Jon Hamm is a sucker for baseball movies and a die-hard Cardinals fan, but that’s only part of the reason he chose to make Million Dollar Arm. Directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), the film, inspired by true events, tells the redemption tale of sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Hamm), a real-life Jerry Maguire who strikes out on his own only to have the ace defensive lineman he’s been trying to land as a client ditch him for a big corporate agency. So in a Hail Mary pass to save his business, Bernstein hightails it to India with a mission: to find cricket players he can morph into Major League Baseball’s next superstars. He finds two athletes (Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire‘s Madhur Mittal) through a reality-show contest he hosts, but air-dropping these boys from remote Indian villages smack into the middle of the American dream forces Bernstein to realize that he is responsible for more than just making a commission. He is responsible for them. “He learns how to be a better human being,” says Hamm, who saw the role as an antidote to his Don Draper on Mad Men. “I spend the majority of my year playing not the best human being on the planet.”
The production shot in India for almost a month, often in 120-degree heat, often with no air conditioning. Director Gillespie remembers the crew’s initial efforts to keep Hamm’s perspiration in check.
“It was impossible to keep him dry. I think after the first take, they tried blowdrying him and I told them to forget it,” he says. “It’s funny, we were doing this scene in the office, and you can really see how much he is sweating. It was brutally hot, but because it was so loud on the street, every time we rolled we had to close the windows. By the end of the take it was stifling. But he never complained and for continuity, it was better to keep him wet.”
The extremes Hamm and Co. confronted shooting in India — from the wealth to the poverty, the beauty and the decay — gave the actor perspective on what a feat Bernstein, who still runs his Million Dollar Arm program in India, had achieved.
“Once you see India, you see what J.B. met with on day one,” Hamm says. “If it were me, I would have been like, ‘Nope, this is never going to happen.’”
Check out this clip from Million Dollar Arm, which Disney will release on May 16. Bernstein has just arrived in India and he gets his first glimpse at how business is done in the country.