Having been on a few LA press trips over the last few years, I’ve been asked so many times, which is my favorite. I honestly don’t have one. Each trip is different and offers unique experiences. As was the case with the Million Dollar Arm Event I just attended. The premiere was so fun, but prior to walking the green carpet, I had a chance to interview Jon Hamm, star of Million Dollar Arm, right before he headed to do a spot on Jimmy Kimmel and then taking on the carpet himself.
We spent about 15 minutes with Jon Hamm, where he spoke about filming in India, why he wanted this role, and shares his favorite baseball team. He was dressed in his premiere attire, looking ever so handsome. He was pretty laid back, but obviously excited about everyone seeing this film.
Jon Hamm: Million Dollar Arm Interview
Q: Were you filming Mad Men at the same time as Million Dollar Arm and if so, how hard was it for you to transition from the TV show to the movie and if you had to fly back and forth.
Jon Hamm: We did not film concurrently. We wrapped season six and went basically right into the Indian portion of the movie which we shot in Mumbai. We wrapped I think in late April and then May, almost the whole month of May we were in India. I don’t think I could do that turnaround. I’m pretty good at keeping things, separate but that would’ve been rough. A sixteen hour flight from Mumbai to Newark and then shooting here in L.A. would’ve been rough.
Q: Once JB gets to India he’s struggling with that heat. How was it for you to be there?
Jon Hamm: Well it’s not just the heat. It’s literally everything. I mean, it’s a completely different culture. When you learn more about the actual J.B. Bernstein, on who my character (is based on), the guy I play, he had to go through all this and figure out how to do business in this country and figure out how to like 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. I mean, if you speak to him now he’s fairly conversant in Hindi, he’s been doing it for six or seven years now so he’s very much comfortable in Indian culture and this was a direct result of this experience that he had.
So yeah. It was a full on, immersive experience. It was hot. So much so that even our Indian crew were like, “What, what do you know about this stuff?” “Well, we don’t shoot in May. You guys, you guys are idiots. Like, the only ones who shoot in May are Americans. Like, we go inside.”
Q: The story is so inspiring. How did you get involved in the film?
Jon Hamm: I met with, Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray who are the producers of the film. They produced 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 had a kind of a sensibility that I sparked to. 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. I’m very, very glad I did. We’re tremendously proud of the film and also I made some really good friends (working) on it.
Q: Who’s your favorite baseball team?
Jon Hamm: Well, that’s an easy one. I am born and raised in Saint Louis Missouri so the Saint Louis Cardinals are, are hands down, my team.
Q: What would you say is the major difference of acting for television and acting in a feature film?
Jon Hamm: It depends. I would suggest that maybe doing a pilot for a TV show is very much similar to acting in a movie. Most of the things when you’re doing episodic television, you kind of know what works. Especially a show like ours that’s been on, you know, seven and a half seasons….six seasons. You’re comfortable with the character, you know what the audience likes, you know what the story’s going to be in somewhat shape or form.
A film you’re kind of creating out of whole cloth. Obviously there’s a script there and it’s been developed and people have weighed in on it. The studio’s got notes. Everyone’s got notes and you make your decisions accordingly to try to tell that story as best you can. But there’s no guarantee. There have been tons of movies that we’ve all been excited to come out and you think, oh, this is gonna be great and it’s got my three favorite people in it and I love that director and the studio’s had, you know, nothing but hits. And then you watch it and you’re like, eh, it kind of didn’t work, did it? So you just don’t know. Sometimes the soufflé just falls.
Generally making films is a much slower pace. Television you’re shooting seven, eight, nine pages a day. Simply because you have to. Production schedule is that tight. Movies, not so much. Although this one we (really did have a busy schedule), I mean, there were days I had probably thirteen costume changes in one day. And I don’t wear a lot of crazy costumes in this movie. So it was like a different Polo and a different hat.
But we had so little time and we were kind of hamstrung by weather and light and location and all this other stuff that we really had to jam it all in. But that’s service to Craig Gillespie, the director or the film, who was the Energizer Bunny and completely was our leader and was inspiring to work for. So props to him.
Q: Do you think there was more pressure on you as an actor to portray somebody like a character based on a true story?
Jon Hamm: 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, no one around really knows him anymore. 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. Remember, that 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, I felt very close to that and I didn’t want to misrepresent him at all, certainly. He’s given me his stamp of approval.
Q: Has filming this movie and traveling to India changed your life in any positive ways?
Jon Hamm: I think all travel, 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. And 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 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 like the tip of the iceberg. So I’d love to go back.
Q: What was your favorite part of the movie and why?
Jon Hamm: 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 that they’re 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. He’s like, you could never disappoint me. That’s impossible.
You know, ’cause he’s their dad at that point, (like) a surrogate dad. The boys are so wonderful in the film and they bring such, heartfelt (and) warmth to these characters that it’s the emotion is really what helps to carry the film. Again, 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?
Jon Hamm: I think like 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.
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 for me at least it means much more than that. So back to the first question. That’s kind of one of the reasons why I wanted to, to do this film. It just felt richer than just a game where I hope they win the big game at the end (of the movie). And that was what I hope we brought through the making of it.
I really couldn’t agree more. There are so many great sports films, but the ones like The Natural, are a perfect way to describe the feel for this movie. As I will share in my review, this film is for the whole family. It has such a feel good message, and leaves you very inspired.
Check in your local area to see if you can see Million Dollar Arm before it is released everywhere. Enter your zip code at Fandango to see if there’s a theater near you.
Based on a true story, sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) finds that business has changed and things aren’t going well for his career. In a last ditch effort to save his livelihood he concocts a scheme to find baseball’s next great pitching ace. Hoping to find a young cricket pitcher he can turn into a major league baseball star, JB travels to India to produce a reality show competition called “The Million Dollar Arm.” With the help of cantankerous but eagle-eyed retired baseball scout Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin), he discovers Dinesh (played by Madhur Mittal from “Slumdog Millionaire”) and Rinku (played by Suraj Sharma from “Life of Pi”), two 18-year-old boys who have no idea about playing baseball, yet have a knack for throwing a fastball. Hoping to sign them to major league contracts and make a quick buck, JB brings the boys home to America to train. While the Americans are definitely out of their element in India, the boys, who have never left their rural villages, are equally challenged when they come to the States. As the boys learn the finer points of baseball, JB, with the help of his charming friend Brenda (Lake Bell), learns valuable life lessons about teamwork, commitment and what it means to be a family.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM (5/16/14)