When Jon Hamm walks in a room he has a commanding presence. His height is listed as 6’2” on numerous websites, but he seems much taller in person. Perhaps it’s the way he holds himself or his striking posture that gives this illusion. Perhaps it’s his deep, clear voice that seems to add inches to his frame, but as he enters he simply draws your attention. He is an open, well-spoken, articulate, intelligent, and sophisticated person who has many down-to-earth qualities. He is gracious, with a kind word for everyone he works with. JB Bernstein summed it up well when he spoke about Jon’s portrayal of him in the movie Million Dollar Arm:
“He’s become a good friend and someone that I really care about and someone who is just a genuinely good guy. You meet a lot of celebrities in my line of business and you realize they’re just like regular people. Some are very nice and some are jerks. The richer they are, the more free they are to be their true person and Jon is just one of these guys who probably has been the same since he was a kid. The same guy, a very even-keeled nice guy.”
Jon’s character is based on a significant time in JB Bernstein’s life when JB was trying to strike it out on his own as an independent sports agent. After a three-year slump, he had yet to sign a major sports figure when he came up with the idea of a sporting contest similar to reality competition shows on television. He called this competition Million Dollar Arm and opened it in India, an untapped market for baseball potential. The movie is a journey not only about this competition but about the transformation between JB and the boys he recruits in India, Dinesh and Rinku, and how they affect one another’s lives. When a group of us had the opportunity to interview Jon for his role in the movie Million Dollar Arm he was very willing to answer questions and shared with us some insights into what went into making this movie.
Question: 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: 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 him (Lincoln) anymore. But I felt very responsible towards, JB, 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. 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, and sometimes that happens. You know, unexpectedly you just all of a sudden find yourself affected by things and that’s JB’s story. So I felt very, you know, close to that and I didn’t want to misrepresent him at all, certainly. But he’s given me his stamp of approval.
Q: Has filming this movie and traveling to India changed your life in positive ways?
JH: I think all travel is, in general, kind of life affirming and eye-opening in some way. This was certainly no exception. I’d never been to Asia much, much less India specifically, so I had kind of no concept of what I was going to see. I mean, we’ve all seen photos of the Taj Mahal and this and that, but like every travel experience, when you actually get there and you’re there in person it’s in 3D. And 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 a 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, tip, tip of the iceberg (gestures with his fingers to emphasize his point). 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 because 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 from an acting standpoint, which is basically when the kids (tell JB) “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. And the honest truth, and JB tells this story as well, is that, you know, 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.” Because he’s their dad at that point, a surrogate dad. 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. 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 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, 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 two seconds of it, 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 (movie) where I hope they win the big game, you know, at the end. That was what I hope we brought (to people) through the making of it.
Million Dollar Arm comes out on BluRay and DVD October 7th. Be sure to have the entire family see it and experience a great film that happens to be about baseball.
Photos courtesy of Disney