raptors.

Who are some of your favorite players?
I love the new guy that the Raptors just drafted. I’ve been following him since he was in high school: Scottie Barnes. He’s crazy. I want to play like him. Favorite players in general would be Kevin Durant, LeBron, obviously. Carmelo Anthony. Nobody will ever have a jump shot like him. Steve Nash, one of the best players of all time, another Canadian. Just right across the water from me. And Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe. Don’t forget Kobe.

Yes, speaking of Kobe, I heard that he passed away the day before you guys were supposed to start filming.
Yeah, crazy. Crazy stuff. I remember everybody got to the set the next day and like everybody’s talking about it like “Holy, Kobe is really dead.” Like, it’s crazy. Some tough stuff. But yeah, he’ll definitely be a Hall of Famer. He’ll definitely be remembered, for sure.

And lastly, which actor who has a lot of swagger would you like to work with some day?
I definitely want to keep working with my director Reggie Rock Bythewood because he’s definitely one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with. I feel like he works on some really cool material, you know what I mean? It’s really deep material that has a lot of meaning in that anyone weho watches can definitely take from it. He’s just a great director and great guy. For actor, I’d want to work with probably… I’ve already said it once, but I’ll say it again: just Denzel Washington, probably because he’s my dad’s favorite actor. And he’s one of my favorite actors too.

Any Canadian actors you’d like to work with?
Ryan Reynolds. It would be kind of cool to work with Ryan Reynolds. And Seth [Rogen] because he went to my school. He graduated from my school. He had the same math teacher as me.

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