While attending the Million Dollar Arm Premiere, a glance back from my seat, revealed Lake Bell, who portrays Brenda, in Disney’s Million Dollar Arm, in a red dress seated just a few rows back from me on the aisle. Leaving the theater, she was there again, engaged in conversation with friends and colleagues, most likely who were raving about her performance in the movie.
That was last week. This week the talented and beautiful, Lake Bell, was gracious enough to give her time today for an interview.
Q: As the only cast member in Million Dollar Arm who didn’t get to travel to India. Did you have any desire to visit with the crew and join them in the experience.
“In truth it’s a sore spot for me. I feel like I got left out of the coolest trip ever. That said, I’m not really complaining. When all the boys came back from India they did a lot of complaining about the 127 degree weather and how they ate all these exotic foods, and got very sick. I was like, “I would have taken all of that. I would have packed my Pepto Bismol and sucked it up to have a life experience. The point is, I’m super bummed about not going to one of the most extraordinary places in the world. Hopefully, there’ll be a sequel.”
Q: How did you prepare for the role?
“Because it’s a true story the thought is that you have to find something about the real person and latch on to that. In this instance, none of us are playing iconic characters from history, it’s sort of a different “ball game” (pun intended). It’s more that you have to adhere to the message and honor the thematic of the story itself vs. the literal hand gestures and physical quirks of a character. It’s more “who is Brenda and how does she live her life and influence the people around her?” Not necessarily, I want to drink a certain type of decaf coffee that she drinks to be more like the real Brenda. I did not get to meet the real Brenda until the Million Dollar Arm Premiere. I only had information that I could to hone through the script and what other people said about her. Her husband J.B. (Bernstein) was on the set, so we were able to talk about his life and the real Miss Brenda and sort of investigate her life through him.”
Q: Before filming Million Dollar Arm, Lake Bell has directed Children’s Hospital as well as In A World. Several of the cast members of the film are also directors (Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Alan Arkin). How do you balance between acting and directing and do your prefer one over the other?
“I think the balance happens organically. Obviously, if you take an acting role you understand that time commitment. Alternatively, if you take on a director’s role that sucks up a massive amount of time–especially to direct a feature. Once you understand what your schedule is, everything fits.”
“To make a movie as a director takes a year of your life so you can’t take any acting job in pre-production, shooting or in post-production. You know you’re not going to be acting for that year.”
“If you’re acting, you can squish in a lot more jobs. For instance, in the past, in six months I did three different films in different parts of the world. Acting can be far more versatile in terms of a physical schedule.”
Q: Being an actress, director and writer; which do you find to be more fun? Which do you prefer?
“I feel incredibly lucky in that I can do all three and that I can like all three. Each hat that you wear requires a different set of muscles and they fasciate different parts of your creativity. I feel lucky to be able to exercise all of them. Sometimes it goes in cycle.”
“I feel fortunate that when I want to write, I write. When you have something that your proud of and want to share, you head down the long, but delightful process of putting it together. That’s sort of the direction hat. Then it’s more active. I think of directing as an athletic sport. You get in the game. Acting is a very different emotional journey.”
“I am going to go with the annoying answer that I love them all. I hope that I am fortunate enough that I get to continue to do them all. I am an actor first and foremost and I do have always a place in my heart to create different characterizations from the stage.”
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced while filming–maybe some of the anecdotes you’d like to share?
“I will say we ended up filming in Atlanta. We did not shoot in Los Angeles and India. Atlanta is particularly finicky with weather so we ran into a lot of problems filming. It was really insane. It would be raining on one side of the field and be bright and sunny on the other side of the field. If you’re into weather, it’s a beautiful thing. If you’re shooting a movie? Enough already!”
“The shoot was delightful. I’ve known Jon (Hamm) for many years. We are buddies. I was really excited to be part of this project and we didn’t really have any horrible things that happened.”
