We were invited to a private interview with Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma and some of the cast from Disney's Million Dollar Arm! I was invited as media to attend this all expense paid trip in exchange for my coverage. All opinions are my own.
If you've been following my Disney adventures, you've seen some of my recent interviews with some of the cast for Million Dollar Arm. I've interviewed Jon Hamm and also attended the world premiere event for Million Dollar Arm (AMAZING). You've already seen the amazing footage of the world premiere for Million Dollar Arm, but now it's time to dig deeper and learn more about the movie from behind the scenes. Our recent interview with Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma, the actors surrounding the story of Disney's Million Dollar Arm, will leave you feeling refreshed and with a better understanding of what it was like to play the characters of Rinku and Dinesh. We also interviewed the REAL JB Bernstein, Rinku, and Dinesh! The story truly is amazing — the motivation to keep relentlessly following your dreams, and the humility knowing that the most amazing people in this world don't have to be the most powerful and most outspoken. A definite must-see!
About Million Dollar Arm:
Based on a true story, sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) finds that business has changed and things aren’t going well for his career. In a last ditch effort to save his livelihood he concocts a scheme to find baseball’s next great pitching ace. Hoping to find a young cricket pitcher he can turn into a major league baseball star, JB travels to India to produce a reality show competition called “The Million Dollar Arm.” With the help of cantankerous but eagle-eyed retired baseball scout Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin), he discovers Dinesh (played by Madhur Mittal from “Slumdog Millionaire”) and Rinku (played by Suraj Sharma from “Life of Pi”), two 18-year-old boys who have no idea about playing baseball, yet have a knack for throwing a fastball. Hoping to sign them to major league contracts and make a quick buck, JB brings the boys home to America to train. While the Americans are definitely out of their element in India, the boys, who have never left their rural villages, are equally challenged when they come to the States. As the boys learn the finer points of baseball, JB, with the help of his charming friend Brenda (Lake Bell), learns valuable life lessons about teamwork, commitment and what it means to be a family.
Madhur Mittal (played Dinesh) and Suraj Sharma (played Rinku) portrayed Indians who have come from undeveloped small towns in India that later became the U.S. baseball players Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. The movie is based on a true story with real characters and real events and we had the opportunity to learn more about how they were able to portray real characters and having to revive real past events.
QUESTION: How did you get into acting?
Madhur: “Very different stories for both of us. I have been in the business ever since I could remember. I started my career as a Michael Jackson impersonator as a child. Before I was three, you know, I started with Michael Jackson and that’s how I got into the entertainment business and when I was five my whole family they shifted from Agra, where I was born, to Mumbai, just so I could pursue a career in the arts. (I have a) really amazing supportive family. And they struggled and really pushed for me, and I always wanted to be an actor, you know, to be in the movies. So I’ve always had that, I wanted to be an actor and I’ve, kind of, worked and strived hard to be that.”
Suraj: “For me, I never knew. I never wanted to be an actor, or anything to do with film, it was just more of realization, you know, to some extent I might have not been able to do anything, unless that had happened, because then that just opened my eyes to the fact that, oh, wow, look there is something here that actually I love a lot. And that’s how it began.
It’s very liberating to be on a film set. Like as a child I was very shy, a complete introvert, I mean not the kind of person I am today at all. And even then I remember that I wouldn’t be able to answer questions to people or just be very communicative, but when I was on stage I was a different person. And that’s when I felt the most confident and the most alive, and I felt that this is where I belong and this is what I’m meant to do. This is where I’m meant to be. And I’m sure Suraj feels the same way.”
Madhur: “Also, I’m very proud to be part of a business where you expect people from all walks of life and, you know, just a tremendous spectrum of people from different cultures who look different and come together and create art.”
QUESTION: Had you played baseball prior to the film?
Madhur: “Absolutely not [LAUGHTER]. Zero experience in baseball altogether. Yes, it was quite hard. We had a lot of fun during training though.”
Suraj: “I mean, we didn’t know anything and then we were going to try and get all this stuff under our belt really quickly. We had three and a half weeks to do whatever we could do.”
Madhur: “We had our coaches flown down from the states and had four hours of baseball every day and we are both quite scrawny boys, still very thin [LAUGHTER]. So we had to put on a lot of muscle, you know. So, we trained for three or four hours every day and then rest an hour and then go to the gym for a couple of hours…and strict diet. Yes, it was quite physically challenging…”
Suraj: “…but it helped, because it’s like a blank slate that you’re coming in with, which was exactly what his character and my character were also going through. Like, they didn’t know anything and they had very little time – high pressure to make it – do it- and there’s no other option. So, it helped us to understand the emotional part, too.”
Madhur: “Yes, I also think we had a lot of draw from the fact that we were in the similar situation, you know? Like, we had a really short amount of time to prepare and then we had to perform on set. And also these guys they had like, 10 months of preparation and they had to perform. So I think it puts us in a similar kind of mind frame.”
QUESTION: What compelled you to an audition? What was that like?
