Dwayne Johnson is headed to HBO‘s primetime. The pay cable network has picked up to series half-hour pilot Ballers toplined by the wrestling and movie star in his first major series gig. He is executive producing the series with his Pain & Gain co-star Mark Wahlberg; Wahlberg’s manager/frequent producing partner Steve Levinson, on whose original idea the project is based; showrunner Even Reilly; and Peter Berg, who directed the pilot. Written by Levinson in his pilot-writing debut, Ballers is exploring the lives of a group of former and current football players. Johnson stars as Spencer Strasmore, a retired athlete. The cast includes Omar Benson Miller as Charles, an affable former pro athlete who is searching for his next career; Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington as Ricky, a competitive and highly spiritual pro athlete; Rob Corddry as Joe, a financial advisor who tries really hard to fit in; Troy Garity as Jason, a top-tier sports agent; Donovan Carter as Vernon, a deeply family-oriented pro athlete; Jazmyn Simon as Julie, wife of an ex-pro athlete; Taylor Cole as Michaels, an ESPN sideline reporter who is romantically involved with Spencer; and LeToya Luckett as Tina, widow to one of Spencer’s closest friends.
The series pickup for Ballers, which will start production later this year, comes on the heels of the series order on Tuesday of another half-hour project with marquee stars from a top director and producer, The Brink, starring Jack Black and Tim Robbins. Jay Roach, who directed the pilot, and Jerry Weintraub are executive producing. Both series have been touted as capable of attracting broad audiences, something Johnson already has done in primetime as his WWE alter ego The Rock and on the big screen. He next reprises his role on the Fast & Furious 7 movie, whose production has been delayed by the death of star Paul Walker, and also has feature Hercules and TNT reality series Wake Up Call coming up.
Johnson and Wahlberg’s collaboration on Ballers stems their work together on Michael Bay’s action movie Pain & Gain, while Wahlberg and Levinson recently worked with Berg on his feature Lone Survivor, which starred Wahlberg. HBO is producing Ballers with Wahlberg’s Closest to the Hole Productions, Levinson’s Leverage Entertainment, and Johnson’s 7 Bucks Entertainment. Johnson, Wahlberg, Levinson and Reilly are executive producing along with Rob Weiss (Entourage) and Johnson’s manager Dany Garcia, who runs his production company. Hiram Garcia is co-executive producing, while Levinson’s father, Dave Levinson, and Leverage’s Bret Slater and Peter Sussman will serve as producers alongside Karyn McKarthy (House of Cards). At HBO, Wahlberg and Levinson also produce drama series Boardwalk Empire as well as the upcoming Entourage movie based on the HBO series. They also have breakout reality hit Wahlburgers on A&E Network.