Based on an incredibly inspiring true story, Million Dollar Arm is so much more than just a sports film. It tells the story of sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm), who comes up with a scheme to save his career by finding the next Major League Baseball star among the totally raw and untapped talent in India. Once there, he finds two 18-year-old boys, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), whose knack for throwing a fastball could quite possibly lead them straight to a major league contract.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Alan Arkin (who plays retired baseball scout Ray Poitevint) and Bill Paxton (who plays Coach Tom House) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what attracted them to this film, what gets them to sign on for a project, in general, what it was like to work in India, and the great admiration they have for their young Indian co-stars. Paxton also talked about what it was like to be welcomed into the Marvel Universe for his role on the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
ALAN ARKIN: I was very moved by this. I didn’t know what to anticipate. I thought it was going to be Disney family fare, but I was very moved by it. The respect that it gave the Indian boys, and the view of their culture was very touching.
BILL PAXTON: I loved the story. Who wouldn’t be drawn to this? I just hope there’s enough promotion behind it, so that it can find an audience. From the script to working with the director, it’s a story that I think people from all walks of life can embrace and relate to and be touched by. I knew that all of these actors were involved, and I liked all of the actors. Lake Bell is just terrific. It’s this guy’s movie with this one great gal.
What do each of you look for in a project, in general?
ARKIN: If I’m moved by something. I like the idea of being connected with it.
PAXTON: At a certain point, it’s a leap of faith. You think about the director. In this case, it was Craig Gillespie, and I thought Lars and the Real Girl was a great movie. The director and the story are a big part of the decision, and whether it’s a good script.
ARKIN: Yeah. I’ve studied the culture for about 50 years now. I know a lot of the writers, I know a lot of the films, and I’ve read many, many books on Indian philosophy, so I was really excited about going. But we were presented with a heatwave in the middle of July in India that took precedent over everything. All you could do is survive. When you walked out of a hotel, it was like being hit with a baseball bat. It was 125 degrees, and we were working in that 12 hours a day. It was tough.
What did you enjoy most about your time in India?
ARKIN: The thing I was most taken with was the respect younger people had for anybody that was in the film. I don’t see that respect, in this country. There’s a familiarity here that sometimes shocks and annoys the hell out of me. People want a relationship with you that they haven’t earned. There’s a sense of the opposite in India. You’re treated with a remote respect that was very refreshing.
What was it like to work with the young Indian actors, Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal?
PAXTON: I went away with a great admiration for all of the Indian actors in this thing. Both of those guys were in Best Picture winners or nominees. Life of Pi should have won Best Picture, and Slumdog Millionaire did win Best Picture. These guys are not novices. They’re stone cold killers. They’re professionals. They’ve done big Hollywood movies, but they still carry themselves with a humility and a dignity.
ARKIN: They have a wonderful innocent openness in their work.
PAXTON: We’re just a couple of cynical bastards. We’re jaded, to say the least.
Bill, what’s it been like to be a part of the Marvel Universe with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
PAXTON: Because they made me so welcome and they’ve been so supportive and it’s a fun part, I had a great time. I consider them good friends now, from the experience. That doesn’t always happen, if you know what I mean.
Million Dollar Arm is now playing in theaters.