CULVER CITY, Calif. — Josh Norman has a cold.
He insists it has gone away, but it really hasn’t.
The phlegm tickles his throat as he tries to repeat the words, forcing him to laugh and choke at once rather than deliver the lines cleanly in punchy, fired-up fashion.
“Can someone get him a water?” the director yells.
“Yeah, hook me up with a water,” the Washington Redskins star says in between coughs.
A water bottle soon arrives. Norman takes a swig, swishes the liquid around in his mouth, then swallows. He rubs his eyes with his fingertips and takes a few breaths in and out.
The constant hacking has tired him out. But not for long.
This production studio is his stage for the day. And the show must go on.
Norman rises from his seat — a single black chair positioned underneath a softbox lighting source overhead — and makes his way to the bathroom, wiping his nose as he walks off set.
“Let’s cut,” the director says.
After a few moments, Norman reappears. Another sip of water. He retakes his seat.
Now, he’s ready.
“Standby,” says the director. “Annnnnnnd action.”
While the rest of his Redskins teammates spent their bye week binge-watching TV shows, relaxing and recovering from injuries, Norman could not sit still. The 2015 Pro Bowler boarded a cross-country flight to the West Coast on a recent Thursday night, and by early the next morning, he was inside Convoy Studios, a full-service production stage that, at first glance, is obscured by a wall of ivy clinging to its facade and an Enterprise Rent-A-Car at the corner of Venice Boulevard.
In this moment, he is focused on a different kind of performance than what he normally delivers on NFL fields – executive producing and starring in his own TV pilot.
This is about his future, about a day when Norman no longer can, or chooses, to play professional football.
For all of the money he has made as an NFL player — just over $50 million to date — the 30-year-old Norman refuses to be defined solely by his profession. He’s a self-described philanthropist. An athlete with a strong sense of purpose, and even stronger opinions on President Donald Trump. He’s creative — a theater kid who made the choice to give up acting in pursuit of football. But he was born for the bright lights and the big stage. And also blessed with a kilowatt smile and South Carolina drawl that puts people at ease.
During the football season, Norman is focused on getting wins on the field. But he’s never been shy about pursuing his interests outside of the game.
Meet Josh Norman: Actor. Producer.
Norman is ‘Taking ConTroll’
The show, “Taking ConTroll,” is best described as an amalgamation of “Mean Tweets” meets “Catfish” meets “Punk’d.” It’s the brainchild of Scotty McKnight, the former New York Jets’ wide receiver-turned-TV writer and producer.
Beset by injuries during his nearly two seasons in the NFL, McKnight (a seventh-round pick in 2011) was forced to confront his own life-after-football journey earlier than he anticipated. He uses his newfound platform, his connections in the league and throughout the acting world, to assist athletes in their transition from football to entertainment — and, more important, ensure they have control over their content.
McKnight recently founded GOATFarm Media, a content development partner with Athletes First, a sports agency that represented him during his playing days, and currently boasts Norman, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Von Miller, among others, as clients.
Last year, McKnight and Rodgers teamed up to executive produce “Destination Dallas: Drive to the NFL Draft,” a documentary series that aired on NFL Network, featuring Athletes First’s 2018 draft class, including quarterback Josh Rosen and defensive back Derwin James.
The production company also has plans to develop more documentaries and a kids animated series. But McKnight, who has written for the CBS drama “CSI: Cyber,” has especially lofty expectations for his pilot with Norman, which they plan to shop to network, cable and digital outlets.
“I think this show will go viral,” McKnight says on their first day of filming.
The pair first discussed the show’s concept last season, and over the past year, Norman says, “he was able to work from L.A. and I was able to do my thing in Virginia. And it just so happened we found the time in the schedule, so we had to come up and get this going and get this shoot for the upcoming year, 2019.”
Truth be told: Norman has never met a camera he didn’t like.
He loves the spotlight and the spotlight loves him right back.
It always has.
Before he was the loudmouth defensive back for the Carolina Panthers best known for verbal confrontations with star receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant, Norman was a middle-schooler enraptured by the stage.
