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Cast of Million Dollar Arm Talks Baseball, Family, Success and More!

May 12, 2014

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By: Lynn Barker

A few years ago, two 18-year-olds from impoverished rural India won a baseball pitching contest that brought them to America and the major leagues. Neither one of them had ever touched a baseball before! It’s a true story.

Womanizing sports agent J.B. Bernstein (played by “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm), down on his luck when a major client signs with another agency, thinks up a crazy, massive contest and calls it “Million Dollar Arm”. He will go to India and turn some cricket players into star baseball pitchers. All those cricket fans will then embrace baseball too! Yeah, right!

J.B. scouts India for baseball pitchersJ.B. scouts India for baseball pitchersCourtesy of Disney

In India, tryouts bring thousands but it is two guys who didn’t play cricket AND never touched a baseball or saw a game, who can throw the fastest.  Rinku Singh (played in the film by Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal) are whisked away to America and eventually are signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

On the journey to turn two Indian teens into baseball greats, J.B. becomes closer to his tenant Brenda (played by Lake Bell) who not only helps him learn the true nature of family and teaches him to love and respect Rinku and Dinesh but later sways him away from his “playboy” ways to become his wife.

Lake Bell as Brenda and Jon Hamm as J.B.Lake Bell as Brenda and Jon Hamm as J.B.Courtesy of Disney

Kidzworld sat down with the real Rinku Singh and actors Jon Hamm and Lake Bell to discover how this film inspired them. Rinku tells us what it was like to be a poor kid from India turned into a pro baseball player. Check it out!

Kidzworld: Jon, this film is based on a true story. Had you ever heard about the “Million Dollar Arm” contest or the two winners who went on to play baseball for the Pirates?

  • Jon:  No. I read the script and loved it and looked back to the title page and went “Wait a minute!  This is true?”  I am a huge baseball fan and somehow this flew under my radar and I didn’t know. I was immediately on Google finding out everything I could about this. It’s just this incredibly uplifting story about thinking outside the box and really following through with something and working hard and succeeding. It’s affirming and it’s uplifting and heartwarming. It’s not a “sports” movie so much as it’s a movie that moves you. It’s a film that I can tell my friends to take their children to.

Dinesh, Rinku, J.B. and assistant check out the fieldDinesh, Rinku, J.B. and assistant check out the fieldCourtesy of Disney

Kidzworld: Rinku, this is your story too. What was it like to see Suraj Sharma who of course starred in Life of Pi, playing you in this film? Also, what is your impression of the movie?

  • Rinku: First of all I think he’s not just a great actor, he’s a great young man as well. I’m very lucky to have a man like him to play my role. This is such an inspiring movie. Seeing a bunch of American kids come in there (rooting) for me was totally (like being on) a new planet. There is something I think a lot of American kids are gonna carry from the movie the rest of their lives.
  • As an example, I took all my (Pittsburgh Pirates) teammates to see the movie and the reality is that a 19-year-old kid signs a million dollar bonus (to join the team) and they don’t know what to do with it. Seeing this movie and how I have struggled and where I’m coming from, a lot of (young players) come up to me and say “Rinku, I apologize. We never thought that’s where you came from man.  This is something really amazing and we’ve gonna get really, really serious about this business after seeing your struggle”.

Rinku shocks coaches with his Flamingo Style pitchingRinku shocks coaches with his Flamingo Style pitchingCourtesy of Disney

Kidzworld: Very cool. Lake, your character Brenda kind of helps Jon’s character J.B. straighten out his life and treasure what is important. What drew you to this role?

  • Lake: (I liked that) the female character in a sea of male characters is still well thought out and has her own world. That’s what really attracted me to the script so much because I think, in a sea of gentleman and in a sports movie perhaps the female character can get left on the sidelines. I felt that the (Brenda) is very present and has a lot of energy and somewhat of an emotional catalyst for J.B.’s emotional journey. She’s smart and she’s layered and (the real) J.B. said that the real Brenda is a bad a**.

Brenda (Lake Bell) watches the guys trainBrenda (Lake Bell) watches the guys trainCourtesy of Disney

Kidzworld: She seems like she can sure hold her own with the guys. Jon, is there a difference for you when you play a real life character?

  • Jon: What you desperately don’t want to do is be false. It was such a pleasure to meet not only J.B. but Rinku and the real Dinesh. The last thing you want to do is offend and portray them in some way that rings false. This kind of movie makes you feel something.
  • Lake: Yeah. I don’t know squat about baseball or sports for that matter but in reading the story and watching the movie, I’m always utterly moved and I think that it’s because there’s something about raw talent (that the two Indian guys had) that’s undeniable and hard work. I am very moved by great sports movies that have an emotional core because of that.  That’s what makes me proud of it as well.

J.B. (Jon Hamm) thinks the guys might not be readyJ.B. (Jon Hamm) thinks the guys might not be readyCourtesy of Disney

Kidzworld: Jon, how do you relate to and identify with the JB character? You’re an actor, he, an agent.  

