I was invited to Los Angeles on an expense-paid trip in exchange for coverage of the events that we attended. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
After seeing a screening of Disney’s Million Dollar Arm starring Jon Hamm, I was beyond thrilled to be able to sit down with him for several minutes right before he rushed off to throw a pitch at the Million Dollar Arm Pitching Contest and then head over to make an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live…and then make it back in time for the tailgate/green carpet party before the world premiere of the movie. Yes, Jon Hamm is a busy man and he took time out of his schedule to chat with our little group of bloggers. Also…have you seen him? Yes, we were quite excited for the opportunity.
On filming in India:
We jumped right in to questions as soon as Jon walked in the room. We asked him what it was like filming part of Million Dollar Arm in India.
Jon Hamm: “It’s not just the heat. It’s literally everything. It’s a completely different culture. And when you learn more about the actual J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm’s character in the movie), 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 much comfortable in Indian culture and, and this was a direct result of this experience that he had.”
I wasn’t familiar with J.B. Bernstein’s story before being introduced to the movie, but I was curious how wide-spread the story actually was (particularly for people into sports, which I typically am not). Jon Hamm talked about his introduction to the story:
I did not know it was a true story at the time (that I learned about the film). It somehow escaped my fairly detailed baseball radar. I am a big baseball fan, but I hadn’t heard of it. 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 fun — I mean we get to go to India and that could be an interesting experience too. I’m very, very glad I did. We’re tremendously proud of the film and also I made some really good friends on it.
On portraying a real person:
Acting on Mad Men, Jon Hamm plays a fictional character, but we wondered what it was like to portray a character based on a true story. Not only was Million Dollar Arm based on real experiences of real people, but those people are still alive (and he knew they’d be watching the movie, too!) We asked, “Do you think there was more pressure on you as an actor to portray somebody like a character based on a true story?”
Jon answered: I would suggest maybe if it was somebody that a lot of people knew (it would be a more difficult challenge). There’s probably a little more pressure on Daniel Day Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln although no one around really knows him anymore. I felt very responsible towards J.B., especially after having met him and learning his story and learning how profoundly this experience changed his life. We tried to tell that in the film. The guy’s life was really changed for the better because of this experience. He did not set out to have some sort of life changing experience. He just wanted to make money. Sometimes that happens. 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 want to misrepresent him at all, certainly. But he’s given me his stamp of approval so…
How Million Dollar Arm changed Jon Hamm:
The experiences that Million Dollar Arm portrayed certainly did change the life of J.B. Bernstein, but was Jon Hamm effected at all by his experience in India?
Hamm responded: I think all travel is, in general (or 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 but when you actually get there and you’re there in person it’s in 3D.
And it’s the sights and smells and the heat and everything else takes that makes the experience even more worthwhile. I can’t point to anything specifically where I had an 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 the tip, tip, tip of the iceberg. So I’d love to go back.
Jon Hamm’s favorite scenes in Million Dollar Arm:
I have two favorite scenes in the movie (I’ll share more about those in my movie review coming soon) but we were curious to know what Jon Hamm’s favorite part of the movie was and why. Here’s what he had to say:
There are a couple. Most of the stuff we shot in India was pretty great to film because we were in the dirt and it was really exciting. But there’s a scene, 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’ party.
He realizes that they somehow feel like he’s disappointed in them. And the honest truth, and J.B. tells this story as well, is that 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 (they) could never disappoint me. That’s impossible. You know, ’cause 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 it’s the emotion that 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.
Million Dollar Arm – So much more than “just a sports film”
Speaking of sports films, we asked Jon Hamm how he felt that this film is set apart from other sports films that have come along. he answered:
I think, like all 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 if I watch the whole thing, I’m a mess by the end of it.
This movie is like that. It’s a family movie that is 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 for me at least it means much more than that. So, again, back to the first question. 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 at the end. And so that was what I hope we brought through the making of it.
It really is. Million Dollar Arm is so much more than “just a sports movie” – it has a message that will resonate with sports fans and non-fans alike. It’s about family and friendships and priorities.
Many thanks again to Jon Hamm for taking the time to chat with us about his role in Million Dollar Arm! More interviews to come! Be sure to check back for all of my updates in the next couple of weeks…And be sure to make plans to see the movie when it comes to theaters on May 16th!
Connect with MILLION DOLLAR ARM (In theaters 5/16/14)
Twitter: @DisneyPictures (#MillionDollarArm and #MillionDollarArmEvent)
* Photos courtesy of Disney
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