"Being from Spain, I knew his movies, but I was never a fan," Hernández tells EW. When he met the Uncut Gems star, it was love at first sight. "We got along so well and loved each other so much," says the 26-year-old Utah Jazz player. "I looked up to him because he loved me like I was his older son. We were good friends. Right away, he helped me."
Their backgrounds are as different as their heights (Hernández is 6'9"), but the fact that they both love soccer brought them together. His co-star, Hernán Gómez said, "He loves basketball so much. Every game, he sends a text. We have a great relationship. We spent a lot of time together, so we became close."
Hernández's performance as Bo Cruz, a talented amateur ball player with a chip on his shoulder, is strong and empathetic. Stanley Sugerman, a scout for the NBA played by Adam Sandler, gives Bo a once-in-a-lifetime chance to try out for the big leagues.
"I don't know how that happened," said Hernándómez. "They asked my agent, and I said no for 5 or 6 months because it wasn't my goal and I'm so focused on the NBA," he says. "I told my agency, 'I won't waste my time on something I don't like.'"
As the summer off-season went on, his sister Andrea, who plays basketball at Fairfield University, put on the pressure. He says, "My brother and I were bored all summer at his house. We didn't have anything else to do, so my sister pushed us to do something different and do the casting."
They sent audition videos to producers before they knew what they wanted. "The audition video was crazy because I have no idea what they want, but they liked it and gave me a part."
Hernández says of his acting coach, "She taught me how to act in two months." He also got help from Sandler. He told Hernández to be himself. "Have fun every day. Just be yourself. Don't worry, you can try again and again."
Even when Sandler wasn't teaching, Hernangómez would watch and listen. "It's inspiring to see how hard he works every day," he says. "How he gets into character, how he can yell, cry, and act dramatic when needed."
Hernández was shocked by the sad scene in the movie. "One day, he was so dramatic that I almost cried. When the director said ‘Action!’, he changed his face to make it look more dramatic. What in the world? Whoa!"
This sports drama has a lot of sad moments that happen off the court, but it also has a lot of basketball. Even though the moves look smooth on screen, Hernández's biggest challenge as a pro athlete and first-time actor was to choreograph them.
Hernández: "Basketball has always been my game. I love basketball and dream about it, but I'm not used to playing hard for 20 minutes, stopping for 40 minutes, and doing this for 8 to 12 hours. It was hard on both the body and the mind. Making movies is hard."
Friends and coworkers in the NBA backed Hernández. Hustle had a lot of NBA stars from the past and present, like Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Anthony Edwards, who played Bo's trash-talking rival Kermit for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Anthony played with Hernángómez for a year, so it was great to have him. "When we first talked about the movie, I suggested that he play Kermit. He did well and everything worked out. We're happy for him and get along great."
He added, "Everyone there was wonderful. One-on-one; the whole court. Even the OGs liked the movie and did a great job acting in it. I loved spending time with Dr. J. It was a pleasure to talk with him."
Hustle came out to good reviews. Does Hernández think he'll make another movie? He says, "I don't know. I'll never say never, though, because life is crazy."
"I never thought I'd be in a movie two years ago. So goes life. See. If Adam or Jeremiah [Zagar] call, I'll do it because I liked it so much, but I'll keep working on my NBA career, which has been my dream since I was born. Who knows, then?"
Hustle stars Queen Latifah, Ben Foster, and Robert Duvall.