Actress Lake Bell took time out of her schedule to talk with me about her role in the new Disney film, Million Dollar Arm. She portrays the tenant, neighbor, and friend of sports agent JB Bernstein, played by Jon Hamm.
Q: So, it seems like you’re the only one in the film who didn’t get to travel to India. Did you have any desire to visit along with the crew, or did you try to petition Disney to try to join in on the experience?
Lake Bell: In truth, it’s kind of a sore point of contention at this point. I feel like I got left out of the coolest trip ever! But, that said, I’m not really complaining; when all the boys came back from India, they did a lot of complaining about the 127 degree weather, and how they ate all these exotic foods and got very sick, and I was like “I would have taken all of that! I would have taken my Pepto Bismol and sucked it up to have the life experience.” But anyway, I’m super bummed about not going to one of the most extraordinary places in the world.
But, hopefully… look, maybe they can be like “Miss Brenda, The Sequel.” [Laughing]
Q: How did you prepare for the role?
LB: It’s interesting…because it’s a true story, the thought is that you have to sort of find something about the real person and then latch on to that. But really, in this instance because none of us are playing iconic characters from history it’s sort of a different ballgame – pun intended. It’s more that you have to adhere to the message and sort of honor the story itself versus the literal hand gestures or physical quirks of a character. It’s more ‘who is Brenda and how does she live her life and how does she influence those around her?’, not necessarily ‘Ooh, I want to drink a certain type of decaf coffee she drinks everyday’ in order to be more like the real Brenda.
I didn’t, in fact, get to meet the real Brenda until the premier, so I only had information that I could [get from the script] and what other people said about her, and her husband JB [Bernstein] was on the set quite a bit so we got to talk about his life and the real Miss Brenda. We got to investigate her through the eyes of him.
Q: I noticed that several of the cast members are also directors. I was wondering how you balance between the two and if you prefer one over the other?
Note: Lake Bell is the writer and director for, and acted in, the film “In A World…”, available now on DVD/Blu-Ray
LB: The balance sort of happens organically. If you’re going to take an acting role, you understand what that time commitment that is and, alternatively, if you take on a directing role, that sort of sucks up such a massive amount of time. To direct a feature, once you understand what your schedule is for that, I mean, everything kind of sifts out to kind of make sense within your schedule. To make a movie takes years of your life, so you can’t take any acting job while you are in pre-production, shooting, or in post-production. Alternatively, if you’re acting, you can smoosh in a lot more jobs, you have the luxury of doing that. For instance, in the past 6 months I’ve done 3 different films in different parts of the world. In a way, acting can be far more versatile in terms of your physical schedule.
Q: Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced while filming, perhaps a few behind the scenes anecdotes you’d like to share?
LB: You know, we shot in Atlanta, we did not actually shoot in LA, so it was India and Atlanta; it’s particularly finicky with weather so a lot of the exterior scenes, we ran into a lot of problems – it would be raining on one side of the field and would be bright and sunny on the other side of the field. Those are the production challenges we had.
As far as shooting, it was delightful and I’ve known Jon for many years so we are buddies and I was really excited to be part of the project.
Q: Are you a baseball fan and were you familiar with the story of Million Dollar Arm before the movie?
LB: I have nothing against baseball, but I don’t know ding-dong-diddly about it so, going into this movie, I certainly didn’t know the story of Million Dollar Arm. But I will say that Jon [Hamm] is an avid baseball fan and didn’t even know anything about the story either, so I didn’t feel too badly about that.
I remember reading the script and thinking “Oh boy, there’s no way this is true” and when you looked it up, it was such an extraordinary tale that, in a way, it couldn’t be made up. It’s really cool to be a part of a project that is that exciting; you don’t need to be a sports fan to understand that, for someone who’s never picked up a baseball, 10 months later to be recruited into the major leagues as a pitcher, that is… you don’t have to be a professional baseball player to understand that it is extraordinary.
These young guys, who were 17 at the time, they overcame such fantastic cultural obstacles and physical/athletic obstacles to arrive at their goal. Goals and dreams they didn’t even know they had because they didn’t even know they existed.
“The raw, undeniable talent of an athlete in success is utterly inspiring, whether you’re into [sports] or not. Because you think of your own physical capabilities and you know that if a runner is fast, he just wins the race. There is no gray area, it’s black or white. You either win or you don’t. So when you see it depicted with all the emotional stakes in a film like this one, by the end, you really do have goosebumps and you’re out of breath with excitement. That is what makes these types of movies – and this one in particular – such a great ride.” – Lake Bell on sports and Million Dollar Arm
Q: What is it about your character, Brenda, that you most admire? How did you accentuate that trait on film?
LB: I really admire Brenda’s no-bullshit policy. She is very much an advocate for tough love, she stands up for herself – I think often, in these types of movies, female characters can be left on the sidelines or kind of the pretty thing that dotes on the male protagonist. Brenda – which I really appreciated – was written really beautifully by Tom McCarthy, who I love, and then directed by Craig Gillespie to be more assertive and unafraid of punching Jon’s character, JB, in the proverbial gut and call him a jerk when it’s due. I admire that. I think sometimes I could do with a little more of that in myself.
I was invited to this event by Disney as part of a media event. Accommodations and other expenses were paid for in exchange for my coverage of the event, but all opinions are my own and were not influenced in any way.