L-R: the real Pat Riley and right, Adrien Brody as Riley, pre-tranformation I Getty Imges; HBO.

LAST WEEK’S EPISODE of Winning Time: Season 2 saw a remarkable, if long-anticipated, very foreshadowed piece of character development finally come to fruition. Adrien Brody threw off the shackles of scruffy earnestness that had characterised his portrayal of LA Lakers’ coaching assistant, Pat ‘Riles’ Riley, to become the team’s head coach: Pat ‘motherfuckin’ Riley, aka the wolf of ball street.

Okay, I’m mixing my ’80s era corporate vampires up a little here, but the fact is the fully formed, slick-haired, Armani-clad Riley bore more than a passing resemblance to Gordon Gekko from the 1987 film Wall Street. He, in turn, bears similarities in terms of competitive drive and appetite for obscene wealth that recall The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort, as portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, in the seminal 2014 Scorsese satire of the same name. So, the wolf of ball street.

In season one of Winning Time, which charts the rise of the 1980s showtime Lakers, Riley was a moustachioed hippy with a bird’s nest of hair, a portrayal that came as a shock to those of us who’d only ever known the fully-formed version of Riley—one, who these days is the whitehaired but still slick president of basketball operations for the Miami Heat, and generally regarded as one of the NBA’s shrewdest, most cutthroat of operators. A shark in a well-cut suit.

Going into season two of the show, one of the more intriguing plot points was just how Brody was going to pull off such marked transformation. Well, in episode five of the series we found out. First, Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly), replaces incumbent head coach Paul Westhead (a superb Jason Segel) with the coaching committee of Riley and Jerry West (Aussie Jason Clarke in an overblown but thoroughly entertaining performance). Riley now has the title of head coach, but the players still treat him as the same assistant coach they’ve become accustomed to goofing around with. As Riley tells his wife Chris (Gillian Jacobs): “They like me, but they don’t respect me. For the first time in my life, I look in the mirror, and I wish I was my father—someone they would fear.”

What follows is one of the best scenes of the season, as Riley runs some water through his hair, hinting at his future as a Brylcreemed badass, and proceeds to blow his top, punching a hole in a locker room blackboard and refusing ice for his bloody hand. He then begins tearing his players new ones as ‘the wolf of ball street’ is born.

“I was chomping at the bit. It was a lot of pressure on me personally because, as I said, in taking the role, I feel a responsibility to honour Pat Riley,” Brody told Men’s Health of the long-brewing transformation from wimp to wolf. “He’s someone I do hold in very high regard. I wanted to meet that challenge already. I didn’t want it to be looming over me all this time.”

With the ‘real’ Riley now unleashed, it’s going to be interesting to see where the series goes next—if it gets a third season. Season 2 is due to conclude this Sunday with the clash between the Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics in the 1984 play-offs, a battle foreshadowed in a flash forward scene at the beginning of this season. In the scene, the Lakers are being run out of Boston on a bus after a win at the Boston Garden. Riley, who by this point is now in full anti-Ted Lasso mode, jumps on the bus and yells at his team, “We want their fucking hearts”. If that’s anything to go by, we can expect Brody to be in full scenery-chewing mode from here on out.

Of course, Brody isn’t the first star to mutate onscreen in the prestige TV era. Here’s a look at some of TV’s finest character transformations.

Best TV transformations


Steve Harrington – Stranger Things

In season one of the ’80 era Goonies-meets-Twilight Zone mash-up, the stunningly hirsute Steve (Joe Keery) is a jockish douche, who’s dating Nancy Wheeler. But our man reveals himself to contain multitudes and after getting his ass handed to him by Will Byers’ emo-leaning older brother, Jonathan, begins to sand down the edges of his jerky persona. By season 2 he’s become part of the crew, comfortably occupying the role of cool older brother figure to uber-geek, Dustin Henderson, while kicking Demogorgon arse.


Peggy Olson – Mad Men

Peggy, played by Elizabeth Olson, starts off as a secretary at 1960s ad agency Sterling Cooper. Over the course of seven seasons she rises through the ranks to become a copywriter, and then a creative director. In an inspiring allegory for the rise of women in the workplace, Peggy’s confidence steadily grows as she fully embraces her ambition in a male-dominated workplace.


Sansa Stark – Game of Thrones

Initially portrayed as a naive, spoiled princess, the transformation of Sansa, (Sophie Turner), is induced by trauma as she endures the realities of war, betrayal, and abuse. A study in resilience, adaptability, and tactical nous, by the end of the series she’s become a full-scale girl boss.


Saul Goodman – Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul

This transformation was so seismic a whole spin-off series was required to fully capture it. The Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad is a wolfish conman played for laughs by Bob Odenkirk. By the end of Better Call Saul we’ve witnessed how the death of his brother and bloody skirmishes with ‘The Cartel’ have deadened his soul, though, in the final season’s time jump we witness ‘Jimmy McGill’, as Saul was originally known, metamorphosise yet again, ultimately redeemed, (if locked away for life) by the love of his life, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn).


Don Draper – Mad Men

The poster boy for troubled men, Draper, played by Jon Hamm, starts out as Stirling Cooper’s suave, seemingly self-assured creative director. As the series wears on Draper begins to confront his shadowy past and in doing so, becomes a more self-aware, emotionally available man. In the series’ final scene, Draper’s shown barefoot and meditating, hinting that he’s finally at peace with himself, though it’s left open as to whether he may have returned to advertising in the form of a Coca-Cola commercial.


Walter White – Breaking Bad

How a high-school chemistry teacher became a meth manufacturer and drug kingpin is the transformation against which all others are measured. Indeed, creator Vince Gilligan said from the outset the mission was to show how ‘Mr Chips becomes Scarface’. White, played by Bryan Cranston, starts out as mild-mannered and sympathetic, struggling to provide for his family after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis. By the end of the series he’s become a ruthless megalomaniac consumed by ego and greed.


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