The Way Back's Will Ropp Calls Ben Affleck a 'Mentor': 'He Remembers When He Was in That Position'

Will Ropp started acting out of convenience.

“My sister was doing this musical theatre camp in Darien, Connecticut where I grew up and I wanted to do baseball summer camp, but my mom didn’t want to drive me and my sister to separate camps, so she pretty much forced me to do this musical theatre camp,” Ropp, 25, tells PEOPLE. “They were doing Peter Pan that year and I begrudgingly auditioned and I got the role of John.”

Ropp continues to soar in his breakout role in The Way Back alongside Ben Affleck as his high school basketball team’s star 3-point shooter. And that’s really him making those shots in the movie.

“I would just go to the court every day and throw up like 200 3s and every day I would make a little bit more,” he recalls. “By the time we filmed I felt pretty confident in my shot. And thankfully you actually get to see some shots go in in the film as opposed to the classic cut away to the basket and just see it swoosh.”

The Way Back follows a former high school basketball star’s (Affleck) return to the court as a coach following his divorce from his wife and his battle with alcoholism. Ropp calls working with Affleck, 47, “surreal.”

“He became such a mentor by the end of the film,” the University of Michigan grad says. “I’m an aspiring actor but I’m also an aspiring filmmaker, director, writer, producer, and he wears all those hats so incredibly. Just picking his brain throughout the process was so, not only inspiring, but informative and gave me a better grasp on the industry. He remembers when he was in that position growing up.”

Ropp’s got to spend time with real NBA stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley during The Way Back’s press tour and appeared on The Kelly Clarkson Show with the cast. But it was meeting a fellow actor who also played a basketball player that caused Ropp to really get starstruck.

“Zac Efron was at our premiere and my sister is a massive fan of his and I did High School Musical and High School Musical 2, the stage versions, when I was growing up and I played his role in the second one, so it was kind of crazy meeting him,” Ropp, who next stars in thriller Silk Road, recalls. “I remember I did his song ‘Bet On It’ in High School Musical 2 and it involves all this crazy basketball choreo and so I told him about that; He had a good laugh.”

By the end of this experience, Ropp and his costars formed a real team. “We still hang out, we’re still boys,” he says. “We’re going to be family forever.”

The Way Back is out now.


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