Million Dollar Arm: Lake Bell on Yelling at Jon Hamm

Lake Bell Jon Hamm Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm is the true story of J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm), who created the competition show “Million Dollar Arm” to find a new pitching sensation from India’s cricket players. In bringing Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) to America, the bachelor Bernstein got to explore his family side. That in turn led his tenant Brenda (Lake Bell) to warm up to him. Brenda had a role in softening J.B. up also, as a scene depicts J.B. yelling at Brenda, and she doesn’t take it. We spoke with Bell about her role in the film just before her stint as a Tribeca Film Festival juror last month.

CraveOnline: J.B. is here and I’m speaking to him as well. Was the real Brenda involved with the film?

Lake Bell: She wasn’t but the good news is, her husband represented her well. I think that it was really important for Jon and for Suraj and Madhur to meet those key guys, but when you’re depicting a true story, I don’t think you necessarily need to adhere to mimicking or transforming into the people that are involved. You have to sort of respect the heart and soul and the message of the story. It’s not like we were depicting iconic characters that people would recognize all over the world.

Did Brenda really break his washing machine though?

I don’t know if that’s true but I do know that the dinner scene where I’m wearing the sari, that all really happened. The only difference was she cooked. The kids didn’t cook.

How did you feel wearing the sari?

It was beautiful. I thought it was so regal and I felt like a princess.

Were you jealous you didn’t get to go do India?

Yes! It’s a hard spot for me to reconcile. I thought oh my God, here is this opportunity for me to go to one of the most extraordinary places in the world and lo and behold, I’m on Skype for all of the India scenes.

In real life she didn’t go, did she?

No, she did not. That’s what I mean. They kept it true so I was in a hospital in Atlanta Skyping.

The interesting thing about the scene where Brenda stands up to J.B. is she doesn’t get angry. She just says, “There’s a side of you that I don’t like.” Usually in movies it’s all over until there’s a redemption at the end. Was that refreshing?

Yeah, it was incredibly refreshing to play a character in a sea of male characters that actually had a backbone and had a point of view and also really kind of the emotional catalyst for the protagonist who needed a punch in the gut proverbially. I just liked that she dished a dose of tough love and didn’t care if he liked her or not. It wasn’t about that and I think that’s rare to find a female character that just doesn’t care if the guy likes her or not.

And didn’t lose her cool either.

Yeah, she’s in the business of being a caretaker and a caregiver. He’s in the business of monetary gain. So he doesn’t turn her on at all until she sees a change in him. That’s where I think they meet.

Do you really cry to Pride of the Yankees?

[Laughs] Okay, so I would cry to Pride of the Yankees but… yeah, why not? I’m from New York. Why not?

Did you audition for this film?

Uh-huh. I auditioned and when it came down to the point that the director and Disney were keen on my doing it, then I didn’t have to chemistry read necessarily because Jon and I have known each other for many, many years.

So you do still audition?

Oh yeah, of course. Lots of people audition. I think it’s not talked about that much but people audition. Even when you don’t think that there’s any way that they’ve auditioned, they might’ve audition.

Can you make the most out of that process?

Oh yeah. I mean, it sucks. There’s nothing great about it. It forever continues to be awkward and nerve wracking but at the end of the day, even as a director now, looking from a different perspective, it is nice to see someone do the role because you might not’ve seen them do anything like that before and you want to make sure that it sounds right in their mouth. So I kind of respect the process in a different way. I know that every door that I walk through for an audition, they’re hoping that their process is done and that you’re right. So it’s not actually as negative as people think.

I always marvel at how they can even imagine that tape their seeing as a film performance. When I see auditions on DVDs and stuff, it’s so far removed from what’s in the film.

You get really used to it. I’ve had some friends to say, “Oh yeah, I sent in an audition tape and I got the job.” Usually, every time I’ve sent in an audition tape, that’s never worked. It’s usually me in the room. So you’re seeing the tape that also the director was in the room and could see the person and talk to them and ask them to adjust and try different things. That’s when you start to understand if someone’s right for it.

Is Tribeca the first time you’ve been a film festival juror?

Yes, this is the first time I am a juror so I’m very excited to be a part of the Tribeca Team this year. It’s a lot of work and I take it really seriously. Obviously I had a tremendous experience and I’m very thankful to Sundance. I know how it can change for a first time filmmaker or any filmmaker. It can change your life so I’m really excited to see all these new films. I am a film fanatic and film buff. I’m a film fan, I’m so excited to be an audience member and enjoy it.

I was going to say, is this the first chance you’ll have to go to a film festival and see movies? Usually you’re there with a film.

Absolutely. At Sundance, every time I’ve been there I’ve had virtually no time to see movies so this is a real luxury.

If you’re a movie buff, what are your favorite sports movies?

I love Miracle and I love A League of Their Own.

Have you shot The Coup already?

Yeah, I just finished shooting The Coup and Man Up so I’ve been away, out of the country for almost nearly six months, but The Coup was in Thailand and I was there for two and a half months with Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan. It’s about a family who inadvertently gets caught in the crossfire of this coup that’s going on in southeast Asia. It’s hyper intense but it’s very normal people in extraordinary circumstances.

Is it your first big action movie? You did some very gritty action in Black Rock.

Totally. It was the first time that I was in a harness jumping off a building. It was physically quite grueling. I was far away from home and there was a lot of physical challenges. I actually injured my lower back pretty profoundly.

Doing what?

It’s okay because it’s better now, thank God. It’s actually funny because we have two children in it so I’m carrying one of our children who’s like 60 lbs. and jumping over pipes and then under an underpass and all this stuff. I just threw my back out.

So basically doing normal stuff.

Well, if you saw the run you would know that it’s not that normal. There’s a helicopter that’s exploded. It’s a little bit grueling.

You have done Pride and Glory, Under Still Waters and Black Rock, but is it a struggle to be seen dramatically when you’re so well known for comedy?

Not particularly. I think that we’ll see. Hopefully not. I think you’re an actor, you’re an actor. It’s so funny, I started out in drama and then couldn’t get a comedy audition. Now I’ve done so much comedy they’re like, “Hmm, I wouldn’t necessarily see her in a drama.” That’s the ebb and flow of the business and hopefully they accept me in all forms. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.