“Million Dollar Arm” is a baseball movie with very little baseball played in it, but it is still strong in the spirit of what makes baseball movies so beloved.
The film, based on a true story, stars Jon Hamm as a down-on-his-luck agent who goes to India to run a reality show. The goal is to find young athletes who can pitch, with the intention of bringing them to America to be signed by a Major League Baseball organization.
Helping him along the way are a pair of baseball lifers, former pitcher and coach Tom House and scout Ray Poitevint, who signed Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez.
amNewYork spoke with Bill Paxton and Alan Arkin, who play the House and Poitevint, respectively.
Are you guys big baseball fans?
BILL PAXTON: I grew up in Texas but I loved the Yankees because they were so great. I remember there was an annual golf tournament and they would invite celebrities down and I used to work around the course and make a little extra money as a kid, and I remember getting to meet Mickey Mantle and getting his autograph when I was around 11.
ALAN ARKIN: You got Mickey Mantle’s autograph? How much you want for it?
BP: For you? I’d give you a discount.
Did you get a chance to meet the real people your characters were based on?
AA: I did not. I didn’t know he was a real person until after the movie was made. [laughs]
BP: I got to meet Tom House. They arranged a day. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with him. … Tom House is a remarkable individual. He is not only a great baseball pitching coach, but he’s a great life coach. His philosophy of life and teaching is so nurturing, so tolerant. … At the end of the day, he just said, “You just be you and you’ll be a perfect me” and I walked away thinking, “God, I feel so good, but what the hell does that mean?”
What drew you to this story?
BP: J.B., the Jon Hamm character, is really almost a low life when you meet him, in terms of his lifestyle. He’s a two-bit hustler, who by going on this journey to try to make a quick buck, ends up finding his heart and his soul. I loved the script. I don’t know enough about baseball to play a pitching coach. I think you’ve got to take on things that kind of scare you just to shake it up a little bit.
How was it working with Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal, the two young actors who play the Indian pitchers?
AA: They’re sensational in the film. They’re absolutely wonderful, open and available and fresh and free and unfettered. They’re really terrific. They’re, to me, the heart and soul of the film, those two kids.
Did they have any baseball skills coming into the movie?
BP: Absolutely none. These guys, not only did they have to play these parts, but they had to do intensive training. Not only full body building, but they had to practice throwing a baseball to the point that their arms were about to fall off. It’s a real testament to their stamina and their youth. I remember Madhur telling me he was sore as hell at the end of the day.
And how was your baseball skills growing up?
AA: Sensational. Off the chart. I was off the chart.