Jon Hamm on 'Million Dollar Arm': It's a 'movie that moves you'

Jon Hamm in a scene from Million Dollar Arm. (Handout photo)

Jon Hamm in a scene from Million Dollar Arm. (Handout photo)

MICHAEL RECHTSHAFFEN, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:58 PM ET

In the Jerry Maguire-meets-Slumdog Millionaire true story that is Million Dollar Arm, Jon Hamm plays the role of J.B. Bernstein, a struggling sports agent who comes up with an attention-getting scheme to find the next great major league pitcher among India’s cricket bowlers.

He returns to America with a pair of 18-year-old potential prospects named Rinku (Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal), but turning the boys into contenders proves to be tricky for underdog Bernstein and his fish-out-of-water houseguests.

It’s a terrific Hamm performance—loose, assured and utterly charming, an ideal choice for making the transition to big screen leading man after seven acclaimed seasons playing suave, hard-drinking, chain-smoking advertising executive Don Draper on Mad Men.

“You know, it’s not difficult to draw a parallel between an agent’s life and an actor’s life in many ways,” relates Hamm, 43, looking Don Draper dapper in a jacket, open-collared oxford shirt and dark jeans. “You have to sort of project this sort of charisma and charm and everything, and then it all falls apart and that’s exactly every audition I’ve ever been on for the first three years of my career in Los Angeles.”

Prior to hitting the big time with Mad Men, Hamm was a just another struggling actor, landing minor roles on shows like CSI: Miami, Numb3rs and The Division and in films like Space Cowboys and We Were Soldiers.

“It’s such a capricious, strange existence,” reflects Hamm, on those early days. “Basing your life on the whims of others and basing your ebbs and flows of confidence….on the fact that people either choose you or don’t.”

While the Draper and Bernstein roles would at first glance appear to be 180 degrees apart, truth is, the sports agent isn’t exactly portrayed as a pillar of virtue in the Craig Gillespie-directed film.

There’s something admittedly self-serving and exploitative about his motivations re: staging that Million Dollar Arm competition.

But, no spoiler alert required—this is a Disney movie after all--he ultimately learns to be a better, more considerate person, forming an unconventional family unit with Rinku, Dinesh and his nurturing neighbour Brenda (the smart/sexy/funny Lake Bell).

Despite the oddball grouping, it was a dynamic with which Hamm could find a very personal connection.

“I don’t have kids, but I’ve been a teacher and I’ve been a daycare teacher,” explains Hamm. “I have tons of nieces and nephews and I feel like all of these people are my family. I lost my parents very young. I’ve had a lot of surrogate parents in my life--family and family friends who have sort of adopted me in many ways, so I have a very fluid definition of family as well.”

That would also apply to his relationship with longtime partner, actress-screenwriter Jennifer Westfeldt.

“Everyone’s like, ‘When are you and Jen going to get married?’” shares Hamm. “We’ve been together for 16 years and we’re as married as anybody I guess. It’s however you define it.”

After playing more than his share of darker, edgier characters, Hamm says he’s delighted that with Million Dollar Arm he’s finally starring in something that he can finally tell his friends they can take their children to see.

“It’s affirming and it’s uplifting and it’s heartwarming and it’s emotional and it’s not a ‘sports’ movie so much as a movie that moves you,” declares Hamm. “It’s nice when the lights come up at the end of the movie, to not be, like, ‘What did I just watch? Who was the bad guy and why did the things crash and what blew up and why is the President mad?’

“It just makes me feel something, and that’s a nice thing.”

Twitter: @MRechtshaffen

 


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