fb-pixel Skip to main content

From Mass. basketball star to ‘Game of Thrones’ actor, ‘Big Smooth’ documentary highlights life of Neil Fingleton

Holy Cross center Neil Fingleton towers over his teammates at The Hart center on campus.Chavez, Dominic Globe Staff

In stature, Neil Fingleton was hard to miss.

Standing 7 feet 7 inches tall, the former Holy Cross basketball player, who moved to Worcester, Mass., from England as a teenager, was a striking presence. He later shined on television, when his height and acting chops landed him a role on the blockbuster HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

But his personality and zest for life were even bigger.

Now, the remarkable story of his journey from local basketball star to budding actor is hitting the big screen, in hopes of inspiring others to pursue their dreams.

Lone Pine Pictures, a film production company based in Durham, England, announced this week that it’s releasing a new documentary called “Big Smooth,” which highlights Fingleton’s life as a “basketball star and world record actor.” Fingleton died in 2017 at the age of 36.


“Three years in the making, this documentary follows Gilesgate-born Neil to America, where he was offered a basketball scholarship,” according to a description of the film. “After a successful career, Neil then made the switch to film and TV. With Neil’s ‘never give up’ attitude, ‘Big Smooth’ is an inspirational film that encourages us all to strive to reach our potential.”

Fingleton moved to the US when he was 16 and quickly became a fixture of the Worcester community, according to previous Globe stories. He played basketball at Holy Name Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School in the 1990s, and after a stop at the University of North Carolina he transferred to College of the Holy Cross.

“The neighborhood took him in, and then the whole city really kind of took him in,” Phil Giarusso, a friend of Fingleton’s former coach, J.P. Ricciardi, told the Globe when Fingleton died. “He really developed as a person and really got a sense of community and neighborhood. And the people were great. Everybody knew him and they liked him.”


Once named the United Kingdom’s “tallest man” by Guinness World Records, Fingleton eventually stepped away from the basketball court and into an acting career. He appeared in films like “Jupiter Ascendingand “X-Men: First Class.

Most notably, he played a giant named “Mag the Mighty” on the George R. R. Martin-inspired show “Game of Thrones” for a few years.

Neil Fingleton played "Mag the Mighty" on "Game of Thrones". photo: Helen Sloan

Fingleton used his height to his advantage and never let it “play a negative part in my life,” he once told Guinness.

“Some tall people may be restricted, as they are constantly stared at or people ask the same questions over and over,” he said. “This is the only bad thing about being tall — the stupid remarks and questions. Other than that, being tall is great.”

Directed by Paul Stainthorpe, the documentary includes interviews with Giarusso, who acted as a surrogate parent when Fingleton moved to Massachusetts; Ricciardi, who became general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays; and Fingleton’s mother and brother, Christine Fingleton and Michael Fingleton, according to Lone Pine Pictures.

“With the full support of Neil Fingleton’s family, we’re bringing you the amazing story of ‘Big Smooth,’” the film company posted on Twitter three years ago, when it announced it would be pursuing the film and was looking for people to share stories about him.

The film studio managed to collect “1,132 minutes of interview footage” about Fingleton, and boiled it down to roughly 80 minutes for the final version.


In an email to the Globe, Stainthorpe said he spent some time in Worcester last year speaking to more than two dozen people who knew Fingleton, including friends, former teammates, coaches, and teachers.

“I’ve really enjoyed working on this film, and hearing all these stories of Neil makes me want to try and be a better person,” he said, adding that the title is based on a nickname for Fingleton.

While the film will initially screen in England and embark on a film festival tour, Stainthorpe said he is “working hard behind the scenes to bring another screening to Massachusetts” at some point. He also hopes the documentary will be picked up by a streaming service.

Stainthorpe said as Fingleton’s life story reaches a larger audience, he wants it to inspire people to ponder their personal journeys.

“He chased his dreams, and I would like viewers to question their own potential,” he said. “The film was never about Neil’s height, and during filming, I quickly realized that his personality was far bigger.”

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.