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Arielle Kebbel Interview: HBO "Ballers" Star Talks Onscreen Relationship with Dwayne Johnson

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Image attributed to Ari Michelson

Arielle Kebbel

Arielle Kebbel stars opposite Dwayne Johnson on HBO’s new sports-themed series Ballers. The show premiered on June 21, 2015, and has been described as “Entourage meets Jerry Maguire,” scandalous and a lot of fun. Kebbel is known for her television roles on The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Life Unexpected and Gilmore Girls. She recently appeared on Lifetime’s UnREAL (premiering June 1, 2015), a behind-the-scenes look at the chaos surround the production of a dating competition program, as “villainous” Britney. The busy actress has also recently landed a recurring role on the final season (slated for fall of 2015) of FXX’s comedy The League.

Kebbel’s film appearances on the big screen include The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, I Melt with You, Supporting Characters, John Tucker Must Die, Aquamarine, Forever Strong, Freakdog, Vampires Suck, The Grudge 2, The Uninvited and Think Like a Man.

“As far as Tracy’s relationship with Dwayne’s character, Spencer, they deeply care about each other, but they have a lot to figure out. And they’re both really busy with work. I think, as you can tell through this season, Tracy and Spencer are really good together. They help each other through work circumstances. I think he feels safe with Tracy, and she wants to be there for him. She just knows that Spencer has to help himself through certain situations before she can help him. I think for her, this relationship is a balancing act between when she’s there for him and when she has to let him go through things on his own.”

The first season finale of Ballers will air on HBO on August 23, 2015. Both UnREAL and Ballers have been renewed for a second season.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I see that Ballers is a huge hit!

Arielle Kebbel: Thank you!

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you become involved in the project?

Arielle Kebbel: I have known the producers for a while. I’ve known Steve Levinson actually since I did Entourage. I was on the pilot of Entourage. We’ve kept in touch over the years, then the opportunity came up for this role, and I was very excited about it. I felt like I totally understood that there were a lot of layers to the character of Tracy that weren’t so obvious. I knew I could do so much with her, so I auditioned for the part. I think a couple of months went by.

At one point, we were going to try and do a chemistry read with Dwayne Johnson, and then I was on set and he was on set, and we could never really get together. I was getting offered other jobs and wanted this job, so it was kind of this song and dance for about two months. I remember exactly that I was in the airport switching planes for another job and looked down at my phone. My agents were calling to tell me I had the part. I was so excited! That was how it all came to be.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me more about Tracy.

Arielle Kebbel: Tracy is a sports broadcaster who lives in Miami. She works hard, loves her job and is good at it. Tracy also really cares about the football players in the game, and she prides herself on being the cool “in-the-know” reporter. She’s the type of reporter that will go to a party, hang with the football players and then leave before anything gets crazy so that she builds trust with them, and they know she’s not going to rat them out. She’s not interested in the bad reporting, only the good reporting, and that’s how she builds relationships with these guys.

As far as Tracy’s relationship with Dwayne’s character, Spencer, they deeply care about each other, but they have a lot to figure out. And they’re both really busy with work. I think, as you can tell through this season, Tracy and Spencer are really good together. They help each other through work circumstances. I think he feels safe with Tracy, and she wants to be there for him. She just knows that Spencer has to help himself through certain situations before she can help him. I think for her, this relationship is a balancing act between when she’s there for him and when she has to let him go through things on his own.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What can you say about the season finale?

Arielle Kebbel: A lot will be revealed (laughs). It’s a big one!

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you returning for season two?

Arielle Kebbel: I am, as a regular, not recurring as this season. I’m very excited about it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Where would you like to see the storyline go with Tracy and Spencer next season?

Arielle Kebbel: I think right now they’re kind of in that circular motion where they don’t know how to be with each other, but they can’t be without each other. It’s kind of like, “Are they going to take it to the next step? Is this just what they want? Does this work for them?” They’ve got work as a distraction. What does Spencer want versus what Tracy wants, and how is that going to line up?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tracy seems to be quite the badass.

Arielle Kebbel: Well, thank you. I like to think so!

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you a sports fan?

Arielle Kebbel: I am.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s your favorite football team?

Arielle Kebbel: I always love watching Green Bay and the Broncos. I was at the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. That was so much fun. Those are really my two main teams, but I could sit down and watch any game on a college football Saturday and NFL Sunday.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): For UnREAL, you did not audition for the part of Britney in the beginning?

