Chris Pratt swings the bat - from the left-side, note - in the Celebrity Softball game at Chase last weekend. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
If you watch Parks and Recreation, you know Chris Pratt, as lovable slacker Andy Dwyer. And if you don't watch the show, you probably know Chris Pratt from Wanted, where he plays the hero's two-timing best friend, who gets whacked across the head with a keyboard, the letters (and a tooth) flying off to spell something unprintable. But for SnakePit purposes, what matters is that he plays Oakland A's first-baseman Scott Hatteberg, in the upcoming screen adaptation of Moneyball, alongside Brad Pitt.
Chris was recently in town for the All-Star Game, as one of the participants in the Celebrity Softball Game. We chatted to him about learning to bat left-handed, being discovered while working as a waiter and, as is probably inevitable on the 'Pit, Star Wars cropped up...
AZ SnakePit: Moneyball. I have read the book, and it didn't immediately strike me as being cinematic...
Chris Pratt: Yeah, right. I think that's a lot of people's reaction to it. The screenwriter is Aaron Sorkin, and I think a lot people thought the same thing about Facebook, and were like, "You're going to make a movie about Facebook? I don't get it." [Sorkin won an Academy Award for The Social Network]. But the story is cinematic. It's not so much a baseball movie. The book itself, is a baseball book. It's about statistics, it's about Bill James, sabermetrics, but the story that they carved out is a character piece about Billy Beane.
Because Beane was a guy who was a five-tool player, he looked the part, the classic American baseball player - he was a scout's wet-dream. He was drafted right out of high-school, he had scouts promise him the world, he opted out of a scholarship to Stanford - but it turns out he just wasn't that great, he couldn't hit the ball when he got called up to the bigs. He tried over and over again, realized baseball wasn't his thing, but he was stuck in baseball because he didn't have that education from Stanford. So he goes on to become a GM, who ends up defying the convention of your standard American scouting in baseball.
He wanted to get more into the sabermetrics and the Bill James stuff, look at statistics, and defy his own scouts. And everyone questioned if he was doing this out of spite, because they got it wrong with him. That's the real cinematic story: it's Billy Beane struggling to deal with his present situation, and people questioning if he was just doing it because of his past.
AZSP: It's been an on and off project - it started under Steven Soderbergh, then stopped. Have you been with it from the beginning?
CP: No, I wasn't with the Soderbergh version. I know that this has been a constantly evolving project that has gone through a lot of different people and has taken a long time to do. And ultimately, when (director) Bennett Miller signed on, he was was looking to tell a real narrative. I think Soderbergh was looking to cast baseball players to play themselves, and Miller realized that, as a narrative, it is best served to have these parts played by actors, so he cast me as Scott Hatteberg.
AZSP: Do you have much of a baseball background?
CP: I was an athlete all through high-school, and I played baseball up until my freshman year, Little League baseball, stuff like that. It was the same season as track, and I was a shot-putt and discus thrower, so I didn't end up playing it in high school. I wasn't great at it, so I had a lot of work to do, in terms of trying to make my play seem authentic. That's one thing that the movie does really well, is it stays authentic to real baseball. We do have real players playing.
AZSP: Yeah, I saw that former D-back Royce Clayton plays Miguel Tejada. Did you go through much training for the film?
CP: I did, yes; I went through a really intensive, very rigorous training program, leading up to the film. I think it was altogether a three-month process, but a good six weeks of that was spent with Chad Kreuter, who's the former head coach of USC. Basically he said, "I'm here as much as you want to use me," because he was running a camp at USC with his son Cade, who was recovering from a shoulder injury. So I showed up at USC, probably six days a week for six weeks, and they ran me through the numbers. Both Chad and Cade really helped in terms of getting me to swing the bat realistically left-handed - Hatteberg's a lefty and I'm a righty - and field at first. It was awesome, like a dream fantasy camp that dads sent their kids to for thousands of dollars. It was really incredible.
AZSP: What was the hardest thing about learning to play a baseball player?
CP: I think the hardest thing was the mechanics of the baseball swing, and doing it left-handed versus right-handed. It was all difficult physically, but it was just so fun that it didn't seem that hard. It was a lot of fun. Kind of a dream job, just like every boy who was in Little League, had a dream of one day stepping into a major-league uniform. I certainly don't have to the chops to play in the pros, but for a few months in Oakland, I got to wear a major-league uniform, and step out on the field and play catch with guys who were ex-big league guys and it felt pretty damn good.
AZSP: You said you had to turn around and bat left-handed. Does that now feel natural? If you picked up a bat today, would you hit left- or right-handed?
