Sitting just a few feet away from Oscar nominees Brad Pitt & Jonah Hill isn’t a bad way to spend a weeknight. While I wish this scene was unfolding in my living room, the Bing theater at LACMA was certainly the next best thing!
Both Pitt and Hill are nominated for their performances in the film Moneyball, for ‘Actor in a Leading Role’ and ‘Actor in a Supporting Role’ respectively and used the time wisely to promote the film to an eager audience of movie lovers. The evening was presented by Film Independent and the New York Times and was moderated by curator Elvis Mitchell. The night also included baseball legend Billy Beane (whom Pitt plays in the film) and the film’s editor Christopher Tellefson and sound mixer Deb Adair in the pre-screening Q &A.
Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller, follows the story of the Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, and his number two, Peter Brand (played by Hill), as they employ a fact-based and shockingly unorthodox method of putting together a winning team, rather than going on traditional gut instinct to select players. This initially leads the duo to take a lot of heat as the team’s record takes a nosedive, players are lost, and salaries are reduced. For our full PPLA review, visit Moneyball. The film is an adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book Money: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game and the film version has six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin.
I must admit that I attended for the Q & A and not the screening, as I have seen and already admire the film. That said, the session lived up to my expectations in many ways. My one criticism, echoed by much of my surrounding audience, was the inclusion of the editor and sound mixer in the panel. While it was mildly interesting to hear about those types of choices in storytelling- and Pitt did his best to draw attention to their stellar work- it was clear everyone was there to see the stars.
When the panel started, Beane, was not present, delayed by a late flight into LAX but he arrived only moments in to an excited Pitt who eagerly yelled, “Can I do it? Can I do?” toward Elvis Mitchell. He was asking to introduce the man he played and has come to admire as a friend. From the start, it was clear that a strong bond had been formed between Beane and Pitt. Beane discussed being initially nervous to agree to the film when first approached. “The book was one thing, but to have your story on screen, well, you have no idea how it will turn out. But I trusted them (Pitt & Miller). It actually sat on my desk for about six months before I signed off on it. (To Pitt) I hope you don’t mind me saying this but it was our conversation when you told me that this was going to be your best work that really convinced me.”
As for Hill, he enjoyed playing a character that wasn’t based on one particular person but several people that worked for Beane and a character that was different from his own personality. “I didn’t have the pressure that Brad did in having to one day sit on a stage next to the person I played. I think that would affect my performance to an extent, thinking I was playing someone who had a real life that had to be upheld. I’d be terrified if someone was to play me.” He continues, “This character is the type of guy who blends into the wall and then has a spotlight shined on him, and he has to deal with that. It’s the opposite of me, and actor, who loves attention and literally has a spotlight on me right now on stage. I wanted to play someone like that- someone who has trouble with notoriety and expressing himself and luckily, the producers let me do that in this film.”
When asked to recall how he, a traditional comedy actor, was cast in this film, Hill said, “The day that I got the call for this script, I had just received really bad news. I had been working on a script for about three years and the project had just fallen through. I was very upset. Then, later the same day, I get the call from my agent that Miller wants to see me for Moneyball. I was excited. Then of course, my agent says that there are all these really great drama actors that will probably get it before me. So there was all this up and down of emotions but still, I was really excited. I had done one dramatic film but it hadn’t been released yet at that point. When I met with the director he asked me if I knew anything about baseball or math and I said no. But when he asked why I wanted to play this character, I told him, and I had the part. One of my favorite actors, John C. Reilly told me something that really is the truth when it comes to drama and comedy. It’s not you or the acting style that’s different or changes, it’s just different circumstances, and reacting in those circumstances appropriately.”
As for Pitt, he talked at length about getting to know Beane on a personal level. They both have kids and similar interests and that bond really helped his performance. Beane agreed, “The world I work in is a bit of a testosterone jungle and what I really appreciated, that Pitt and Miller did in the film, is they really personalized my story and made it more human. I remember when the book was being written no one cared that I liked to walk my dog or spend time with my daughter, they wanted to know about business. But in the film, you see the whole person and some things that Pitt did, I don’t even know how he knew about them. Like this tradition I had with my daughter that I never told him about. It was amazing to see.”
The love between Pitt and Beane is evident, but it is there for Pitt and Hill too. The duo spent most of the evening making the audience laugh with their banter. When Pitt became long-winded on a response, Hill cut him off saying, “They just wanted a simple yes Brad so we could move on”. In response, “Listen, my 27-year old friend…” jabbing at his youthful co-star. The two describe their relationship as “finishing each other’s sentences” but Brad adds, “But we cut the love scene from the film” and Hill inches his chair closer to Brad onstage.
All joking aside, Pitt wanted the audience to know that the film to him “Is a real justice story. For that moment in time, these men changed the game. They changed the game of baseball even today and they took a lot of heat for it, and it’s commendable. It’s a story about what is success and what is failure. They gave players that had been denied a career a second chance and a sense of worth. The film begs the question of why we do what we do and just because we’ve been doing something so long, does it make it right?” He veers off momentarily, “Like, why do we have daylight savings time? Why, if every vote counts, do we have an electoral college?” Catching himself getting political, something the Pitt-Jolie brand has become known for, he laughs. Concluding, “The one untold story is how much influence Miller (the director) had on this film. His input, his elegance, his silent mark on the film.”
In listening to the love Pitt, Miller, and Hill have for Beane’s story and their commitment to the work, it is hard to imagine that this film almost didn’t get made. Even more telling, is it is now in position to compete in the upcoming Oscar race. If I learned anything tonight, it’s don’t count a player out. Sometimes the underdog will surprise you!