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. Read my other #MillionDollarArmEvent coverage (interviews, movie review, and more) HERE.
I have said this already regarding the celebrities that I had a chance to interview for the opening of Disney’s Million Dollar Arm…and I’ll say it again. Never before have stars impressed me so much with their down-to-earth personalities, their off-screen humor, or their friendliness. When we sat down with Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal, two of the stars of Disney’s just-released-in-theaters Million Dollar Arm, I was instantly drawn to them. These are two people I want to be friends with.
In Million Dollar Arm, Suraj and Madhur play Rinku and Dinesh (respectively), two 18-year-old boys from India that are recruited by sports agent JB Bernstein to learn and eventually play baseball in the United States. Their story is inspiring and heart-felt, as neither boy had ever played baseball (or even dreamed of traveling to the US) before meeting JB.
“These guys came from nothing and did something wonderful”
Did you have any baseball experience prior to making Million Dollar Arm?
I found it quite interesting that neither Suraj nor Madhur had played baseball prior to the film. Their experience getting ready to film the movie was similar (on a smaller scale, of course) to Rinku and Dinesh’s experience training for their own auditions in front of scouts.
Suraj and Madhur commented (note: a lot of their interview was back and forth between the two of them, and it’s hard to separate exactly who said what, so much of what they said is simply lumped together):
(We had) zero experience in baseball altogether. It was quite hard. We had a lot of fun during training though.
I mean we didn’t know anything and then we were going to try and get all this stuff under our belt real quickly. We had three and a half weeks to do whatever we could do. We had our coaches flown down from the states, as we used to have four hours of baseball every day and we are both quite scrawny boys, still very thin [LAUGHTER]. So we had to put on a lot of muscle, you know. We trained for three or four hours every day and then rest an hour, and then go to the gym for a couple of hours, and strict diet. Yes, it was quite physically challenging, but it helped, because it’s like a blank slate, which was exactly what his character and my character were also going through.
Yes, I also think we had a lot of draw from the fact that we were in the similar situation, like we had a really short amount of time to prepare and then we had to perform on set. These guys they had like 10 months of preparation, and they had to perform. So I think it puts us in a similar kind of mind frame.
What compelled you to audition for these roles? What drew you to this movie?
Both Suraj and Madhur agreed that one of the most compelling aspects of being involved in Million Dollar Arm was the fact that this was such and inspiring and important story – especially for people in India – to hear that they wanted to make the movie simply to spread the message. Million Dollar Arm – and what Rinku and Dinesh accomplished – inspires HOPE, for kids and adults alike, whether in the US or India or anywhere else in the world. Suraj and Madhur said that they had not heard Rinku and Dinesh’s story, nor had any of their family and friends, a fact that was somewhat upsetting to both. This is a story that deserves to be known!
It just leads you to think that their story really needs to be told, and people need to know this. And other than the fact that it was an amazing feat it just gives you a sense that there’s a whole lot out there that we don’t really realize, opportunity wise. And the amount someone can work in a situation where they don’t know what’s going on and make something out of themselves, is really very inspiring.
What was your favorite scene to film?
Although Madhur mentioned first off that the movie was a lot of fun in general to shoot (“you give us a glove and ball, we would just keep playing all day long”) it’s amusing that the first scene that he mentioned was the scene where they throw up in JB’s car. Suraj was quick to pipe in about that one…“(it was) not fun for me. It stank [LAUGHTER]. They had some really disgusting vegetarian soup. Yes, and it really stank.”
Madhur continued, “It wasn’t really what we were shooting always that made it special, it was just the fact that everybody around us always was seemingly having an extremely awesome time. Amazing time. It was the fact that all that added to the dynamic that hopefully was being set up in front of the frame.”
(back and forth between Suraj and Madhur:)
There were some scenes that were really hard to shoot, like, for example, when we were shooting in India there were some really hot days. 145 degree. 140.
But, you know, they managed to do it. Everybody, kind of, pushed through it all. There were a lot of times when stuff got really hard or complicated for everybody.
Jon probably changed his t-shirt like 20 times.
It was really hot, but people managed. People really did – especially Jon. I felt like he’s got this adaptive feature to him that you don’t often see.
He’s a bit like Rinku that way.
Rinku’s also a little bit that way. You get somewhere and it’s extremely different, and then you just start taking in whatever you can as fast as you can and you slowly start understanding what’s going on, I think. A lot of people in our crew went through that when we were in India and we kind of used that when we went to America, to Atlanta.
Hotlanta [LAUGHTER]. Ya’ll making a movie. It was fun. We had a blast. Good times.
Yes, very good times.
Did Rinku actually do the flamingo stance?
The answer? “Yes, Rinku actually did that. The thing is Rinku and Dinesh were both javelin throwers. So Rinku automatically fell into that same thing. Yes, Rinku is six feet, two inches tall was doing that; the flamingo.”
We were kind of hoping that Suraj would do the stance for us during our group shot, but no luck…
How did you get into acting?
Finally, we asked Suraj and Madhur how they initially got into acting. I love that, though they both came from India, they arrived at acting from very different paths.
Madhur: Very different stories for both of us. I have been in the business ever since I could remember. I started my career as a Michael Jackson impersonator as a child. Before I was three, you know, I started with Michael Jackson and that’s how I got into the entertainment business and when I was five my whole family they shifted from Agra, where I was born, to Mumbai, just so I could pursue a career in the arts. (I have a) really amazing supportive family. And they struggled and really pushed for me, and I always wanted to be an actor, you know, to be in the movies. So I’ve always had that, I wanted to be an actor and I’ve, kind of, worked and strived hard to be that.
Suraj: For me, I never knew. I never wanted to be an actor, or anything to do with film, it was just more of realization, you know, to some extent I might have not been able to do anything, unless that had happened, because then that just opened my eyes to the fact that, oh, wow, look there is something here that actually I love a lot. And that’s how it began.
It’s very liberating to be on a film set. Like as a child I was very shy, a complete introvert, I mean not the kind of person I am today at all. And even then I remember that I wouldn’t be able to answer questions to people or just be very communicative, but when I was on stage I was a different person. And that’s when I felt the most confident and the most alive, and I felt that this is where I belong and this is what I’m meant to do. This is where I’m meant to be. And I’m sure Suraj feels the same way.
Madhur: Also, I’m very proud to be part of a business where you expect people from all walks of life and, you know, just a tremendous spectrum of people from different cultures who look different and come together and create art. That’s awesome.
Don’t forget to go see Suraj and Madhur in Million Dollar Arm, out in theaters NOW!
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MILLION DOLLAR ARM opens in theaters everywhere on May 16th!
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