Madhur Mittal: “I think the first thing that really hit- I think I speak for the both of us – what really hit me was, this is a tremendous feat that these guys have achieved and I had no idea about these guys. Nobody in my family knew. None of my friends knew this story. And what these guys have achieved is something that nobody has ever done any sport in the history of mankind. That is big. So, I was really kind of upset and I know for a fact that – so was Suraj – that nobody knew about this story. I think it’s very important that this story reaches people, and that was the first thing that hit me. Also, the fact that we’d get a chance to portray real-life characters.”
Suraj Sharma: “Yes, same thing. It’s just the fact that these guys that came from nothing went and did something phenomenal. And nobody seems to realize that, and nothing was ever- they weren’t really appreciated for what they did.”
Madhur: “In a way, yeah. They’re not applauded enough.”
Suraj: “Exactly. And that’s – it depressed me, almost, and the fact that I didn’t know myself. It just leads you to think that their story really needs to be told and people need to know this. In of itself, other than the fact that it was an amazing feat, it just gives you a sense that there’s a whole lot out there that we don’t really realize, opportunity wise. And the amount someone can work in a situation where they don’t know what’s going on and make something out of themselves, is really- it’s very inspiring.”
QUESTION: What were your favorite scenes in the film?
Suraj: “That a tough one. We actually had so much fun, just, every day. We were quite a handful. We were just too young kids, you know, and you give us a glove and ball – we would just keep playing all day long. They would literally have to drag us on set, but we had a lot of fun in a lot of scenes. Like, for example, the scene where they throw up was not fun.”
Madhur: “Not fun for me. It stank [LAUGHTER]. They had some really disgusting vegetarian soup. Yes, and it really stank.”
Suraj: “It wasn’t really while we were shooting always that made it special, it was just literally the fact that everybody around us always was seemingly having an extremely awesome time. Amazing time. And it’s not like you’re having an amazing time and you’re letting go of work, you know, kind of situation. It was the fact that all that added to the dynamic that hopefully was being set up in front of the frame.”
Mahdur: “There were some scenes that were really hard to shoot, for example, when we were shooting in India there were some really hot days. 145 degrees… It was a 140! I know this for a fact [LAUGHTER], because I checked. I was like “my skin is burning how hot is it?” Especially when we shot in Lucknow, that was the day. It was a 140. We were enclosed in like four walls and there was this huge ground in the middle. So we had no air flow and the sun just beating down from top with thousands of these people in this small space. It was really hot and we had scenes where we were running around and pitching and what not.”
Suraj: “Yes. It wasn’t the hardest for us. Imagine those 300 to 400 people standing there in the heat.”
Madhur: “Yes, and just in the heat.”
Suraj: “And they have to act excited! [LAUGHTER]”
Madhur: “And it’s very hard and they don’t even do it professionally like we do, so it’s really hard. Yes.”
Suraj: “But, you know, they managed to do it. Everybody, kind of, pushed through all. There were a lot of times when stuff got really hard or complicated for everybody.”
Madhur: “Jon [Hamm] probably changed his t-shirt like 20 times [LAUGHTER].”
Suraj: “It was really hot, but people managed. People really did- especially Jon. I felt like he’s got this adaptive feature to him that you don’t often see.”
Madhur: “He’s a bit Rinku-ey that way.”
Suraj: “You get somewhere- at first, obviously like a little bit- extremely different, and then you just start taking in whatever you can as fast as you can and you slowly start understanding what’s going on, I think. A lot of people in our crew went through that when we were in India and we kind of used that when we went to America, to Atlanta.”
Madhur: “Hotlanta [LAUGHTER]. [In a southern accent] Ya’ll making a movie? It was fun we had a blast. Good times.”
Suraj: “Yes, very good times.”
QUESTION: Did Rinku really do the flamingo stance?
BOTH: “Yes, Rinku actually did that. The thing is Rinku and Dinesh were both javelin throwers. So Rinku automatically fell into that same thing. Yes, Rinku is six feet, two inches tall was doing that; the flamingo.”
QUESTION: You both portrayed such a wide range of emotions throughout the movie. Have you had past experiences that you used as to help develop those emotions?
Suraj: “Definitely. Firstly the fact that we were doing this, in itself was like a parallel to what was going on, because we had to learn really quickly and then, you know, perform something that we have never done before and be good at the same thing. Then also with Mother, obviously, with Slum Dog Millionaire, and in life, where you’re suddenly nobodies and then you’re thrown and you’re supposed to be something, right? And you really- it affects you very strongly, and whether you trying using you or not, it’s going to be used by you because at end of the day it’s the experience that’s the strongest and the closest.”
Madhur: “Yes, to yourself. Yes.”
Suraj: “To yourself, and both Rinku and Dinesh were also going through. So, you know, you end up using all these resources just to try to get an idea or sense of what they would- and it was worse for them, because they didn’t know the language.It’s a whole lot much harder. So you try to use whatever you can and it’ll never get up to the level that which they felt it, but, you know, always then get an essence and then built from there.”
Million Dollar Arm hit theaters on May 16, 2014! A definite must-see for the whole family!
Check out the featurette for the Million Dollar Arm:
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*Photos courtesy of Disney and Louise Bishop of Mom Start.