In 1972, Hall of Fame basketball coach Cathy Rush did the seemingly impossible when she led the tiny Catholic women’s college Immaculata to the inaugural national basketball championship.
“The Mighty Macs,” a Tim Chambers-directed film opening October 21, chronicles Rush’s amazing journey from a housewife who bucked social norms to the leader of the nation’s first Cinderella team. Actress Carla Gugino (“Watchmen,” “Spy Kids”) stars as Rush, while David Boreanaz (“Angel,” “Bones”) plays Rush’s ex-husband, former NBA referee Ed Rush. For both actors, meeting the real-life people behind their characters was a surreal experience.
“At Immaculata was the first time that we met,” Gugino said, recalling her meeting with Rush. “We sat on a picnic bench and chatted about everything. It was kind of amazing to have that experience where it all happened.”
“I met Ed my freshman year in high school, not knowing I would ever portray him in a film,” Boreanaz, a Philadelphia native, said. “I went to basketball games that he was refing. I got on the floor and – this was when the Sixers were a team and a great squad – and I liked to hang out and see Dr. J, Bobby Jones, Mo Cheeks, Darryl Dawkins.”
Boreanaz said growing up in Philadelphia, which is about 30 minutes east of Immaculata University, helped him with his role in “Mighty Macs.”
“When you get into Philly, you kind of have a little bit of a Philly swagger,” he said. “You just get into the mood of it and when you do the work behind your character and you understand where he’s coming from and then you put on the outfit and then you put on the hair and you start to transform, you get that swagger. So understanding Philadelphia and being on the soil while shooting it, it was a big help.”
Both stars confessed excitement about being in a “sports movie,” as neither of them had prior. “The Mighty Macs” leans towards the traditional underdog-wins-it-all formula, but sets itself apart from similar films with a refreshingly fast pace, relatable characters and acute attention to details as it relates to the game of basketball and the coaching experience.
“When a sports movie works, there’s nothing like it,” Gugino said. “There’s no, sort of, gray area. It’s black and white, it’s win or lose. The stakes are so high. What I think is so amazing about sports and athletes and why we are so compelled by them … it has all of those elements that make great drama, that you get goosebumps, you are on for a ride and really invest in these people who’ve worked so hard.
She continued, “It takes extreme talent to succeed in sports. It can’t be a fluke. And so there’s something really rewarding about seeing characters who have worked that hard actually get their dues.”
The real-life Cathy Rush, now 64, says seeing her story on the big-screen was an unusual thrill.
“It was really pretty weird,” Rush confessed. “The first line in the movie is Carla walking in and mother superior says, ‘Catherine Rush.’ My stomach dropped. I almost couldn’t pay attention for a while because it was disconcerting, it was real, it was surreal.”
“It took me a while to watch it as a film and not watch it as me,” she added. “But the Immaculata story is a dream come true.”
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.