Media Blitz: Metta World Peace on Lifetime

You may have heard that Los Angeles Lakers forward and longtime NBA bad boy Metta World Peace is starring in a made-for-TV movie based on a novel by Nancy Grace for Lifetime.

After hearing such a thing, you’d be forgiven for giggling, rolling your eyes or washing them out with your latte.

But here’s something you don’t yet know and may not believe: Metta is pretty solid in “The Eleventh Victim.”

It’s all about perspective, of course. The mercurial baller is, by trade, an athlete, not a thespian. And the thriller -- about a serial killer’s pursuit of a prosecutor, which airs Saturday -- marks Metta’s feature debut, the result of his dealings with Grace on the set of “Dancing with the Stars.” The smitten TV news personality recruited the acting novice on behalf of her film, a move that might seem perplexing if you haven’t seen the film.

Well, Blitz viewed an advance screener, if you define “viewed” as "stomached the first 15 minutes before fast-forwarding to Metta’s scenes," because, again, we’re talking about a Lifetime movie and I am, in most ways, a man.

The first thought that jumps to mind: The artist formerly known as Ron Artest isn’t coasting in this.

He’s given a sizable role as Garlan Fincher, a police detective and BFF of the film’s prosecutor in distress, played by Jennie Garth of “Beverly Hills 90210” fame.

What’s more, Metta is asked to convey an array of emotions over nearly a dozen scenes. He wickedly brandishes a gun in a chase scene and dutifully kicks ass in a courtroom, but he also engages in several tender moments with his co-star.

That requires versatility, not to mention commitment: Thirteen days of work in Vancouver last summer.

So, while this ain’t Ray Allen in “He Got Game,” it’s no cameo, either. The baller’s name even appears in the opening credits -- a rarity for an athlete-actor. And you know what? Metta holds his own.

From a layman’s point of view, anyway. For an insider’s perspective, Blitz hopped on the phone with the film’s headliner, Garth, who dished on her experience acting alongside the NBA’s most colorful character. Confirmed: Dude has game -- with the ladies, too.

Let’s rewind to the first time you met Metta World Peace. First impression?

Garth: We were shooting the range scene, where he teaches me how to shoot a gun. And he was really tall. I was like, “OK, so what do I call you? Do I call you Mr. Peace? Do I call you Metta? Do I call you World? I’m really confused.” He said, “No, you can call me Ron.” Then I was even more confused because I wasn’t aware of the whole name-change thing. Then I decided, “You know what, I’m going to call you Ron-Ron.” He said that’s his nickname.

Did you know about his reputation prior to production?

Not at all. Getting to know him was very interesting because he told me a lot about his reputation -- and I was blown away. He’s just this giant teddy bear. He’s so sweet, just the greatest guy. The fact that he has this bad rap on the court made me laugh.

A lot of athletes don’t take acting seriously -- they show up, generate publicity and bounce. How was Metta’s preparation?

He was very serious. And he was constantly running his lines. At one point he was even running his lines on the phone with his daughter. He was really nervous and very attentive on set, trying to soak it all up and learn from everybody. It wasn’t one of those things where he just shows up and goes, “Whatever, I’m just here because I’m me,” ya know?

Athletes are normally given cameos -- stunt casting. But Metta’s role is pivotal. What’s your read on his skills and whether he has a future in this biz?

I think he’s somebody who really wants to be good at this, and that’s half the battle. And I think if he’s really willing to be humble and respects what he doesn’t know, if he wants to learn -- that’s another big challenge for somebody in his position. If he wants to keep at it, he’ll be really good. He definitely brought a lot to the table in terms of the intimidation factor. He really brought his A game there.

“Finch” is a tough guy, but there’s certainly a lot of tenderness between your two characters. You’re squarely in the friends zone now, but is there any chance that, in the film’s backstory, Finch and your girl engaged in sexy business?

[Laughs.] It’s platonic in my mind, but I don’t know about Finch’s mind. I think she met him after her fiancĂ© died, so I don’t know. I think she feels very safe around him. There could be something to that.

Did you know that while he was in Vancouver, he did the local TV weather report?

I did know that. I watched it, actually, and I must say: He wasn’t very good at it. But he had fun with that.

Ron’s my boy, so he won’t mind me asking: Did he do anything bizarre on the set? Any moments of Metta being Metta, as we say in my world?

Well, he had a friend with him all the time. I can’t remember his name right now -- so sorry -- but he was there all the time, and he didn’t ever say a word. Finally I said, “Look, we’re going to be friends,” and then we starting hanging out.

And there was one other thing: He always had a new girl with him on the set, which the entire crew found fascinating ...

Wait, you’re saying Ron had a different girl with him every day?

It seemed like it, yeah. He didn’t work every day, but he would just pop in for his scene and there’d be a new beautiful girl with him. [Laughs.] We were like, “Geez, NBA playaaa!”

[Laughs.] Well, he is admittedly single and looking to mingle. Final question: As a big "90210" fan, as well as someone who had a huge crush on you, gotta end this on a personal note. I was quite bummed to hear you debunk the recent rumor that Dylan and Kelly are currently dating in real life. Couldn’t you have just lied to us about you and Luke Perry?

[Laughs.] Sorry to crush you. We’re really close friends, but we’re not dating.

Is it weird that I told you I had a huge crush on you?

No, I hear that a lot.