JB Bernstein On 'Million Dollar Arm,' Jon Hamm
Sports agent JB Bernstein came up with the idea to scout India for major league pitching talent — an idea so inspired that the film Million Dollar Arm was made about it. In the movie, Bernstein is played by Jon Hamm as he scouts pitching prospects Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mattel), who navigate new lands and learn from one another.
Answering fan questions on uInterview, Berstein explained how the film, though not a documentary, mirrored his life. "I know most movies take true stories and take pieces of the story and build the movie around it. But really all the major scenes in the movie pretty much happened," Bermstein told uInterview. "So even in the areas where they changed things, they were inspired by what really happened."
Berstein was also thrilled, if surprised, with the casting of Hamm. "Everybody came and said who they thought should play me in the movie and, trust me, before this movie, Jon Hamm was not the name that came up for me," Bernstein said. "I would get Steve Carrell or Adam Sandler."
You know, we saw video of Madhur and Suraj and their casting tryouts - that's what they call it, when an actor tries out - we saw video of them interacting with one another. I was very familiar with Life of Pi, it was an enormously successful movie and then obviously I knew about Madhur's performance in Slumdog [Millionaire], so it wasn't like they were unknown guys. When I heard it was gonna be them and saw their audition tape, it was great. The first time we met them, I was actually in India. So I was in India during filming, really the first week of filming and my business partners and I went out, we got to meet all actors and got to spend some time with them. It was amazing watching their transformation the same way I watched Dinesh's transformation. The transformation of their bodies in terms of them working out, the transformation of them learning how to pitch - there's a great bonus feature on the DVD which actually shows their training and them learning to pitch, and Dinesh working with them, so it was a really unique experience. But that was the first time I saw them, and the first time I met them was there in India during the first week of filming.
It's not a documentary, but as far as true stories go, this one is pretty accurate. I know most movies take true stories and take pieces of the story and build the movie around it. But really all the major scenes in the movie pretty much happened. For example, me being a fish out of water in those various scenes trying to circumnavigate India were exactly how it happened. Rinku and Dinesh and them being a fish out of water here, how I screwed up the first tryout, how they were triumphant in the second tryout, how I met my wife and how those guys urged me to marry her, which I ultimately did. So even in the areas where they changed things, they were inspired by what really happened. So I think it's a true story, in the truest sense, as a far a movie goes. And when you read the book, you'll see that it basically tracks the same way, obviously you can do more in a book then you can in a movie, but I think most people who read the book and then see the movie will be really surprised to see how much of the movie is almost representative of what happened in real life.
The footage, that was one of the few changes. His real name was Depesh, but the writers thought Dinesh and Depesh were too close in names, and it would get confusing, so they changed his name to Amit. So Depesh was given a video camera, and it was exactly like in the movie, I mean he filmed everything. We have over 300 hours of footage. I mean stuff would come back, it was ridiculous. I have pictures of Rinku and Dinesh sitting in a hot tub. I got pictures of Rinku and Dinesh eating Chinese food. I mean just hours and hours worth of footage. He was great and a lot of the footage was actually used in trailer of the movie. You'll see a lot of footage and also in creating the sets and the scenes, the creative people and the director used a lot of that footage as landmarks for what things should look like. So it was critical that we had that stuff.
It was awesome. You know everybody came and said who should play me in the movie and, trust me, before this movie, Jon Hamm was not the name that came up for me. I would get Steve Carrell or Adam Sandler. Just the way he dealt with us and the actors, he is such a gracious guy and such a smart guy and a guy that I really look up to. I'm really, really proud of the job that he did, and I'm proud to consider him a friend.
I spent so much time with the screenwriter and director that they both had a really good feel on how they wanted me to be portrayed on the screen. Most people who know me and see the movie think that it's a very accurate portrayal of how I talk and my gesticulations and just kind of my general energy. So I think he did a really great job of picking that up. He's such a great actor. I don't take many tips about being a sports agent from anybody, I kind of try not to give people tips about what they're great at.
It was just like any epiphany - it's one of those eureka moments. The movie kind of portrays me sitting in front of the TV and although the two inspirations for coming up with the idea were American Idol and watching cricket, the idea kind of percolated with Ash [Vasudevan] and I over the course of two or three months. We kept coming back to it and refining it. But ultimately that first moment when you realize, hey, if I go to India and I do a game show, I am bound to find somebody with a natural ability to be a pitcher. It's that eureka moment when you realize, nobody else is thinking about this, no body else in the world is thinking - there's hundreds of millions of guys in India that have natural ability and are being scouted for nothing. There is real opportunity there and you are excited about it. It's almost incredible when you're pitching something and you think, 'How come no one else has thought of this before?' And so those are the emotions that run though you and just to be clear, no good idea is come up with by just one person, so you know Ash and I, without any one of us, this probably would've never happened. That's how I feel, in that moment when it started to crystalize and said, this is what we need to do.
The great thing about ideas is you come up with a bunch of them and then only a handful are really good. I think it was Einstein who said if I come up with a thousand ideas and one of them is good, I'm happy. So, you just constantly keep coming up with ideas, but I think we are definitely looking to expand the Million Dollar search and franchise into other sports and other countries and we have some announcements coming up about that. But the truth is, my main focus is on being a good dad and a good husband, that's a job that I take probably more serious then any other of my jobs, so I've had lot of my focus on that. But ultimately, you know, there have been ideas percolating and as soon as I get them off the table I'll be the first guy to come out here, trust me I've never been shy about pushing a new idea.