Adaptive tennis athlete Kevin Iannucci stars in new movie with Woody Harrelson
Whether Kevin Iannucci is on the tennis courts in Raleigh, N.C., or on Hollywood’s big screen, he strives to be a champion.
Iannucci, an adaptive tennis athlete, is one of 10 actors with intellectual disabilities appearing in a new heartwarming movie, "Champions," which hit theaters on March 10. Directed by Bobby Farrelly ("Dumb and Dumber"), the film stars Academy Award-nominee Woody Harrelson as a former minor-league basketball coach whose life is changed for the better after he is court-ordered to manage a team of basketball players with intellectual disabilities.
Iannucci plays the role of Johnny, a very friendly and affectionate young man who, like Iannucci himself, has Down’s syndrome.
“I’ve been told I’m a natural born actor,” Iannucci says, with a big laugh. “I don’t know about that, but I started when I was little and liked it so much that I just kept doing it.”
Iannucci eventually fell into a theater group and did some stage plays. “The first one we did, I said to the teacher, ‘I could be on the big screen someday!’” he says. “Now, I have accomplished that goal, and I’m so excited.”
Last fall, Iannucci and his mother Anne spent nearly three months in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for filming.
“The hardest part was probably the long days,” Anne Iannucci said. “His longest day on set was 15-and-a-half hours.”
Another challenge involved Iannucci’s lines. While he memorizes lines easily, he says the trick is being on queue to say them. He always comes to set knowing what he is supposed to say, and then waits for the director to tell him when and how to say his lines.
Portraying a basketball player was easy for Ianucci, who plays many Special Olympics sports. An avid tennis player, Iannucci takes year-round tennis clinics with Abilities Tennis Association of North Carolina (ATANC), and credits his Abilities Tennis coaches for helping him improve his game. But, his coaches claim it is Iannucci’s effort.
Allan Goldberg, who has worked with Iannucci for eight years, says: “The most important thing about Kevin that has helped his game is that he is really enthusiastic. He tries very hard and gives everything his best effort, and he does it with a smile. He’s funny, full of life, and his enthusiasm is infectious.”
Goldberg suggests that all USTA captains should watch Abilities Tennis athletes play the game. “They’d see the joy that our athletes get out of playing," he says. "That’s what tennis is about, and Kevin is a poster child for joy on the court.”
On the court or on the screen, Iannucci is an inspiration, and viewers are sure to find joy at the movies by seeing "Champions."