ST. LOUIS — Getting the call to play Kurt Warner, the central figure in a Cinderella sports story for the ages, in a movie can be as tall of a task as taking over for an injured starting quarterback at the beginning of the regular season. But if you asked Warner, the NFL quarterback and subject of the new movie "American Underdog," his story is already linked with Levi.
"When I got a chance to watch him on set, there wasn't a whole lot for me to do," Warner told me during the St. Louis International Film Festival last month. "He did a great job of capturing who I am, and I think that's because of who he is as a person."
This is not just any sports movie. When Warner led the St. Louis Rams in 1999 to a Super Bowl win, the city fell in love with the team just like Warner fell quickly in love with his wife, Brenda. Their romance formed the backbone of the film, directed by the Erwin Brothers, showcasing the early years in their relationship: the harsher ones.
But it was here where Levi shined brightest, anchoring dramatic moments in the Warners' lives with Anna Paquin, who plays Brenda. According to her, the New Zealand actress nailed the part of the operation.
"When they hired her, we started Facetiming, due to the pandemic, for hours. She wanted to know why I believe what I believe. She wanted to do the work, and she cared about it. She is proud of her work, and I am proud of her."
Kurt was glad to be a mere observer on set, and not have to rescue another operation as he did 22 years ago. Levi made that part easy.
"I didn't have to go over this or that with him that much," Warner said of the experience of seeing his athletic career play out again in front of him. "I didn't have many complaints. He did everything I asked him to do."
The fact that the actor was around Warner's height and build was a fine start. While Tom Cruise can do his own stunts, he can't grow a few inches and play someone like Warner on screen. Levi, who already had extra muscle on his frame due to training for the "Shazam!" sequel, looked the part.
If you ask me, that's the most important aspect of this particular role. Every actor needs a stunt double or someone to do an extracurricular activity that is outside the insurance's bounds, but they have to look the part for the audience to buy it. When the camera gets in close, Levi leaves little doubt towards the notion that he didn't belong on this field.
"American Underdog" wasn't a quick endeavor, overcoming Hollywood's normal obstacles and preliminary delays to get the film shot and finished. According to Warner, the film has been in the making for a decade. When it came to putting their lives out there for the world to see, the process became easier with time. But it wasn't Kurt's story that was the more difficult one to showcase.
"It was more difficult for her than me, because my journey was mostly the football part of it," he said. "It brought back a lot of crazy emotions for her, seeing it on the big screen. The football side of it, you want to get right. But I can't imagine when you talk about life stuff, like your parents' death and your son being injured. I wanted to make sure that was true to form. It's so connected and personal."
Brenda's response: "I am shocked it was a PG." What followed was a lovely bickering session between the couple, who have traveled the world and the seven seas of hardship, tragedy, and triumph. What you see with them is what you get.
That's how "American Underdog" feels for the audience, thanks to the actors.