“I knew I was different,” he says, smiling. “People went right — I went left. Everyone knew that about me. And I got to college and I truly found my knack, and that was in theater. I was like those theater people; they’re all weird, they’re all crazy. But then again, they have something in them that’s special and unique.”
Eventually, he had to decide on a future.
“I chose football at that moment in time, so theater was always in the back of my mind and now it seems to creep, creep closer to the front,” Norman says, flashing another smile. “And this is one of the things I’m able to do to get there.”
His affinity for acting is nothing new. He played the role of “Jonathan” in the 15-minute 2016 film “Shift,” directed by Daniel Poler. The premise, according to IMDB.com: “In the near future, a phone app allows humans to take control of their emotions.”
The cornerback was featured that same year in the digital comedy series “Here’s the Rub,” featuring stand-up comedian and actor Andrew Santino (and current co-host of the Yahoo Sports debate show, “Props”) and then dazzled judges as a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars: Athletes” this past offseason.
(He and his dancing partner, Sharna Burgess, placed second in the four-week competition, which taped in Los Angeles and required Norman to fly cross-country once a week.)
“I’m just going to take a house over here. My gosh,” joked the cornerback, whose latest trip to L.A. included a 5:30 a.m. arrival at the Fox Sports studios for the Sunday NFL pregame show. “I don’t even know where to begin. I really don’t. It’s so time-consuming. … I wish I had a plane!
“All jokes aside, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of telling yourself to be patient with the process, knowing that this is the time that you have to put in the work.
“… So I’m just carving out that path right now, at a young age to where, in 10 years or 15 years, I can sit back and watch that grow.”
Urging NFL players to get out of ‘the now mode’
The Redskins made Norman the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback in 2016 when they signed him to a five-year, $75 million deal. It was the realization of a life-long dream for the former Coastal Carolina product and fifth-round draft pick. But Norman, now in his seventh year, would rather be seen as more than a football player.
“I would say, Josh Norman is a philanthropist. Just because I look at things like helping people, more so than I do anything else,” says the cornerback, whose charitable efforts extend from his hometown of Greenwood, South Carolina, to Puerto Rico, and various points in between.
Oftentimes, football players struggle to transition from the game. Having lost their identity as professional athletes, many also lose sight of their purpose in life. Norman, however, has been very vocal in his refusal to be labeled a one-dimensional character in the weekly drama of an NFL season. While his goal, every year, is to win a Super Bowl, he isn’t shy about showcasing his interests outside of playing.
Retirement is an inevitability, but it isn’t an outcome he fears. And acting and producing offers a creative outlet that he had to hit pause on all those years ago.
“This was important,” Norman said of executive producing this pilot. “Very much so to get me started on the right foot — my path, you know? JNo Productions. It’s going to be a good thing, I feel, going forward.”
Norman also stressed the pitfalls of players being stuck in “the now mode:” “I’m so wrapped up in this football, I’m so wrapped up in the game, so wrapped up in getting to the next week … that you don’t see what that does to your mind, as far as the time it takes you to be like, ‘OK, what is going on after I get done with this game?’ …
“I would actually encourage guys to take a look at that and see what it looks like for them. What they’re good at. What’s their knack. What’s their trade? Because this game is only going to last so long. And when it’s gone — it’s gone.”
A lingering cold, and an upcoming week of Redskins practices in Ashburn, Virginia, weren’t about to deter him from making the trip out west.
The show must go on.
Hours earlier, Norman slipped into the production stage in understated fashion. No entourage. No flamboyant entrance. Just a black T-shirt (turned inside out), a wool hat and black Adidas track pants cropped below the knee. While crew members readied the set — flipping the house lights on and off, checking sound levels, debating wide-angle vs. close-cropped shots — Norman rehearsed.
He gestured with his hands, ever so slightly, while lip-reading the lines on the teleprompter one last time. Then, he waited for his cue.
His eyes looked somewhat worn; still fatigued from the cross-country flight the night before. But, as always, Norman came alive when the lights came on.
“Standby,” the director told the room. “Annnnnnnd, action!”
The room went quiet.
“Hi, I’m NFL cornerback Josh Norman … And this is called, ‘Taking ConTroll.’”
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