‘Ballers’ Interview: Donovan Carter on Transitioning from Football to Acting

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With two seasons under its belt, HBO’s hit sports drama Ballers shows no signs of slowing down: a third season renewal has already been issued, and the series is the most-watched half-hour show in the network’s lineup, with an average of 7.1 million viewers per episode.

Fans who might have missed some of the action – or who just want to relive their favorite moments – are in luck this week, as Ballers Season 2 has just been released on Digital HD platforms. Last week, we were fortunate enough to catch up with series star Donovan Carter to chat about his role as Dallas Cowboys defensive end Vernon Littlefield, and his transition from the gridiron to Hollywood.


Donovan Carter: How you doing, Brent?

I’m good. How are you?

Donovan Carter: Just happy to see another day, man.

Well, thanks for taking a few minutes to chat with us today. I appreciate it.

Donovan Carter: No problem.

So I didn’t know this until I started doing a little bit of research, but you actually played football at UCLA, correct?

Donovan Carter: Yes, sir! Go Bruins!

I’m based out of Phoenix, and my wife and I were at the ASU and UCLA game a couple of weeks ago.

Donovan Carter: Aww, man, don’t mention it. That one still hurts.

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That first half was a little tough to watch, but that second half was really exciting.

Donovan Carter: Yeah, we almost pulled away with that one, but our quarterback got hurt. It’s always tough to win if your starting quarterback goes out. But yeah, the second half was really entertaining. That first half, I was falling asleep on my couch.

Do you still follow college sports? Is UCLA still the team you root for every weekend?

Donovan Carter: Yeah, absolutely. UCLA is my alma mater, so I root for them and I watch all their games. I keep track of some other schools, like Clemson and Louisville and Michigan, but I try to go to as many UCLA games as I can.

So coming out of football and transitioning over to acting, Ballers is your first acting role, and you’re sharing the screen with some heavy hitters. Was acting something you had been interested in before?

Donovan Carter: I was interested as a kid, I used to watch a lot of television growing up. It was always one of those things where it was like “man, I wish I could do that.” But I didn’t really know how to go about it, and then I just fell into sports, and I got a scholarship to go to UCLA. So it was tough to do acting and go to school and go to practice, so I kinda let the dream go away, but it was always something where if the right opportunity came along through football, I might attempt it and see if I liked it.

Once I got done with football, I was just kinda weighing my options and seeing what I wanted to do for my next step. And the role just kinda fell in my lap – God blessed me with an opportunity, and I’m just glad I got picked for the part.

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With your background in football, you probably have a bit of insight into what the real life day-to-day lifestyle is like. Do you think Ballers gives a pretty accurate depiction of that lifestyle?

Donovan Carter: Yeah, I really do. We have amazing writers, and they do a great job, and I really do think it depicts these athletes and their lifestyles, and how something small can just be blown up so big. I mean, you look at Dez Bryant this week: he cut his finger making soup, and it made the national news.

People cut their finger every day, but we all don’t wind up on the news. So I think it gives people insight into these athletes and what they’re going through, and maybe shows them a little bit of compassion at the end of the day.

The thing I really enjoy about the show is that it’s not really about football, it’s about the players and their lives and the things they deal with. I think it really humanizes the players, and makes you relate to them, and it also gives fans of the game some insight into things we might not normally see.

Donovan Carter: I definitely agree. I like that it’s away from the locker room and away from the field. It’s their real life: they’re talking about their families and their financial issues and their contracts, just the day-to-say stuff like you said. People can’t see that, they just see them on the field, see them performing, and that’s it.

Are there any similarities between you and Vernon? Anything from your own experiences you were able to bring to the role?

Donovan Carter: Yeah, a little bit. I feel like we’re both big, humble guys, and he’s real family oriented, and I’m the same way. That was my goal, I wanted to go to the NFL and get my mom a house, you know? Take care of my parents, because they made so many sacrifices for me to get where I’m at, that I wanted to do something for them. So I can definitely relate to the some of the things about Vernon, we definitely have similarities.

Obviously, you’re not the only one on the show with a sports background – you’ve also got The Rock, who made a successful transition from sports to acting. Did he give you any advice to help you make that transition a little easier?

Donovan Carter: Yeah, when I first started I was a little intimidated, because it was my first role. But he just pulled me over to the side and told me “we got you for you. Everybody believes in you, everybody knows you can do it.” And that really helped me out a lot.

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Going back to something you mentioned earlier, about the way athletes are looked at differently in the media – obviously, one of the biggest ongoing controversies in the football world is Colin Kaepernick and his protest of the national anthem. As someone who comes from that world, do you think athletes should use their celebrity status to speak up about social issues? Or do you think that should be more of a private thing?

Donovan Carter: I think whatever way you can use your fame or your celebrity to spread something good, or spread awareness, I think you should. I just wish more people would do things collectively – don’t just do it by yourself, get the whole team to do it. I think that would’ve made a bigger statement. But I do respect Colin and all these other people who are using their platform to speak against it, because not a lot of people are willing to do that.

That brings up another thing I wanted to ask about: the team mentality. In football, there’s a brotherhood, there’s a camaraderie. Working on Ballers, you’re emulating that world, but you’re also working every day alongside the same people. Does that have a similar kind of team mentality, since you’re spending so much time with these people? 

Donovan Carter: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one thing I was so thankful for when I got the role, because I felt like I was back on the team. I think athletes can get depressed a little bit, because you’re used to being around these people, and then when the game is over you start moving on, and you’re alone.

So I was just grateful to be back with a good group of people, and my cast are just like my teammates: I can rely on them, and they can rely on me. I know when I go to work, they’re gonna do their job and they’re gonna do their absolute best, and they can depend on me to do the same thing.


Ballers Season 2 is currently available on Digital HD. 

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