Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Did Michael Shannon Pull Out Of Winning Time?

Upon making its HBO debut, "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" instantly became one of the most talked about series on television. That's in no small part due to the story the series explores as it details the dawn of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball dynasty in the 1980s under the guidance of the team's legendary owner Jerry Buss.

The series was, of course, also in the news regarding who played that seminal role, with the casting of John C. Reilly causing an apparent rift between longtime friends and producing partners Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the latter of whom produced the series and directed the pilot episode. As covered by numerous outlets (including Vanity Fair), Ferrell was hot to play Buss himself, and reportedly took umbrage when McKay offered the role to their mutual friend without even telling him. That act occurred after Ferrell and McKay had already ended their producing partnership, and may have damaged their relationship irreparably. 

As it happens, Reilly wasn't even the first actor McKay cast in the role, with Michael Shannon initially signing up to play the larger-than-life Buss. As noted by The Hollywood Reporter in February, the actor dropped out of the project a mere week ahead of filming for the pilot was set to begin. And per that same article, we now know why Shannon pulled out of "Winning Time."

Shannon apparently had issues with the series fourth wall breaking ways

Adam McKay makes clear in that THR piece that Will Ferrell apparently had no issues with the casting of Michael Shannon in the role of Jerry Buss for "Winning Time." It seems McKay was also pretty happy to have an actor of Shannon's esteem on board to play the series' most pivotal part. Unfortunately, as production loomed, Shannon was growing increasingly weary of the gig, eventually leaving the series under the time-honored Hollywood banner of "creative differences." 

While Shannon has remained generally tight-lipped about his late-in-the-game departure from "Winning Time," McKay shed a little more light on the matter in for THR. And according to McKay, Shannon was never really on board with one of the series' central framing devices, primarily the fourth-wall breaks. That method — in which a character speaks directly to viewers in a scene to offer further insight — have become a regular part of McKay's aesthetic over the years, so it's hardly surprising they would also be prominent in "Winning Time."

As McKay noted to THR, however, "It really bugged Michael that we were breaking the fourth wall." The "Winning Time" mastermind added, "He kept saying, 'I don't like this. It throws me. I'm having a hard time.'" Ultimately Shannon decided he just wasn't comfortable forging ahead with those fourth-wall breaks in place. And if you've seen "Winning Time," you know they're pretty essential to the Jerry Buss narrative, so McKay really couldn't just leave them out. In the end, John C. Reilly ran with them and delivered one of his strongest performances to date, leaving one to wonder why he wasn't offered the role to begin with.