MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — Autism hasn’t stopped a Raleigh man from pursuing his dream of being on the big screen.
Alex Hannah, 25, is making his acting debut in Woody Harrelson’s new movie “Champions,” set to hit theaters this week.
“I’m super excited. Totally looking forward to that,” said Alex.
The film follows a disgraced former minor-league basketball coach who is ordered by a judge to coach a Special Olympics team.
Alex, who is the ambassador for Special Olympics Greater Memphis and a Special Olympics athlete, gets to show off his basketball skills on screen and even has a speaking role.
“I’m just very excited for him that he got this opportunity to kind of show people what he can do because of his disability,” said his mother, Wendy Smith. ” It’s not that I didn’t think he could do it, but everything just happened all of the sudden.”
“Champions” is directed by one of the Farrelly brothers (Bobby) and also stars Kaitlin Olson, Cheech Marin, and Ernie Hudson. The cast also includes a number of actors with intellectual disabilities.
Alex spent several days in Winnipeg, Canada, in 2021 shooting his scenes. He got his own trailer on set and got to experience some star treatment in the hair and makeup chair.
“It’s hard work because, during the shooting, they had me playing basketball a lot,” Alex said.
Alex said he was grateful for the experience and can’t wait to watch the movie with an audience. He said he also enjoyed working with a big star like Harrelson.
“He’s a nice guy. I introduced myself to him,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of Woody Harrelson.”
Smith said her son, who was once painfully shy and wouldn’t talk, now likes to be front and center. She’s amazed by what he has accomplished and said that’s the powerful message of this movie.
“Each athlete in the movie has a different story,” said Smith. “A lot of people think when they see a person with intellectual disabilities that they don’t do much, but they actually have lives, and they can actually do more than you would ever expect that they can do.”
“Champions” began playing at the Hollywood 20 Cinema on Stage Road in Bartlett on Thursday.