The Very Busy Chris Pratt on Preparing for Moneyball, Goofing in What's Your Number? and Ten Year
Television watchers have been hip to Chris Pratt since he first appeared on The WB series Everwood in 2002. Other supporting roles in television (The O.C.) and film (Bride Wars) followed, but the Minnesota-born star really came into his own with his winning turn as Andy Dwyer, pratfaller extraordinaire-cum-romantic lead, on the beloved NBC series Parks & Recreation. Now, with three films coming out this fall, including two next month, Pratt is poised to tackle the big screen with a fervor his Parks & Rec alter ego would usually reserve for the Meat Tornado.
First up for Pratt is a key supporting role in the much-anticipated adaptation of Moneyball (out Sept. 23) with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill; he plays former major leaguer and sabermetrics poster boy Scott Hatteberg. Next comes a comedy turn in the R-rated romcom What's Your Number? (Sept. 30) opposite Pratt's real-life wife Anna Faris. Then there's Ten Year (premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival before a theatrical release in December), a Big Chill-like ensemble drama about a ten-year high school reunion. He'll also be seen on season four of Parks & Recreation (debuts Sept. 22) and then in Five-Year Engagement with Jason Segel and Emily Blunt in 2012. Just a few things!
On the eve of his biggest career month yet, Pratt rang up Movieline to discuss why Moneyball isn't your average baseball movie, how his weight was initially a problem, that time he got into a fight with director Bennett Miller, and why What's Your Number? might be hitting theaters during a perfect climate for success.
Not just because of the Aaron Sorkin connection with the script, but Moneyball feels a bit similar to The Social Network in that when you hear there's a movie based on this famed book about statistics and sabermetrics, it doesn't necessarily seem cinematic. What was it about the script that really sold you?
Well, I'll tell you: when I read the script for the first time, I hadn't read the book, so going into it I didn't have that initial question of 'How are you going to make this book about statistics into a narrative?' My first exposure to the story was the Sorkin screenplay and it was just great. It had some interesting stuff about statistics and about scouting, but it was really just a brilliant character piece about this general manager of the Oakland A's [Billy Beane], that I knew Brad Pitt was going to play. So, reading the story -- and then reading the role of Scott Hatteberg -- it was one of those situations where the script was under lock and key, no one was allowed to read it, and I got to read it shortly before auditioning. I had to sit there in the office and read the script and they wouldn't let anybody leave with it; it was very top secret. At the end of it, I just thought, 'That is just a perfect story. It's so interesting. It's a true human story -- it's not a movie about baseball statistics, it's more of a character piece.' It was all right there in the screenplay. Much like the The Social Network, I remember thinking, 'How are they going to make this movie about Facebook?' And then I saw the movie and I thought, 'Oh, wow. That's a character piece.' The fact that Sorkin even came on to write is a testament to how human the story is and how there is a real story in there about real humans. It's not just a baseball movie.
Was Moneyball something you really pushed for?
It was definitely something that I wanted, but I was just one of just a giant number of people who wanted the role. I read it and thought that it was incredible. My first audition was with Bennett Miller and I thought it went well. I felt like we found some real moments. Then, when I left, my agent called me and said, 'Chris, they really thought you were good, but they think you're too fat.' I was like, 'Fuck, really? That sucks. OK, well, I can lose weight. Did you tell them I could lose weight?' 'Yeah, we told them. They haven't offered it to anyone else. There's no guarantee, but...' I just hung up the phone and from that point on -- it was about a seven month process from that moment until the end of filming. It was another three months before I found out I got the role, but in that three months I think I dropped 30 pounds. I was bound and determined to become Scott Hatteberg whether they cast me or not.
It was. He throws righty and bats lefty, so luckily I didn't have to throw the ball. I don't think any amount of training could teach me how to throw the ball left-handed. In terms of swinging the bat left-handed, that's pretty hard to do as well, but I'm a goofy-foot snowboarder, and in wrestling, I always wrestled with my right leg forward. I think I'm right-handed, left-footed, maybe. I never batted left-handed as kid playing little league or pick-up games. I'm still probably more powerful and accurate right-handed, but left-handed -- just because of the amount of work I did with Chad Kreuter, the former head coach of the USC baseball team, and all my teammates with whom I shot Moneyball were real baseball players -- I think the mechanics of my left-handed swing are much better than my right-handed swing.
One of the biggest issues with baseball movies is that you can't really hide the fact that the actors aren't playing baseball -- it's not like football where there are helmets. Did they make you guys go through spring training to get the baseball down cold?
