You Just Can’t Keep a Good Man Down
Written By: Nikki Brown
Photographed By: Jared Schlachet and Joe Magnani Donovan Carter
We all have childhood dreams. We fantasize about growing up to be pro athletes and firemen, astronauts and spies, musicians and movie stars. Donovan Carter dreamed of playing football for the NFL, and he nearly achieved his goal. A celebrated college career playing for the UCLA Bruins led him to try out for the Oakland Raiders, but he didn’t make the final cut.
Carter’s childhood aspiration could have ended there, but an open mind led him to consider other possibilities. The former football star is now living his dream, but rather than playing football for the NFL, he acts the part of NFL player, Vernon Littlefield, on the HBO show “Ballers.”
Carter stars alongside mega-celebrity Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in what is now the third season of the show. “Ballers” offers a behind the scenes view into the private lives of NFL players and those who support them.
Johnson plays the role of Carter’s financial manager. It’s common to hear about pro athletes who make millions only to go broke a few years after retirement, and the show sheds a much-needed light on this real-world struggle.
Carter thinks there are some key lessons that people of all walks of life can learn from the show when it comes to money management and just being a good person. Speaking of his character, Carter said, “You got a lot of people in [Vernon’s] ear telling him what to do,” later adding, “Sometimes you have to learn from your mistakes.” Carter hopes younger players can learn a few tips on how to manage their finances and set themselves up for rewarding lives. “I’m learning from Vernon’s mistakes right now in my real life,” he said.
In the show, Carter’s character, Vernon, figures out that he needs to heed the advice of those who care about him and ultimately make decisions that are best for his career. Indeed, in real-life, Carter wouldn’t be where he is if he hadn’t listened to advice and made his own decisions along the way. When Carter didn’t make the Oakland Raiders during the tryout weekend, his dreams were crushed. Not knowing what to do next, Carter spoke to his UCLA defensive line coach, Angus McClure. McClure put Carter in touch with a former UCLA quarterback, actor Mark Harmon. Carter hadn’t acted since a role in an elementary school play of To Kill a Mockingbird, but, inspired by Harmon, he decided to take a risk and give acting a try.
Carter’s open mind paid off. After successfully landing a few commercial gigs, he had the opportunity to audition for “Ballers.” Three months of nail biting and uncertainty passed, and Carter received word that he had landed the role of a lifetime. “[There’s been] ups and downs like everybody,” said Carter, but “I just appreciate the moment [and] enjoy every day.”
After three seasons on “Ballers,” Carter has grown as an actor and as a person. On the first season he said he wanted to do everything right, but now he likes to mix it up with different choices. “You have to put yourself out there,” he said. “It’s up to you to be risky enough to try something.” Just like his days playing football with the Bruins, Carter mastered the art of listening to the director, showrunner and fellow cast, but most importantly, he learned to trust his own instincts. Gaining an understanding of how to take good advice and stay true to himself has served Carter well in football, acting and in life.
Carter compared the collaborative atmosphere of “Ballers” to being on a great football team. Describing what it’s like to be on set, he said, “There’s no ego. There’s no animosity. Everybody genuinely loves each other.” Carter has previously spoken about the positive influence of working with Johnson. When he first started on the show, he felt a mix of nerves and excitement, and Johnson reassured Carter that everyone believed in him and told him to just keep doing what he was doing.
Carter hopes “Ballers” will go for a fourth season, but beyond the HBO comedy he wants to continue to grow as an actor and expand his range. “I want to try different things,” said Carter about his future. Always willing to put himself out there, if the role is a good fit, Carter is all in. “My goal every year is to always be better,” he said. He also hopes that his story will inspire others to take risks and believe in themselves. “Go for your dreams,” he said, “whatever gives you the butterflies.”
Game Night: When he’s not acting, Carter loves to play dominoes with his buddies from UCLA.
Big Fan: Carter’s favorite NFL player right now is Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers.
Chill Time: An LA local, Carter’s favorite spot to hang is the SoHo House in West Hollywood.
Donovan Carter of HBO’s “Ballers” Cannot Be Stopped