Q: Are you a baseball fan and were you familiar with the Million Dollar Arm story before the movie?
“I have nothing against baseball, but I don’t know ding-dong-diddly about it. Going into this movie I certainly didn’t know the story of Million Dollar Arm. I will say that Jon Hamm IS an avid baseball fan and he didn’t know anything about the story either. So I didn’t feel too badly about knowing.”
“I remember reading the script and thinking, “Oh, boy! There’s no way this is true.” When I looked it up, it was such an extraordinary tale that, in a way, it couldn’t be made up! It’s really cool to be a part of a project that is so exciting.”
“You don’t need to be a sports fan to know that for someone who has never picked up a baseball and ten months later be recruited into the Major Leagues as a pitcher–is extraordinary. You think about your 10,000 hours to be an expert, like Malcolm Gladwell’s quote (from the book: The Outliers). These young guys, they were 17 and 18 at the time, overcame fantastic physical athletic obstacles and cultural obstacles to arrive at their goal. Dreams they didn’t even have because they didn’t even know it existed.”
“I am a fan of sports of movies. I’m not a fan of necessarily watching and reading about sports, but there is something about sports movies where the raw undeniable talent of an athlete who finds success is utterly inspiring. You think of your own physical capabilities. You know if a runner is fast he wins the race. There’s no grey area. It’s just a black or white area. You either win; or you don’t. When you see it with all the emotional stakes and understanding the real people who were part of making it happen, you are out of breath with excitement. It’s these things that make these types of movies, especially this one, a great ride.”
Q: What were your favorite scenes in Million Dollar Arm?
“I like scenes that I’m not even in. I love Pitobash, who plays Amit, and Suraj and Mad so you have sort of your trifecta of awesome talent in the movie. They are so masterful at evoking true emotion and comedy at the same time. I am a fan of all scenes with Amit.”
Q: You have several Skype things with Jon Hamm in the movie. Did you actually Skype with him while he was in India?
“Sadly, I didn’t even get to Skype with the real India. I just had to pretend and Skype with Jon in Atlanta. Those types of scenes are done with a film camera, where I am talking into a camera. We also did a computer, really unflattering lens type camera rigged on to the computer so I could get that effect.”
Q: What is it most about your character, Brenda, that you most admire and how did you accentuate that trait on film?
“I really admire Brenda’s no bullcrap policy. She is very much an advocate of tough love. She stands up for herself. Often, in these types of movies, female characters are left on the sidelines, or as the pretty thing that dotes on the male. I think Brenda was written very beautifully by Tom McCarthy, whom I love. She was written to be more assertive and unafraid of punching J.B. in the proverbial gut and call him a “jerk” when it’s due. I admire that. I think sometimes I could do with a little more of that myself.”
Q: The real J.B. was on the set for a while. Did he give you any cues like Brenda actually does this, or insight? What did Brenda have to say about your performance when you met her at the Million Dollar Arm premiere?
“First of all, J.B. had a lot to say. He mainly coined Brenda as a “Bad Ass”, if you will. He also let me know that the real Brenda isn’t a doctor. She sells helicopters for a living. She’s a helicopter broker. She is a bona-fide bad ass. I can’t think of anything cooler than that.”
“When I met her at the premiere, she is a smokin’ hot lady, who is so lovely and sweet and highly complimentary. She said her friends who saw the movie said I nailed her physicality, which is funny because we had not met. I guess it was good casting! There were just natural similarities to the way we hold ourself.”
Lake Bell offers an exceptional performance in Million Dollar Arm. It opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow, May 16th. It’s a great family fare movie that will have you laughing out loud and perhaps even reaching for Kleenex. It’s based on a true story and an inspirational movie with a backdrop of sports, but you don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy Million Dollar Arm.
I was invited to this event by Disney as part of a media event. Accommodations and other expenses were paid for in exchange for my coverage of the event, but all opinions are my own and were not influenced in any way.