Arielle Kebbel: I did not. I auditioned for Shiri Appleby’s role as Rachel. First of all, when I read the pilot, I knew it was unique and different, and I was excited to be auditioning for it. Then when I walked in and saw a room full of women, I was thrilled (laughs). I spent a few minutes talking to the creator, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. Just the way that she directed me and shared parts of the show with me let me in to what she was thinking. I walked out of there and called my manager and said, “I have to be a part of this show! I don’t know how it’s going to happen. I don’t think I’m right for the role.”

Without auditioning for Rachel, I knew I wasn’t right for the role, but I knew I had to do a great job because I somehow wanted to be on the show. I left and called my manager and said, “I have to be a part of the show!” God Bless my manager (laughs). She’s always like, “Okay. Here we go.” I said, “No really. I have to be a part of it!” Lo and behold a month later, we got the call for Britney, and I said, “Yes, yes, yes!”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The strong rumor is that, although Britney has been kicked off, she will be returning as a female suitor.

Arielle Kebbel: (laughs) I love strong rumors. Look. Anything is possible, and of course, I’ve expressed to Sarah that I would love to come and stir up trouble in season two. But I really think it depends on the direction they go in for the show. We’ll see soon enough.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand you don’t watch The Bachelor.

Arielle Kebbel: (laughs) Oh man, I’m never going to live that one down!

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Of course not, and my job is to keep asking you about it (laughs).

Arielle Kebbel: I know (laughs). I tried so hard! My girlfriend has these parties, and I swear there’s twenty or so that go over there and watch The Bachelor. They’ve tried on numerous occasions to get me to watch it, even luring me into the den. If nothing else, I can eat all the baked goods they bring while they watch the show.

I just can’t get into it. I just can’t support it. Don’t get me wrong. I have my guilty pleasure shows. I love Naked and Afraid (laughs). I have my guilty pleasure shows that I love, but The Bachelor is just not one of them. I just can’t wrap my head around it. It’s pretty much that simple.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you still have fans of The Vampire Diaries come up to you on the street?

Arielle Kebbel: Yeah. I will forever be grateful for the amount of love the fans have given and continue to give to Lexi. I tell them time and time again that the character died in season one, but their love for Lexi kept her alive for the next five seasons. So I got to have more Lexi time because of everyone else’s love for her. I’m just grateful to see the impact she’s had on The Vampire Diaries fanbase.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your brother recently got married, so are you next?

Arielle Kebbel: Oh, that’s sweet (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I can’t believe how quickly you got the part of Lindsay Forester in Gilmore Girls soon after you arrived in Los Angeles. Were you nervous during that audition?

Arielle Kebbel: Oh, I was incredibly nervous. But you know what? I still get nervous (laughs). That’s why I love my job. I guess the nerves for me now are more like adrenaline, but that shows me that I still care, which I like. Yeah. I moved to LA in two days across the country for the Gilmore Girls audition from Florida, and I had a callback a week later for it.

I was incredibly nervous sitting in the waiting room looking around at all these girls. I thought, “Oh they’ve all done this a million times. I’m the only one that’s just moved here. What am I doing?” I always give Kenny Ortega credit because he was directing the episode, and I did the scene once and felt like I totally blew it. I was about to leave, and Kenny actually stopped me. I think he could tell I was nervous. He told me to take a breath, he gave me some meaningful direction, and I went in and did it again. I felt great about the scene, and I remember thanking him and everyone in the room.

I left, and before I could get home, I got the call that I had the job and went to work the next day. It was a very fast turnaround, and I thank God it was that fast because if it was any slower, I probably would’ve panicked (laughs). But since the turnaround was so fast, I had no choice. I just had to do it and trust that I knew what I was doing and that my work had gotten me the job, so if I kept doing good work that was all that mattered. That’s what I did, and I remember being so nervous and playing it cool on set, pretending that I wasn’t nervous.

I just did my best to watch everything around me and learn. I would watch Lauren Graham and Alexis Biedel’s scenes even if I wasn’t in them when I was on set just to learn to be on set, see what they were doing, see what I could learn and just really use it as really important training grounds for me.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are your plans for the future to continue to balance your time between films and television?

Arielle Kebbel: That sounds great to me (laughs). Yes. Definitely. My heart is in films. I love being able to throw myself into a character, give it my all and then walk away and move on to the next. Film does that for me. There’s amazing writing on television right now, and obviously with my role on Ballers, I’m thrilled to be in business with HBO.

I’m thrilled to be working opposite Dwayne and to keep collaborating on what our relationship is going to be like all through season two. That’s really exciting for me. So yeah, keeping the balance between my TV shows and film sounds like a pretty spectacular life to me (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We’ll keep fingers crossed!

Arielle Kebbel: Thank you!

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