Former NBA player turned filmmaker Baron Davis explains the characters he created for his hilarious new comedy Domino: Battle Of The Bones were derived from people he grew up around in his South Central LA neighborhood. As a first-time co-writer/director, he also took inspiration from seminal urban comedies including F. Gary Gray’s Friday, the Wayans brothers’-penned Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood, and perhaps a surprising influence: Christopher Guest comedies.
A two-time NBA All-Star, whose career spanned over a decade in which he played for the Charlotte and New Orleans Hornets, the Golden State Warriors, the LA Clippers and other teams before injuries forced him into retirement. Davis pivoted into broadcasting and also becoming an entrepreneur and investor, co-founding a gaming company, creating the Black Santa Company, establishing a production company and acting. The comedy takes audiences on a comedic dive into the world of competitive dominoes. It also marks Davis’ feature debut as a co-writer/director.
Davis spoke via Zoom about making his film about a pastime he enjoys almost as much as basketball, describing it as “a recipe for human connection and human communication.” He grew up playing dominoes with his friends and recalls frequently unwinding with his basketball teammates after a match.
Domino: Battle Of The Bones follows a cranky competitive domino player from Compton who reluctantly agrees to babysit his white, nerdy step-grandson, Andy, when his son and new wife head off to Mexico on their honeymoon. When he discovers the boy is a savant at the game, the two put aside their differences and team up to compete in an event dubbed the “World Domino Championship,” where they go head-to-head with other heavy hitters and big talkers. Think of Domino as an urban comedy version of The Queen’s Gambit.
The diverse ensemble cast includes Snoop Dogg, David Arquette, Lou Beatty Jr., Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr., Tasie Lawrence, Megan Sousa, Nathan Dana, Godfrey, and Davis himself, who plays an edgy pastor who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
TriCoast Entertainment’s Domino: Battle Of The Bones opens in theaters Friday June 11.
Angela Dawson: What was the inspiration for this film?
Baron Davis: It came from characters and people I watched as a kid growing up. Some of the inspiration came from YouTube characters, social media characters that some of our cast played. Dominoes are really a part of my life. I’d play it with my teammates after a game. It was just something we could do to wind down and just casually have conversations while we played. It was communal at the same time. I really wanted to bring that energy into it— the ‘hood, the film, the origin—and have some fun. We’ve all been locked up in our homes for a long time and it would be good to get out and experience something like this and have a good laugh.
Dawson: Were their films from your youth inspired this?
Davis: Friday and Don’t Be A Menace To South Central …, all Eddie Murphy movies, and I’d also say Christopher Guest. I’m a huge fan of his. The origin of this movie—the first iteration of this movie—was written like a Christopher Guest movie.
Dawson: Was their room for improv?
Davis: Yeah, the script was used as guardrails or guidelines. On the second take or third take, I let the actor gets into their element, and then if we had time and got to the fifth or sixth take, we’d just start to throw out all kinds of funny things. It became more collaborative energy. As a crew, as a cast member, as writer/director, things start moving along a lot faster, especially when the actor knows they can have a lot of input with four or five takes.
Dawson: There are some far-out characters in this film that could warrant their own spinoff, such as Tenspeed (played by Anthony “Scruncho” McKinley). Yet mixed in with all this hilarity, you have a lot of heart too with the relationships between the grandfather and step-grandson and the girl who wants to play dominoes against her sexist father and cousin’s wishes.
Davis: Yeah, the goal was always to make it relatable. Things that we deal with in the ‘hood, conversations that are had and not had. I wanted it to be funny but I also wanted to tell a story. I wanted to show these people who are real and bring (the audience) as close to their perspective as possible, like Andy and his granddad, and the journey they go on from not knowing each other to becoming teammates. Each learns something from the other.
And you start looking at the relationship that Camila (Valeria Vallejos) has with her father, and it’s really about a young woman wanting to be who she is. She doesn’t want anyone to define her, she wants them to let her be who she wants to be. Her father looks at it from an old-school perspective. He’s wondering why she wants to muddy up the waters and defy tradition. We wanted to bring some heart to it mixed with the comedy. I love that this film has heart and completes the story.
Dawson: You’re also in the film, playing Pastor Steele, who’s a bit unconventional for a man of the cloth.
Davis: All the great comedians have played pastors. So, for me, it was about going back and watching those performances and thinking, “How can I be different?” Nobody has seen a pastor who can backslide, but lower. The trick was find the right spot of him being on the edge of graduating out.
Dawson: Talk about the creation of Tenspeed. He’s a mix of various flashy pop culture figures like Jimmy Walker and Jimi Hendrix.
Davis: He is definitely based on someone I knew as a kid who lived in my neighborhood.
Dawson: With the roller skates and entourage?
Davis: Everything. That’s my rendition of what I saw as a kid. He was important and that was part of the bubble he lived in.
Dawson: You’ve done a lot of film and TV producing. How was it making the leap to directing?
Davis: As a producer, you have a certain way of seeing things because you’re working on multiple projects at the same time. I was under the assumption I’d never direct because I didn’t go to film school. I had directed a documentary but who would trust me to direct a feature film? I have to give a shout out to (executive producer) Lori Tanner because she came to me and said she wanted me and she wanted to fund my first movie. At that point, I decided that was what I wanted to do. I want to make movies and TV shows and documentaries. I want to keep going and going because there are so many incredible stories that can be told to so many different audiences. As a director, I get to work with people and be a collaborator, and really create with highly creative people.
Dawson: Was there something you learned in your NBA career or your various business enterprises that helped you as a director?
Davis: From basketball, it’s about understanding people’s superpowers. I learned from my coaches that you never put anyone on your team in a position to fail. You push their strengths and hide their weaknesses. With that, you build a team. Same thing as an entrepreneur. It’s about learning to collaborate. Learning that the best answer is the best answer. The best idea is the best idea no matter who it comes from. And you really need to be keen on executing and that the end product is something everyone on the team feels a part of.
Dawson: Domino: Battle Of The Bones is opening exclusively in theaters where audiences can enjoy the experience together because you can’t watch a comedy like this at home alone, right?