Disney’s Million Dollar Arm is based on a true story about sports agent JB Bernstein who needs that one great idea to save his career. He formulates an idea to hold a contest that will not only attract the attention he needs, but help him find two Indian cricket players that he can transform into pro baseball pitchers.
Recently, I was one of 25 selected bloggers that was able to attend the L.A. premier and to interview Jon Hamm about his portrayal of JB Bernstein, the sports agent on whom the film is based.
I was invited to this event by Disney as part of a media event. Accommodations and other expenses were paid for in exchange for my coverage of the event, but all opinions are my own and were not influenced in any way.
Q : In the movie, we see your character, once he gets to India, struggling with that heat. How was it for you to be there?
JON HAMM : It’s not just the heat, it’s everything. I mean, it’s a completely different culture. When you learn more about the actual J.B. Bernstein – my character [in Million Dollar Arm] – he had to go through all this and figure out how to do business in this country and figure out how to manage all of this stuff. And there was no guarantee that it was going to work at all. It was a huge leap of faith. If you speak to him now he’s fairly conversant in Hindi and he’s very much – he’s been doing it for six or seven years now – so he’s very comfortable in Indian culture and this was a direct result of this experience that he had.
It was a full on, immersive experience. It was hot. So much so that even our Indian crew were like, “What, do you do about this [heat]?”
“Well, we don’t shoot in May. You guys, you guys are idiots. Like, the only ones who shoot in May are Americans. We go inside.”
Q : The story is so inspiring. How did you get involved in the film?
JH : I met with Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray who are the producers of the film. They produced movies like The Rookie and Miracle, so I was familiar with their work and liked not only the kinds of movies that they made but the stuff that they’ve done with Disney. And then I read the script and I know Tommy McCarthy who wrote the script – I’ve been a big fan of his work, as well – and was really impressed with the script.
I did not know it was a true story at the time. It somehow escaped my fairly detailed baseball radar. I am a big baseball fan, but I hadn’t heard of it. And so I kind of Googled around and looked up some stuff and I learned about it and I thought Well, this could be not only a fun project to work on as an actor but just a fun — I mean we get to go to India and that could be an interesting experience, too. And I’m very, very glad I did. We’re tremendously proud of the film and I made some really good friends on it.
“I am born and raised in St. Louis Missouri so the St. Louis Cardinals are, hands down, my team.” – Jon Hamm
Q : Do you think there was more pressure on you as an actor to portray somebody like a character based on a true story?
JH : I would suggest maybe, if it was somebody that a lot of people knew; there’s probably a little more pressure on Daniel Day Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln although no one around really knows [Lincoln] anymore. No, I felt very responsible towards J.B., especially after having met him and kind of learning his story and learning how profoundly this experience changed his life. We tried to tell that in the film. You know, that this actually happened to the guy.
The guy’s life was really changed for the better because of this experience. And he did not set out to have some sort of life changing experience. He just wanted to make money. Sometimes that happens, you know, unexpectedly – you just all of a sudden find yourself affected by things and that’s J.B.’s story. So I felt very close to that and I didn’t wanna misrepresent him at all, certainly. But he’s given me his stamp of approval so…
Q : Has filming this movie and traveling to India changed your life in any positive ways?
JH : I think all travel is, in general, should be kind of life affirming and eye-opening in some way. This was certainly no exception. I’d never been to Asia, much less India specifically, so I had no concept of what I was going to see. I mean, we’ve all seen photos of the Taj Mahal and the ‘this’ and the ‘that’, but it was like every travel experience. When you actually get there and you’re there in person it’s, it’s in 3D.
It’s the sights and smells and the heat and everything else makes the experience even more worthwhile. So, I can’t point to anything specifically where I had sort of epiphany about life, the universe and everything but I did very much enjoy it. I would totally go back in a heartbeat. And it’s such a big country with so many influences that I saw like the tip of the iceberg of. So I’d love to go back.
Q : What was your favorite part of the movie and why?
JH : There’s a couple. Most of the stuff we shot in India was pretty great to film ’cause we were in the dirt and it was really, really, exciting. But, there’s a scene – it’s toward the end of the film – that I actually really liked shooting, as well, that’s much more from an acting standpoint. Which is basically when the kids throw J.B. his sort of ‘we’re bringing India to you’ and they have that nice party, and he realizes that they somehow feel like he’s disappointed in them. J.B. tells this story, as well; he felt such responsibility for these kids by that point in their life and their career that the idea of him disappointing them somehow was soul-crushing to him. Like it really, really, you know – he’s like, ‘you could never disappoint me. That’s impossible.’
He’s their dad at that point; a surrogate dad, and the boys are so wonderful in the film and they bring such heartfelt warmth to these characters that the emotion is really what helps to carry the film. It could be just another movie about sports and feel good and this and that but the emotion that the boys bring to their parts really does carry it into a different world.
Q : How do you feel that this film is set apart from other sports films that have come along?
JH : I think like all good… most good sports films, it’s not necessarily all about the sport. I think if you look at something like The Natural, ostensibly that’s about baseball or a baseball player. But it’s really about this guy and his life and how it was changed and how it was interrupted and then he got to come back and fall in love and all that other stuff. That’s a movie that I, if I watch two seconds of, I watch the whole thing and I’m a mess by the end of it. But this movie is like that. It’s a family movie, but it’s set against the backdrop of sports, in particular baseball. But it would be a disservice to it, I think, to just say it’s a baseball movie because it’s – for me at least – it means much more than that. That’s kind of one of the reasons why I wanted to do this film. It just felt richer than just a game where I hope they win the big game, you know, at the end. So that was what I hope we brought through the making of it.
*Photos courtesy of Disney and Louise Bishop of Mom Start.