SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell didn’t know who Steven Soderbergh was.
At least, he didn’t realize he knew who he was.
That quickly changed once Mitchell began looking through the Academy Award-winning director’s catalog. He saw films like “Ocean’s 11,” “Traffic” and “Magic Mike."
“I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that, seen that, seen that,’” Mitchell said.
There was a reason Mitchell was browsing through his movies: The Jazz star had been asked to be in one of them.
On Friday, Soderbergh’s newest movie, “High Flying Bird,” will be released on Netflix. The film — which premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City on Jan. 27 — is about a fictionalized NBA lockout. It's a sports-meets-heist movie that centers around a sports agent as he tries to end the holdout — and change the game forever.
But don’t expect more of Mitchell’s cat-loving acting chops to be in the film. For the movie, Mitchell just did what he does after every game and most practices — answer questions. During a time that Mitchell was in New York City, he went to Soderbergh’s office and had an on-camera interview filmed for the movie.
“For me, it’s a blessing to be able to be in — it’s not like I’m the lead actor or anything — it’s really cool to be in a Steven Soderbergh movie,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s going to be special. Myself being a sports fanatic and not just basketball, but as an athlete overall. The behind-the-scenes stuff, I think it gives you a good look of everything.”
It's a sports movie without really any sports. It takes place in offices, in backs of cars, in restaurants. It tackles issues like race, sports ownership and ultimately asks: why are things structured the way they are.
As of now, Mitchell can only say what he thinks “High Flying Bird” will be — because he hasn’t actually seen it yet. He was a little busy at his day job on the night of its premiere – Utah beat the Timberwolves 125-111 in Minnesota that night.
“I have seen a bunch of pieces, but I haven’t seen it all together,” Mitchell said.
Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns also had an interview filmed for the movie. And the player’s perspectives help connect what happens in real life to the fictional story being told on screen.
The players discuss what's it like to be an NBA player in this age — dealing with not just expectations on the court, but also having your entire life tracked and reported on.
Soderbergh even told ESPN.com there could be a whole other short film made solely based on the unused footage from those interviews.
“What was clear from talking to them was: You can literally be the most talented player on the planet, but if you don't bust your a--, you're not going to make it,” he said. “And people won't want to play with you. There's just zero tolerance now for what you and I might call head cases.
"They're like, ‘There are too many good people out there fighting for these jobs.’ If you turn out to be somebody who can't get their (expletive) together, you're just gone.”