Reel worlds collide

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – There were two special guests at the Bassmasters Elite Series Diamond Drive:  One was Grayson Russell, the hilarious little redhead who played Will Ferrell’s son, “Texas Ranger,” in “Talladega Nights:  The Legend of Ricky Bobby.” 

It was Russell who shouted the infamous line, “I’m gonna come at you like a spider monkey … I’m all jacked up on Mountain Dew.”

The other special guest was Emmy-nominated actor Judge Reinhold, from films such as “Beverly Hills Cop” (1,2,3), and Disney’s box office hit “The Santa Clause” (1,2,3). 

Judge just finished directing Grayson in comic spots for B.A.S.S. that will premiere on, called World of Wyatt.

Judge and his wife Amy, (a native Arkansan) are producing “The King and Me” – a family comedy set in the world of bass tournament fishing.  The story centers on an estranged father and son who reunite to confront romance, each other, and the invasion of a fame-obsessed life-long fishing rival.

“The King and Me” was written by Mike Clossin and Shane Mallory, two comedy writers and recreational fishermen from Austin, Texas.

Grayson Russell plays Wyatt, the 13-year-old narrator of the story who happens to be a pathological liar.

“The idea of an unreliable narrator is reminiscent of Mark Twain, and Grayson does it hilariously,” Reinhold said.  “It’s my prediction he’ll walk away with the movie.”

“Wyatt is a big talker and a big thinker, really spontaneous and really random,” Russell said. “He’s definitely an outdoors man. That’s outdoors man, not outdoorsman. He kind of mixes up the truth and fiction because he’s heard so much of both all his life.

“He’s such a great character. He’s kind of like me in a way. And he’s different from all the other parts that I’ve played before.”

It only takes a few minutes of conversation with Russell to realize he’s got charisma to spare. If a 13-year-old kid can carry a movie, it’s Grayson Russell, with his mop of red hair and Alabama drawl.

Reinhold is working with Little Rock’s Jerry and Mike McKinnis and their JM Associates crew, which produce the Bassmaster Elite Series shows.

Said Jerry McKinnis, “There have been several groups who have approached me in the past few years about producing a movie about professional bass fishing, but there’s never been anyone with a good script. ‘The King and Me’ is a great story that is very authentic to the sport.  It’s something that my group at JM, and the sport of bass fishing can really be proud of because it’s a family comedy and promotes the spirit of the sport.”

McKinnis’s endorsement of the screenplay has attracted champion bass anglers Kevin VanDam, Ish Monroe, Morizu Shimizo, and Alton Jones as well as Bassmasters Elite Series TV hosts Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders, all of whom play cameos as themselves in the film.

Reinhold also has a role as an accident-prone angler named “Harlan Campbell,” a once highly regarded pro who has been cursed by a long run of bad luck.

“Something bad happens to him in every tournament,” Reinhold said “He’s struggling to get back on the leaderboard.”

McKinnis will be playing the tournament circuit’s director and emcee, “Trout Dixon.”

Grayson is filmed behind stage at the Diamond Drive in Little Rock.

Grayson enjoys fishing and comes by it naturally.  As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for fishing, he would not be where he today in his young acting career. 

His father, Jerry Russell, was off on a bass fishing trip the day Grayson and his mother, Crystal, were bored and got the idea to go to the “open call” audition for “Talladega Nights.”

“I had a great day on the lake,” Jerry recalled.

It might not seem such a good idea to expose your then 6-year-old son to the likes of “Talladega Nights” stars Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Sacha Baron Cohen.

“I was apprehensive about introducing him into that environment, but we couldn’t have been more pleased,” Crystal said. “That’s why we stuck with it. They were just absolutely wonderful people to work with.” 

When Crystal was told her son seemed uncommonly mature for someone his age, she smiled knowingly and said, “He’s an old soul trapped in that little body.”

Since “Talladega Nights, Grayson has had roles in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,” and is the voice of Marley the dog in the video “Marley & Me: The Puppy Years.” Grayson was up for the role of the young boy in “The Blind Side” and they were all disappointed when he didn’t get it. 

Crystal said, “Of all the scripts I’ve read for Grayson, there’s only been two I knew would be hits - one was ‘The Blind Side’ and the other is ‘The King and Me.’”

“I’ve come a long way from (“Talladega Nights”),” Russell said. “I’m actually getting to the point where I can go from this accent you’re hearing now (heavy southern drawl) to the accent your hearing now (without the drawl).”

Grayson’s natural Alabama accent will have a chance to shine in “The King and Me.” The Bassmaster Elite Series lineup features a heavy dose of the Deep South, and the film will feature actors interacting with pro anglers and fans within real-life tournaments.

“The projects we're producing were created for the mainstream audience as pure entertainment and reflect what we want to see ourselves,” Reinhold said. “There are many elements in the stories that reflect where we live and grew up in the South — which is definitely not New York and L.A. There is a vast, underserved market that seems to be continually overlooked by New York and Los Angeles. They call us ‘the flyover states.’ Well, that's a lot of country to fly over.”

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