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'Champions' star Kaitlin Olson: Happy lives are made of little wins

Woody Harrelson (L) and Kaitlin Olson arrive on the red carpet for the premiere of "Champions" at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on February 27, 2023. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, March 10 (UPI) -- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Hacks actress Kaitlin Olson says she hopes her new sports comedy, Champions, shows how success can be redefined and joy found in unexpected places.

Directed by Bobby Farrelly and in theaters Friday, the film stars White Men Can't Jump and Triangle of Sadness actor Woody Harrelson as Marcus, a hot-tempered minor league basketball coach who, after a drunk-driving arrest, is court-ordered to manage a team of young-adult players with intellectual disabilities.

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Olson plays Alex, a Shakespearean actress who devotes her life to her brother, Johnny (Kevin Iannucci,) one of the players, even though he is ready to be more independent.

"I love that, in this movie, the Friends team are underdogs, but also Marcus is an underdog," the actress told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

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Alex and the players challenge Marcus' idea of success and "his blindness to what's really going on in front of him," Olson said, referring to how the teammates hone their skills in the game while also working together as a team and facing their individual fears.

"I love that Alex and the Friends are the ones who help Marcus understand. Who knows if they win in the end or not? Ultimately, it doesn't matter. There are tiny wins along the way," she added. "Little wins are what make up a happy life."

Olson described Alex as independent, but also "fiercely loving and loyal."

"I love how well-rounded she is and I love that it is different from anything I've done on camera in a while," she said.

The Champions cast and filmmakers avoided tropes that could turn a well-intentioned story into one that feels inauthentic or overly sentimental.

"You could easily screw up comedy and vulnerability, and this script was really written so beautifully. I thought it was legitimately funny. I thought the character was legitimately funny," Olson said.

"It doesn't hammer 'heart' down your throat. It just happens to be a really beautiful, lovely, feel-good movie."

Scenes in which Marcus and the team pile into Alex's van to go to away games were among Olson's favorites to shoot.

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"Those were fun because we were all together. We were all in one space," she said. "Those co-stars were so fun and so silly, and they had strong opinions about their characters."

Trapped in "freezing-cold Winnipeg," Olson said the cast members developed an affection and respect for each other that extended past when the cameras stopped rolling.

"Madison Tevlin, who plays Constantino, she had a birthday. Her mom threw her a big party and we all went. It was a huge dance party and we had so much fun. We had meals together. We went out together," the actress said.

Olson called Harrelson "a wonderful scene partner."

"We did some tricky scenes together," she said. "It was nice to have him on the other end giving me back all of those feelings that I really needed to feel in order to perform."

Olson and Iannucci met before filming began to get to know each other before playing brother and sister.

"We clicked instantly. Because I have more camera experience than him, I felt very protective of him," she said.

"He was nervous. This was his first big movie and this is a big role. He just did such a wonderful job and he worked so hard. He came to set with his lines memorized and ready to work. They were long hours in the cold. I was really proud of all of them. They came to play and they delivered."

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Comedy legend Cheech Marin appears in the supporting role of Julio, manager of the recreation center at which the Friends team practices.

As the team advances to the finals, Alex and Julio spend considerable time in the bleachers cheering them on.

"I saw a lot of his camera roll on his phone and heard a lot of stories. They were all fantastic," Olson said of Marin, laughing. "We had a lot of time in the stands with the cameras not on us, and those were really fun days."

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