Yes. They did a very thorough tryout as part of my auditioning process. After I read with Bennett and came back and read with Brad and maybe read with Bennett again -- I think I had three readings at this point -- I still didn't get the part. But, I was still bound and determined to do it, and I was still, at this point, a little heavy as well. I went to a baseball tryout, a physical audition, and there were several hundred players there. These guys were pros. Literally ex-professional baseball players, both from minor and major league, but also foreign teams, ex-college guys. These were guys with tattoos of baseball bats on their body -- they were real baseball players. We did a tryout and that's how they cast 95 percent of the baseball players, was just based on physical ability and the likeness to the real players in real life. So, you're definitely seeing baseball players play real baseball. I think that was really important for Bennett and everyone making the movie to stay authentic to the sport. There are guys hitting 95 MPH fastballs in this movie. It's not like Mr. 3000 or Mr. Baseball where you can tell -- this is authentic.
Moneyball is one of those projects that has been hanging around for a long time, most famously with Steven Soderbergh attached to direct. Had you been following its development process beforehand?
You know, I had never heard of it. I didn't know about the project when it was a Soderbergh project. In fact, when it was a Soderbergh project, I don't think I'd even be able to audition for it, because I think -- I might be wrong here -- Soderbergh wanted to use the actual baseball players and do it docu-style. Scott Hatteberg would have been played by Scott Hatteberg. In order to tell the story, though, I think they needed actors to play these characters. It's a narrative; it's a real story, and you're not asking people about what happened, you're reenacting what happened. So, I hadn't heard about the project and didn't know about it at all, and I'm really kind of -- it's one of those things that was really lucky for me. I'm sure a lot of people were bummed who were attached to the Soderbergh project. I'm glad it was Bennett so I could be in it. (Laughs)
It's not often you can replace a director the caliber of Steven Soderbergh with someone like Bennett Miller. After Capote it feels like a great many are excited to see what he does next. How was he to work with?
I love Capote. Huge fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman; if he's not my all-time favorite actor he's definitely in my top-five. I just love him so much. Working with Bennett -- this was the first time I'd ever worked with a director who sorta manipulated a performance out of me. After a while, you realize -- Bennet's a great guy, he's a really nice guy; I'll consider him a friend and be friends with him -- but you can't really judge a director on their ability to direct until you see the movie. You know what the experience is like, but you have no idea what they're capturing in that little 35-millimeter lens. So there was one point when he came up to me, when Scott Hatteberg is trying to play first base and fielding [poorly]. It's like spring training, and he came up to me in the middle -- and I was working my ass off; I was sweating -- and he says, 'Stop being such a fucking pussy' to me. I was volatile. It made me so mad. I think I even spit at his shoes. I was like, 'You're calling me a pussy, motherfucker? After all this shit!' When I saw the movie, there's a little bit of me mumbling to myself, furiously, that he put in the movie. So, I realized that was about the performance, it wasn't about the camaraderie. There's a lot of machismo among baseball players, and people calling each other pussies -- very much like you are when you're a kid playing sports. A lot of friendly bullying and bantering and he kind of adopted that a little bit, and I was like, 'Don't fucking do that to me motherfucker.' And he did! And then I saw the movie and realized he did that intentionally.
You mention being a huge fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman -- it had to be a trip to work with him. Was he all you hoped for? [Hoffman plays former Oakland manager Art Howe]
I didn't work with him a lot, but at least a few days. It's really hard to make a judgement on how someone is -- their personality -- when you're on the set acting with them. You don't know if you're really meeting them, or if you're meeting a version of them that they're putting on to play this character. Phil was really nice, really nice. Asked a lot of questions, really wanted to get to know me. The way that a really good person will, if you're getting to know somebody. The guy is really fucking cool. I don't know if that's because Art Howe was a really hands-on manager, or if Philip was a really nice guy, but he couldn't have been nicer. He was interested, he met my family, remembered things about me. The kind of stuff that doesn't normally happen with huge actors. He was really great, it was kind of a dream come true.
Did you pick up anything from him as an actor that you'll use in future jobs?
Yes, there definitely were a lot of things. Maybe five minutes before rolling, he adopts this behavior that lets everyone know you're not supposed to talk to him in the best way. He puts his head down and starts pacing back and forth. You're in a stadium with thousands of extras, hundreds of crew people and another 40-50 baseball players. There's a lot of people and a lot of conversation to be had, but when it's time to focus you have to focus. That's what I noticed with him -- his incredible focus. When it was time to go to work he would start pacing and that just commanded respect. People left him alone because it was his process. That's something that really works, because if you're sitting there in your head and you're trying to get yourself ready for a scene and someone comes up to you and says, 'Hey, how's it going? You know a friend of mine!' or 'Hey, my name's Tony?' You don't want to be like, 'Leave me alone!' Because you come off like a dick. So, I've sorta taken that from him. It really lets everybody know, in a polite way, please don't bother me right now.
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