On May 16, Disney’s Million Dollar Arm, starring Jon Hamm, hits theaters nationwide. This movie, inspired by a true story follows the journey of an aging American sports agent, JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm), who attempts to save his failing business. He has one shot left. He travels to India to recruit a cricket pitcher to play baseball in the Major Leagues. It’s the story of friendship, life lessons and the power of commitment.
Jon Hamm knows a thing or two about friendship, life lessons and the power of commitment. In 1995 Hamm left his ordinary life in St. Louis, Missouri where he was an Eighth Grade Drama teacher at the high school he graduated. While teaching one of his students was Ellie Kemper, who went on to star in The Office.
Hamm moved to Los Angeles with a car and $150, to pursue an acting career. He moved in with some other aspiring actors and took to waiting tables.
On May 9th, Walt Disney Studios offered 25 bloggers, myself included, the opportunity to sit down with Jon Hamm and do an interview.
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.
In the moments leading up to this interview, my social media was on fire with questions about Jon Hamm. They mostly centered on his good looks. When he walked into the room of the Loew’s Hotel, his looks were obvious. His suit fit impeccably, his hair thick and combed back. His white shirt starched and pressed to perfection. His shoes shined. He was a walking billboard for a man dressed well.
It was these same good looks that challenged him when he moved to Hollywood.
In 1995, Hamm was 24 years old. He signed with William Morris Agency. Those good looks, made him look older than his youthful 24 and eliminated his chances to be cast in the youth-oriented production.
Three years later, with no credits bearing his name rolling on the screen, William Morris Agency dropped Hamm. It was a moment of reflection, and Hamm gave it the power of commitment vowing if he hadn’t made it in Hollywood by the time he was 30, he was packing up and going home.
In 200o, at the age of 29, the hit show PROVIDENCE cast Hamm as firefighter Burt Ridley. After Providence, other roles followed. That same year Hamm landed his first film feature in Space Cowboys.
The name Jon Hamm is probably most recognized for the role Don Draper in AMC’s Mad Men. It is the role that made Jon Hamm a household name.
Mad Men‘s season finale airs the same day Disney’s Million Dollar Arm hits theaters.
It’s almost poetic, the end of Don Draper and the beginning of a new Jon Hamm.
With a grueling schedule as an actor, Jon Hamm talks about Mad Men, Million Dollar Arm and the commute.
“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 at Lucknow. We wrapped Mad Men I think in late April and then in May I started Million Dollar Arm. Almost the whole month of May we were in India. I don’t think I could do that turnaround in travel. 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. It would’ve been rough.”
It wasn’t just the transition from television to a movie to which Hamm had to adapt. In the film, JB Bernstein struggles with the heat in India. Hamm shares his experience with India and the heat.
“Well it’s not just the heat. It’s literally, it’s everything. I mean it’s a completely different culture. It was a full on, immersive experience. It was hot! So much so that even our Indian crew when we asked them, ‘What? What do you do about this stuff? they were like, ‘Well, we don’t shoot in May. You guys; you guys are idiots! Like, the only ones who shoot in May are Americans. We go inside.’!”
Hamm continues about the character he played,
“When you learn more about the actual J.B. Bernstein, the character I play, he had to go through all of this and figure out how to do business in this foreign country and figure out how to like manage all of this stuff. 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. This was a direct result of this experience that he had.”
So? How did Jon Hamm get involved with Disney’s Million Dollar Arm?
“I met with Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray who are the producers of the film. They produced The Rookie and Miracle. I was familiar with their work, and I liked not only the kinds of movies that they made but the stuff that they’ve done with Disney. They had a kind of sensibility that I sparked to. I know Tommy McCarthy who, who wrote the script; I’ve been a big fan of his work as well. Then I read the script and was impressed.
Even after having read the script, Hamm has a confession:
“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. So? I kind of Googled around and looked up some stuff and I learned about it. 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 on it.”
It’s true; Jon Hamm is a big baseball fan. His favorite team?
“Well, that’s an easy one. I was born and raised in Saint Louis Missouri so the Saint Louis Cardinals are, hands down, my team.”
The St. Louis Cardinals are so much his team that he lent his voice, smooth as scotch, to narrate the Official 2011 World Series Film that documents the teams’ championship run.
There have to be similarities and differences in acting for television and acting in a feature film. Jon Hamm talks about the major differences:
“It depends. It depends, you know, I would suggest that maybe doing a pilot for a TV show is very, 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 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, and 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’ve been tons of movies that you, I, we’ve all been excited to see come out, and you think, ‘Oh, this is going to be great! It’s got my three favorite people in it and I love that director and the studio’s had nothing but hits!” Then you watch it and you’re like, ‘Eh, it kind of didn’t work, did it?’ You just don’t know. Sometimes the soufflé just falls.”
Generally making films is a much slower pace. Although Million Dollar Arm was not. With 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 move quicly, there were days when 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.”
“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. He completely was our leader and was inspiring to work for. So props to him.”
We all know Jon Hamm took the fictional character of Don Draper and molded him into his own art form, so was there more pressure on him as an actor portraying like JB Bernstein who is an actual individual?
“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 really knows him anymore. But no, I felt very responsible toward 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. That this actually happened.”
The guy’s life was really changed for the better because of this experience. And it was not, 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 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.”
Sometimes a movie or travel changes us, how did filming this movie and traveling to India change Jon Hamm?
“I think all travel is, 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, 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’s like every travel experience–When you actually get there and you’re there in person it’s 3D.”
“It’s the sights and smells and the heat and everything else takes and makes the experience even more worthwhile. 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. It’s such a big country with so many influences that I saw like the tip of the iceberg. I’d love to go back.”
Following this interview, we were headed to the El Capitan for the Million Dollar Arm premiere. It was natural for us to want to know what is Jon Hamm’s favorite part of the movie and why.
“There’s a couple. Most of the stuff we shot in India was pretty great to filmbecause 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. this sort of ‘we’re bringing India to you’ and they have that nice party and J.B. realizes that they somehow feel like he’s disappointed in them. And the honest truth that 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, of him disappointing them somehow was soul-crushing to him. He’s like, ‘You could never disappoint me. That’s impossible.'”
J.B is their dad at that point, you know, 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. Again, it could be just another movie about, you know, sports and feel good and this and that but the emotion that the boys bring to their parts really does carry. I think it carries it into a different world.”
He said it, “It could just be another movie about, you know, sports and feel good,” so? What is it that sets this film apart from other sports films that have come along?
“I think like all good… 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 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. I think it would be a disservice to it, to just say it’s a baseball movie because it’s, for me at least, it means much more than that. Back to the first question. That’s kind of one of the reasons why I wanted to do this film.”
“It just felt richer than just a game where I hope they win the big game, you know, at the end. And I hope that’s what we brought through the making of it.”
See if that is indeed what Jon Hamm and the amazing cast brought to the making of Million Dollar Arm opening night, May 16th, at a theater near you!