We at XOXOAD are major Mad Men fans, and especially Jon Hamm fans! (Oh, Don Draper, you fascinating cad, you…) So not only are we excited for the season premiere, but we can get an extra slice of Hamm in the upcoming (May 16) release of Million Dollar Arm, a feature film about an down-on-his-luck baseball scout who goes looking for untapped talent…in India! And what he finds there will amaze you.
Part The Blind Side, part Slumdog Millionaire, this story will make you laugh, but it will also move you. We’re lucky enough to have had a chance to interview J.B. Bernstein, the real-life sports agent on whose memoir the movie is based. J.B. talked to us a little about baseball, love, and what it’s like being played by Jon Hamm!
As an agent to some of the top athletes in the world, you were pretty much a sports rock star. What made you decide to leave all that behind and create the “Million Dollar Arm” contest?
During Million Dollar Arm, I still maintained my current business. Even though my clients were some of the greatest to ever play in their sports, I was always trying to top myself… Having a Yao Ming like talent for a client, was my ultimate goal. Yao is the type of client that is not only a top player, but he is historically significant as he really opened his country up to the his sport on an international level, as well as being one of the clients that really created maximum revenue. Finding a Yao Ming seemed impossible, so my business partners and I decided we could try and create one.
Why India? What drew you to search for stars in that country?
Once you understand what the components of Yao Ming are, India becomes the logical choice. The formula that makes Yao the marketing juggernaut he is – Yao is the first successful athlete in American Team pro sports hailing from a country with more than a billion people where that country has the inroads to be able to market sports (Broadcasting, Sponsorship, and Merchandise Licensing).
Obviously the lives of the two baseball stars you found were changed dramatically—how did the experience change you?
I knew that this experience would change Rinku and Dinesh forever, what I did not foresee was how much it changed me. Before Million Dollar Arm, I was a serial bachelor that thought marriage was a scam, and that people who had kids were just looking for “mini-me’s” to feel better about themselves. Having Rinku and Dinesh live with me and being part of their journey reminded me of the importance of family and how much pride one can take from helping someone else achieve their dreams. I am now married with a 3 year old daughter, and I owe the person I have become to my two adopted Indian sons.
What do you want people to take away from your story?
Two things. 1) No matter how much opposition you face, don’t let it stop you from chasing your dreams. 2) Keep an open mind… All things that I thought would make me miserable, in the end were the only things that truly make me happy.
What was it like when you learned that your memoir was becoming a movie and that you would be played by Jon Hamm? Were you a Mad Men watcher?
It was surreal. When we started Million Dollar Arm, a book or a movie was a possibility that we could never envision. So many “experts” told the idea would never work, that having a movie and book made about it was really the icing on the cake when in the end it did work. In terms of having Jon Hamm play me, I am really humbled. He is not just a great actor, but also a great person. He could have done any movie, the fact that he chose this role is a real honor.
What kind of involvement did you have as the movie was made? Were you on set? Did you get to hang out with the actors at all?
We worked very closely with the screen writer to tell him the story, but in the end, we trusted just Disney to make a great movie. We are so proud of the final product. They were gracious enough to let us on set both in India and in the US. The whole process was like a dream.
Does the movie diverge from the story as you present it in your book? If so, how? Did anything get left out of the script (or on the cutting room floor) that you wish had stayed in?
I think the real story is so good that they did not have to change very much. Like any movie, you are so limited by time, that many great stories could not fit, but luckily most of those are in the book where you have much more time to go into detail.
The film comes out next month, but have you had a chance to see it already? If so, what’s it like watching your life onscreen?
I did get a chance to see that movie with my wife, and we loved it. It is a little hard seeing your life story on the big screen. To see Jon playing me before I started Million Dollar Arm was a little tough. The good news is that the movie ends with me going in the right direction, so I am really proud of that.
You’ve had impressive success in the worlds of sport, television, film and books—what’s your next move?
You never know where you next big idea is coming from, but my most important (and toughest) job for the rest of my life is to be a great dad.
What is it about baseball that gives it such universal appeal?
I think pro sports are a metaphor for real life. Everyone wants to do something special. Everyone wants to inspire people. Sports, especially baseball gives you that chance.