Woody Harrelson takes on the lead role in new film Champions, which arrives in UK cinemas this weekend.


The film tells the story of a disgraced minor-league basketball coach, who is instructed by a judge to carry out community service after landing himself in a spot of legal bother.

Initially just to fulfil this requirement, he starts coaching a team of young people with intellectual disabilities – and he soon finds himself bonding with the team and realising that they have a huge amount of potential.

You might be wondering if the film is based on a true story, so read on for everything you need to know.

Is Champions based on a true story?

The film is not directly based on a true story, but it is adapted from a 2018 Spanish film that was loosely inspired by the efforts of a real basketball team. That team is the Valencia-based Aderes, which was created for people with intellectual disabilities and went on to win 12 Spanish championships between 1999 and 2014.

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Director Bobby Farrelly, who is making his solo directorial debut having previously worked alongside his brother Peter on hit comedies such as Dumb and Dumber and Shallow Hal, said that he hadn't seen the Spanish film immediately upon its release but was instantly taken by it when he did get round to watching.

"The original film Campeones, everyone who watched it loved it," he explained during an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com. "It took me a few years to even realise that the movie had been made, but when they brought it to me, I thought that's a really tremendous movie and an important movie."

Farrelly added that the original film is a little bit "goofier" and more "broad" than his film, and gave credit to screenwriter Mark Rizzo for adapting the script with a slightly different tone.

"[He] did a great job of telling the same story but telling it in a way where the people are just slightly more Americanised," he explained. "It's an American story, but it's very real. There's nothing goofy about it at all. And I thought that was important because it's grounded – I thought Woody Harrelson and Kaitlin Olson did a nice job of capturing the reality of it."

Harrelson himself said he thought the Spanish film was "phenomenal" and initally reckoned Farrelly had given himself a tough task in attempting to top it.

"I never thought we would make a better movie because I just can't imagine a better movie than that, it was truly beloved in Spain," he said. "But I'd like to say we made maybe almost as good [a film]."

"A comparably great movie," added Kaitlin Olson.

Speaking further about making the film, Farrelly explained how the key was finding disabled actors who could play basketball to star as the 10 members of the team, known as The Friends.

"We went out to the basketball leagues and the Special Olympics and we kind of reached out and said, do you have any young adults who love to play basketball who might consider reading for this part? And so all of our actors, they all love basketball, and they did have a little bit of experience"

He added: "And I really do think that we ended up getting a great cast, because they're all a little bit different. They're all wonderfully likeable, and I was really, really happy with the Friends cast."

One of the most incredible things is that many of the young stars had no previous acting experience prior to being cast, and this was something that Olson was especially impressed by.

"I think the fun thing about that was that they all brought something so unique and incredible," she said. "And the impressive thing for me was that a lot of them haven't acted before, and to be surrounded by cameras and professional actors and just jump in and do such an amazing job and improvise – it just ended up being so fun.

"Working with a bunch of people who maybe hadn't done this before could be uncomfortable, [but Farrelly] always had a basketball in his hand, they were shooting around, and we just got a bunch of stuff that way. So everyone sort of had the freedom to be themselves which I think made it a very loose, comfortable environment."

Harrelson added: "It was a little bit like going to work at a playground every day. [There was] a lot of insanity and fun, you never knew what was gonna happen!"

Champions is in UK cinemas from Friday 10th March 2023. Wondering what to watch on TV? Visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide or visit our Film hub for more news and features.


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