Million Dollar Arm tells the true story of sports agent JB Bernstein, who uses a talent show gimmick in India to find the latest baseball talent in an effort to save his failing sports agency. Jon Hamm plays as the real-life Bernstein, who ends up finding the talent he needs to save his agency, but ultimately learns a much bigger lesson in life.
During the film’s press conference, Hamm talked about researching for his role, the difference between playing as JB Bernstein and Don Draper, the pressures of playing a real-life person, working on location in India, and much more. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.
What exactly interested you in this role? Was it the fact that JB Bernstein was widly different from Don Draper?
Jon Hamm: It’s nice that I get to be in something that like this because, in my day job, I play not the greatest guy in the world. This is a family film. It’s a film that I can tell my friends to take their children to. It works as a story, and it works on several levels. It’s a testament not only to JB and Rinku and Dinesh’s amazing true story, but it’s also a testament to Lake Bell’s wonderful performance, and the boys are so fantastic in it. They bring so much soul and depth to what could be just a one-note performance. They bring this whole world of emotion to it, and it resonates.
I was so pleased to see how (director) Craig [Gillespie] expertly managed the tone of the film, to not veer into the world of sentimentality, sappiness, hokiness, over-earnestness or any of that, and just stay true to the basics of the story, which has this incredibly emotional component to it. And having spoken to JB, I learned that these events changed his life positively. It’s a tremendous honor to get to be able to tell that story and I’m so pleased with it. I’m so proud of this thing that we made, and I just want people to see it, so tell everyone to go see it.
Did you know that this was a true story?
Hamm: No. I read the script, finished the script and loved it, and then I looked back to the title page and went, “Wait a minute, this is true?!” I am a huge baseball fan, and somehow this flew under my radar. I didn’t know. So, two hours later, I was in a Google hole, finding out everything I could about this. I was like, “Oh, my god, this actually happened.” And that element is this incredibly uplifting story about thinking outside the box, and really following through with something, and working hard and succeeding. This character that I play is about 180 degrees from Don Draper. It’s affirming, it’s uplifting, it’s heartwarming and it’s emotional, and it’s not a “sports” movie, so much as it’s a movie that moves you. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the finished product. It’s much more than a sum of its parts. It has this wonderful message.
With Million Dollar Arm being a PG film, did you ever feel that you were going to lose your edge or be limited by a family-friendly rating?
Hamm: Absolutely not. We live in this incredibly cynical time. I almost started crying when Rinku was talking about his struggle. It’s such a beautiful story, and it’s about working hard. I still play baseball, just terribly. But, the journey that these two boys went on from literally never having seen a baseball to getting to an elite performance level, is an impossible journey. He has to put in 200% because he didn’t grow up playing this sport, and he hasn’t been doing it since he was in third grade. He started from zero and got to 100, in a year. It’s mind-blowing, but it doesn’t happen without an incredible work ethic and an incredible commitment, on both of their parts. Theses guys want to be proud of themselves, and represent their country and their families. Those were the things that I responded to, in the movie. For me, it doesn’t need to be edgy to be good. It needs to be good to be good. Craig shepherded the tone of the film, so that it doesn’t veer off into over-earnestness or sentimentality. We’re all very proud of this, and I’m thrilled to be in a PG movie.
Is there a difference between playing a character like Don Draper as opposed to a real-life person like JB Bernstein?
Hamm: Obviously, what you desperately don’t want to do is be false, but that translates into any performance. It was such a pleasure to meet not only JB, but Rinku and Dinesh, and everyone who’s involved in this whole story. The last thing you want to do is offend and portray them in some way that rings false. It’s just a testament to Tommy’s wonderful script that he got everybody on the page. When I read it and, I didn’t realize it was a true story until I looked back to the front page. I was like, “Wait, this is crazy!” Tommy is a wonderful writer and he has the ability to make what seems like a simple story resonate in a way that brings so much more to it. You see that in his films. You see it in The Visitor, and in Win-Win. He’s able to take this story, which on its face is an amazing, impossible, unbelievable story, and he imbues it with so much more emotion and love. It’s hard to talk about without sounding hokey, but it just has this beautiful sensibility to it. I’m a sucker for that. It makes me feel something, and that’s a nice thing. It’s nice, when the lights come up at the end of the movie, to not be like, “What did I just watch.?” This is the kind of movie where you either feel something emotional, or you want to be a better person. And this is the kind of movie that’s a pleasure to be a part of. I do think that it is relatable and utterly moving. That kind of hard work is undeniable and a beautifully moving thing.
Working in India must has been a study in extremes, was the experience a life changing one?
Hamm: It’s not difficult to draw a parallel between an agent’s life and an actor’s life, in many ways. You have to project this confidence, charisma and charm, and then it all falls apart. That’s every audition that I’ve ever been on, for the first three years of my career in Los Angeles. You walk in the room and you’re like, “This is going to be great! I’m the best guy for this. You love me. Oh, it’s not working? Okay, bye.” It’s such a capricious, strange existence, basing your life on the whims of others, and basing your ebbs and flows of confidence and lack of confidence on the fact that people either choose you or don’t. You run up against a wall when they hire Brad Pitt. The chaos in India was an eye-opener. It let me understand, on a visceral level, what JB went through. The unbelievable hard work that both Rinku and Dinesh went through to will this thing into existence is so inspiring to so many people. A lot of athletes these days are precious and entitled. They see this story, and they see what these guys went through and where they came from, and their eyes are opened. It puts everything into perspective, in the best way.
Million Dollar Arm opens in theaters on May 16.