  • Jon: It’s not difficult to draw a parallel between an agent’s life and an actor’s life in many ways.  Both have to project this confidence and this sort of charisma and charm and everything and then it all falls apart and that’s every audition that I’ve ever been on for the first like three years of my career in Los Angeles!  You walk in the room, you’re like “this is going to be great!  I’m the best guy and you love me. Oh, it’s not working?  Okay bye”. I identified obviously with that, with that part of J.B.’s experience of trying to win these guys in the room over and then “Oh you’re going to go with CAA? That’s obviously an easy parallel to draw. It’s such a strange existence basing your life on the whims of others and the fact that people either choose you or don’t. 

J.B. teaches Rinku and Dinesh American customsJ.B. teaches Rinku and Dinesh American customsCourtesy of Disney

Kidzworld: How was shooting the film and working in India where the two “Million Dollar Arm” winners were from?  

  • Jon: I had never been there and being thrust into the chaos of India was an eye opener and let me understand on a visceral level what J.B. went through which is literally coming up with this idea (a Million Dollar Arm contest) and sort of willing it into existence is a whole other thing.  The practicalities of doing that in India when you have never been there, have no experience over there is impossible and yet it happened.

Kidzworld: Rinku, you achieved the American Dream but the movie tells us that was not your original dream. What did you hope and expect to do with your life when you were a kid in rural India? Also, do you have a message for kids or teens who want to succeed at a sport or at anything?

  • Rinku: I’m still living the dream. Growing up as a kid back in India, my goal was to represent my country and be an Olympian (hockey) player. In 2007, I qualified for the Olympics, but never really had a chance just because J.B. wanted to give me a million dollar arm just throwing a baseball, so I never really had chance to go to the Olympics and came to America for baseball. 
  • A lot of people made fun of me and I was just an 18-year-old kid not knowing anything about America, leaving friends, family and my graduation behind. I didn’t even have a chance to go to finish my (school) degree. It really changed my life and you know my message for the kids is: you (have to) want to succeed (more) than breathing. 
  • Since I signed a professional contract, there’s so many things I had to do differently. If my team was doing a workout for two hours, obviously I have to do five, six hour, seven hours just because I didn’t play baseball growing up. I always had to put in my 110% effort.  It doesn’t matter how you feel, how little you sleep or what’s going on in the family or with your girlfriend, it doesn’t matter. I’d still have to get up, show up, be dressed, be on time and give 110%.  That’s my message: It’s not about just seeing a dream, it’s about following it on a daily basis. Respect the opportunity. 

Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) on the fieldDinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) on the fieldCourtesy of Disney

Kidzworld:  Rinku, when you did your first pitching tryouts, most of the contestants couldn’t get past I think it was like 40 or 50 (mph on their pitches). What do you think was in you that make you capable of basically doubling that speed?

  • Rinku: When you’re really trying to do something, you don’t do it perfect. It was kind of a joke at first. I got forced by my athletic coach go there and try and I really didn’t want to (try out) because I thought it was kind of crazy but I do a javelin throw (with a pause on one foot) and you have to do it in what J.B. later called “flamingo style”. (So, he did the same when pitching the baseball). Basically, I just didn’t think about going to America and never heard about a baseball. I went (to try out) just for fun and it turned out to become a huge dream now.

Rinku Singh in his baseball uniformRinku Singh in his baseball uniformCourtesy of Disney

Kidzworld: For Lake and Jon.  How people create families is one of the big themes in this film.  What experiences from your own family life did you bring to your performance?

  • Jon:  Lake got married right before the movie.
  • Lake: That’s true and then we started shooting two days after that so yeah family and relationships were definitely on my mind.
  • Jon: I’m in a modern family myself.  Everyone’s like “When are you and Jen (Westfeldt) going to get married?  We’ve been together for 16 years and we’re as married as anybody I guess. I don’t have kids, but I’ve been a daycare teacher. I have tons of nieces and nephews and I feel like all of these people are my family.  I lost my parents very young.  I’ve had a lot of surrogate parents in my life who have sort of adopted me in many ways so I have a very fluid definition of family as well. 
  • Lake:  I think that the guys (the two Indian pitchers and mentor J.B.) formed a very modern family unit. I come from also a kind of disjointed family. I do love that idea of having surrogate parents, people that you do look up to regardless of who your parents are, they are your mentors. I look up to them and I think you do create your own family in many ways and that’s a poignant part of this story.

Kidzworld: Rinku, when you were an older teen and were first brought to this country, what most impressed you or surprised you?

  • Rinku: I would say actually seeing a baseball game. I felt like I’m never going to ever succeed. It was too complicated!

See Disney’s Million Dollar Arm starting May 16th!

Million Dollar Arm PosterMillion Dollar Arm PosterCourtesy of Disney

Million Dollar Arm Trailer