Hollywood Boulevard went green on Tuesday night when the premiere of Million Dollar Arm transformed a section of the Walk of Fame into a baseball pitching mound for star Jon Hamm‘s “favorite sport in the world.”
It was a fitting celebration for the Disney film that tells the true story of sports agent J.B. Bernstein, played by Hamm, who went to India to find baseball’s next pitching stars by launching a reality show competition.
With ESPN’s Bill Simmons and Connor Schell also both executive producers on the film, the network’s flagship Baseball Tonight show did a live broadcast from outside the El Capitan Theater, where hosts Karl Ravech, Barry Larkin and MLB insider Tim Kurkjian balanced giving highlights of the night’s baseball action with covering the star-filled premiere.
Before the guests started milling onto Hollywood’s most famous stretch of sidewalk, Hamm, who is a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan, took to the makeshift mound to throw out the opening pitch in Disney’s real-life contest, which challenged fans to throw a 100-mph strike for the chance to win $1 million. Josh Dahl, of Glendale, Ariz., belted out a 94-mph ball, and while it didn’t quite make him a millionaire, he signed a contract with Bernstein.
Hamm also flexed his sports skills when he joined Ravech and Larkin — who make cameos as themselves in the film along with ESPN analyst Curt Schilling — onstage for Baseball Tonight, where he agreed to appear on the show’s signature episode this Sunday at the Pittsburgh Pirates game against his beloved Cardinals.
“I hope people will be inspired. It is a feel good movie and it is about family and that’s what you want from a good baseball film,” Hamm said of Million Dollar Arm, which leads him into the post-Mad Men era of his career. “Everyone wants that thing to end quickly!” he joked.
When asked why it was the perfect follow-up role to Don Draper, Hamm told The Hollywood Reporter: “I don’t know why … I don’t know if [it is]. I just really liked the movie, I liked what it had to say and I liked that it was different.
“Plus, it has to do with my favorite sport in the world — baseball, which is one of the few sports that doesn’t have a clock ticking at all times. It can go on forever.” As for Don being a Mets fan (which he paid homage to in Sunday’s episode), “Well, that’s not true to life!” said the St. Louis native.
Both in real life and the film, Bernstein brought two 18-year-old cricket pitchers who had never even seen a baseball glove back to America with him, and on Tuesday Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel got to see their story told on the big screen. “I don’t believe it. I am seeing a dream,” said Singh, who currently plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was portrayed by Life of Pi star Suraj Sharma.
The hardest part of the culture shock of moving from his tiny rural village in Bhadohi to L.A. was “not knowing the language,” he revealed. “It was not easy and was the toughest decision I’ve made in my life,” he said, adding that they learned both the rules of the game and English by watching Baseball Tonight.
“The brilliance of this movie is that it’s Hollywood meets Bollywood, and it is going to have a huge audience here and probably a huger audience there,” said Hamm’s Mad Men co-star Harry Hamlin. “What if it inspires people to play cricket here?” he marveled.
Explaining that Hamm is “perfect for any role,” Hamlin, who plays Jim Cutler in the AMC drama said it is “very fun to bully Don Draper, and I am always right. I have the moral high ground.”
Director Craig Gillespie said the charm of the film — which also stars Aasif Mandvi (as Dinesh), Bill Paxton, Lake Bell and Alan Arkin — stems from The Station Agent writer Tom McCarthy‘s script. “It really is this incredible human story with Hamm going from being very materialistic to becoming a real human being. I don’t even think you need to know baseball for this film,” he explained. “It is a very ‘fish out of water’ tale and flips. Jon is out of the water in the first half and the boys are in the second half.”
Simmons, who serves as an ESPN analyst and editor-in-chief of Grantland, admitted that he was dubious before signing on as an executive producer, but “then I read the script and I just really liked it, and everything about it made sense. We [he and Schell] wanted to enter the movie business, and it is a lot different to documentaries so we just threw ourselves into it to help out in anyway we could,” he told THR. “To me, the kids are the key to the movie. It is very much a rags-to-riches story. We talk a lot about the difference between what makes a good documentary and what makes a good sports movie, and a lot of the time a story is better as a doc, but this one was better as a sports movie.”
Million Dollar Arm is Simmons and Schell’s first scripted feature film after working on the highly-acclaimed 30 for 30 series together — and there may be more to come. “I thought it was cool. I do think it is something we could be good at. It was a learning experience. We knew nothing. Just going through the whole process, it was like going to grad school on how to make a movie,” he joked.
Schell, vice president and executive producer, ESPN Films and Original Content, went on to say: “This is the exact kind of story we inspire to tell on 30 for 30. It is true life. It is inspiring — it makes you think about sports and the way you watch them in a totally different way.
“Sports fans demand authenticity. That is why in the non-fiction space, the stories we’re telling are authentic, but what attracted Bill and I and ESPN to this story was it was entirely true to life. In a world where you think everyone is discovered and has had their 15 minutes of fame, J.B. went out to a new place and said: ‘I am going to find a baseball player.’ It proves anything can happen — you could never dream a story this good.”
Million Dollar Arm opens in theaters nationwide on May 16.