CP: I did it yesterday, before the Celebrity All-Star Game, and I was hitting righty, and I was doing alright - but as soon as I hit the ball left-handed, that felt natural. I swung the bat probably close to a thousand times a day left-handed, just at home. I was pretty obsessed with it, and my wife was out of town, so I didn't have much to do anyway. Plus, trying to lose weight, I wasn't really drinking or doing anything fun, so I would pick up a bat and just swing it over and over.
The mechanics of my left-handed swing are much better than my right-handed swing; I don't have as much power and I'm not as accurate, necessarily, but I think the mechanics are better. What's nice is I didn't have a swing left-handed, so I didn't have any bad habits to break. I just go to go through the numbers, and I think developed a pretty good swing.
AZSP: Have you met the real Scott Hatteberg, and did you base your character off him?
CP: Yes, but that's the thing - I didn't. I didn't meet him, and I elected not to meet him, until we were through the more difficult part of my character's work on the movie, and I didn't read the book until after we were done filming either. Because when I read the screenplay, it was one of these projects - which happens more and more these days - where the screenplay was under lock and key. No-one's allowed to read it; I was allowed to read it, the day of my audition and I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. '
But when I read the script, it just worked so well, to me, as a story, that I didn't want to read the book and was apprehensive to meet Scott. What was on the page for the screenplay was a story that I wanted to tell, and I didn't want to find myself in a situation where I was saying "Oh, that wasn't how it happened," because we're making a movie. As it turned out after I read the book, it didn't differ too much, but I really wanted to stay true to what was being represented in the screenplay, so I elected to not read the book and postpone meeting Scott until we were through doing the bulk of my work on the picture.
I finally met him when we were in Oakland, filming at the Coliseum - and man, he's great. Such a nice, nice guy: great family, beautiful wife, lovely daughter. He was just thrilled with the whole process, there on set, and I think we'll remain friends. I'm looking forward to him seeing the movie; hopefully, he'll like the way I've portrayed him! I met Billy Beane, he took me into the clubhouse the first day at the Oakland Coliseum; I was there before a game, and in the locker-room, and got to meet all the players. It was phenomenal to walk down the corridor where these professional baseball guys walk every day - it was pretty surreal.
AZSP: One of the other things that raised people's eyebrows was having Brad Pitt to play Beane.
CP: How cool is it to be a guy and they say, "Hey, we're doing your life story." Really? Who's playing me? "Brad Pitt." Not bad. I would like that, that would be pretty sweet. I think he does a great job. He's obviously a terrific actor and Bennett Miller really did a good job. This is not so much a story about baseball, as a person who happens to be a general manager of a baseball team.
AZSP: How was the Celebrities Softball Game?
CP: It was really fun. It was more of the same which has been happening through this process, which is to be surrounded by these legends, and down on the field with them, wearing the uniform. It never gets old. It's really rare that, as a professional, as part of your job, you get to play. Baseball players, professional athletes, or as an actor, you get to play. I'm really fortunate to be able to do that. Plus there was, like, 30,000 people there wasn't there?
AZSP: So when you were filming Moneyball, you were playing in an empty stadium and they filled the crowds in later?
CP: They filled the crowds in later, but they probably had about 4-5,000 extras, and they would put them in different parts of the stadium and shoot them. It's all real people, but I think there were 100,000 people there for game twenty during the streak [in 2002, the A's won 20 games in a row, the longest streak in AL history, the final one coming in front of the largest crowd in Coliseum history. Oakland blew an 11-run lead before Hatteberg walked them off with a homer in the ninth]. So they couldn't really get that many extras, but it looks like it in the movie.
AZSP: Doing my extensive research for this piece - thank you, Wikipedia! - it says you were discovered while working as a waiter. How did that happen?
CP: It was one of those strange things. I feel like I did everything in my power not to move to LA, and it found me - it makes me believe in fate or destiny. I was working as a waiter at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory in Maui, and was literally living in a van with a bunch of friends: we lived on the beach. I was 19, and having the time of my life. I had done stand-up comedy, theater before this, and fancied myself an actor, but just took zero steps towards creating a career in Hollywood. I never dreamed I would ever go to LA for acting: I didn't know anybody there, it was completely outside the realm of possibility.
But I still knew I wanted to be an actor. I waited on a director [Rae Dawn Chong], and they gave me a chance and put me in a movie - I got paid $700 and moved to LA. I had $700 in my pocket, and bought a car for $700 bucks - and started being a waiter in LA! I didn't know her name, but I knew she was a movie star, and I knew I recognized her; that was what initially started the conversation. "Whoa, you're a movie star, what are you doing here?" I tried some of my material on her, and she was, like, "Hey, you're funny, you should be an actor."
AZSP: What are you working on next?
CP: I'm actually doing a commercial shoot for Xbox and this new Star Wars game. I'm going to have a light-saber fight with Darth Vader, and they're going to rotoscope my footage into the actual footage from the real Star Wars, and they're going to run it online. It sounds pretty awesome!