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Pitch: Mark-Paul Gosselaar recaps season 1, episode 7

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Ray Mickshaw/Fox

Every week, a member of the cast or crew of Fox’s Pitch — the fictional story of the first woman to play Major League Baseball — is taking EW behind the scenes. For each episode, a cast or crew member is sharing thoughts on what went down, what’s coming up, and walking us through the ins and outs of the show. This week, star Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who plays team captain Mike Lawson, walks us through the sixth episode, “San Francisco.”

As told to Chancellor Agard:

On the Mike-centric flashbacks:

Early in the season, they told me that Mike’s childhood was not great, and as an actor, you use that as another tool in the shed. I didn’t need much more, but then reading this script fills in the blanks of how he became a catcher, his relationship with his mother, and who his father was. I think one of the things that’s so smart about our show is that we don’t use flashbacks to fill in the blanks for the audience. They’re more of an added track or a bonus feature. You fall in love with these characters and you want to know more about them, but they’re so well-developed that you get them on screen. I don’t think anyone watching is thinking, “Why is Mike the way he is?” It’s just there, and when you see a flashback, you say, “Oh, that’s great.” It’s not really like, “Oh, now I know why Mike is grumpy and acts the way he does.” There’s no a-ha moment in the flashbacks, which is what I like because I sometimes think it can be lazy writing to say, “Well why is this character this way?” “Well, I haven’t written it, so we’re going to do a flashback.” 

On relating to Mike feeling threatened by Livan (Christian Ochoa):

There are so many parallels between what’s happening in the script and what’s happening in real life. When I read it, I thought, “Wait, I’m still the catcher, right?” because I love playing that position and I love playing Mike Lawson. They said, “Yeah, yeah.” Then, Livan, played by Christian Ochoa, shows up. Christian was a catcher in high school and college, so he has natural ability. There was a point when I was feeling threatened, not only as Mike but also as Mark-Paul. That helps with the on-screen threat and intimidation and whether or not this guy’s going to take over. There are a lot of similarities and parallels between the characters, which is something that the writers are so good at seeing and writing for.

On preparing for this episode’s nude scenes and the team’s decision to support Ginny:

We didn’t put in extra work the day before. We put in extra work months before. Production gave us a heads-up that this was a storyline because they know how important it is for us to get into shape and to look the part. Mo McRae and I have been on very strict diets since the beginning of the show because we were preparing for these scenes. For me, I’ve had to gain some extra weight to look the part. We all sort of help each other with our diets and our workouts and keep each other honest during the process, because it’s hard to be on set all day and have craft service there and not get yourself in trouble. The day before, you don’t drink water, and before the scenes, you work out to pump yourself up — all of which I’d honestly rather not do, but I was glad with the results. I have so much respect for the people who do magazine spreads and model because it’s not easy.

Looking back on it, I know Mike is there for her and so is the team. Mike cares deeply for Ginny and for the team. Knowing that this is going to affect her in the way that it was going to, he wants to help Ginny, but it’s also selfishly for the team. Being the captain, he’s thinking, “What can I do to help?” and that’s the solution they came up with. However, looking back on it from an acting standpoint, you think, “Oh my God, I’ve got to get nude? Are you kidding me? I have to start working out harder. I have to diet. Oh shit!” I didn’t see the entire team’s photos, but I got to see a preview of Kylie Bunbury, Mo, and myself. I was pretty happy with myself, but not so much with Mo. I think he could’ve done better. (I’m kidding.) But I was pretty happy with the outcome. I thought, “Damn, that looks good.” (I’m speaking about Kylie, not myself, by the way. I would never say that about myself.)

On filming the baseball game scenes:

It’s always very challenging when we do the baseball action. We went to San Francisco with the entire crew on a Wednesday, filmed on a Thursday, and left the next Friday. Being there from sun up to sun down, trying to get all of the shots in, is physically and mentally demanding because you’re on call all day. Filming the baseball scenes is probably the most challenging thing that we do because it’s just nonstop. Cameras are everywhere and you’re on call the minute you step on the field.

We’re doing all of those things onscreen, and it’s not easy, especially in front of cameras. When our in-field guys, who are all ex-major league or minor league players, have to do these plays on cue, they tend to f— them up because it’s on camera, you’re nervous, and you only have a couple takes. It’s not like a game situation, where you naturally do it.

On the scene that made him emotional:

While I was acting, I got a little emotional shooting the scene where I see my father playing in the yard with his grandson. As an actor, you live in the moment and you’re watching this scene. Knowing Mike’s history with his father and seeing him with his grandson playing ball, it struck a chord in me. It’s the age. I’m getting to that age where everything makes me emotional. I watch a Johnson & Johnson commercial and become emotional.

On how the final scene reminds him of his NYPD Blue days:

Those are always hard scenes to play when you don’t say much. You just let the camera roll and you take your time. I think it’s a testament to the writing. The writing sets that up so that we know exactly where Mike’s head is and you’re just along for the ride. That’s how I feel. You just say the words and you’re halfway home. It’s very much like NYPD Blue; It’s so well-written that all I had to do was say the words and it seemed like I was doing this brilliant acting. Honestly, I felt like I was just saying the lines because it’s all on the page. It’s the same with this scene. The scene description in the script is exactly what I think the audience is going to see.