The love story of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill had a perfect start. They first met through a mutual friend – Ed Norton – at a Radiohead concert. Catherine Keener then suggested Hill for “Moneyball” while they were shooting “Cyrus”; after he played Peter Brand at a “Moneyball” read-through both director Bennett Miller (also recommended for the project by Keener) and Pitt rooted for him to land the role. “I am the box office star behind the film,” joked Hill during a post-screening Q & A Sunday at Sony’s Cary Grant theater. He held his own with Pitt in the charm department.
The Q & A moderated by Dave Karger (EW) allowed time for audience questions. Pitt spoke of the “arduous” process behind getting the film made, but said he doesn’t mind it when you believe in what you’re doing and the material: “I could never let go of the book,” he said.
Praised for their subtle performances, Hill jokes: “I said to Brad, ‘bring it down–for once in your life.'” For his character, Hill says “I just saw the guy as a character who blended into the wall, who wasn’t comfortable being the center of attention, and a light gets shined on him for the first time and [I just thought] what is that like for him?” (TOH! interviews Hill.) Pitt is obviously pleased with how the character turned out.
Pitt confirmed that the real Billy Beane is not comfortable with attention but is “very charismatic.” Beane handed his life rights over to Pitt, who says he was as trusting as he could be given the circumstances. Michael Lewis, the writer of the book, “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” apparently told Beane to just take the money and not to worry, because the film would “never get made.” Hill adds that Lewis is “still surprised it’s a good movie.”
Both actors are fond of their director (TOH interview here) and noted his handling of non-actors. Many of the talent scouts were the real deal, and had never acted. Pitt said many great scripted lines never made it in the movie because so much was improvised based on what these people would actually say. Miller allowed the script to be a blueprint. Pitt says the “authenticity Bennett found was worth the trade.” Miller is “going to be one of the greats,” Pitt said. “He’s just getting started.”
Pitt tried to understand Beane’s character “like a tactician.” Because his own baseball career ended young, with eighteen stitches to his cheekbone, the focus was less on the sport and more on the man and his love for process and results. Pitt called him “tenacious” and said, “he changed the game, not dramatically, but a few degrees.” Beane’s daughter is in fact a huge part of his life, and Pitt thinks they need each other equally. She is Beane’s “distraction from the insanity” and “the most important thing to him.”
As for Hill, he admitted that unlike Brand, he’s the worst mathematician and a product of email education. But, he says he simply tried to equate what he knows about film to statistics: it’s a way to process and understand tons of information on which to obsess.
Pitt was asked to name his favorite of his own performances. While he noted characters in Kubrick’s “Dr. Stangelove” and Coppola’s “The Conversation” as personal favorites, it’s harder to choose among his own roles, partly because he’s so hard on himself (“constructively,” he adds), and also because making a film is always tied more into what ends up on screen. But while he tends to prefer his more irreverent roles, Beane is among his faves.
Beane still wrestles with the decision to turn down the offer to manage the Red Sox, said Pitt, and probably always will. But “it’s about values,” said Pitt. “Values on ourselves, values others place on us.” That’s the core of the movie. Not baseball. Beane was labeled a failure, and “that lead to this success, a personal victory. A private victory.” His success “couldn’t have happened without the failure.” Failures lead to successes; those lead to the next failures and successes. “It’s cyclical,” he said. “Moneyball” is a “beautiful story” because Beane’s failure lead not only to his own success story, but to the success stories of baseball players who were otherwise dismissed as flawed or without value.
A woman in the audience asked why they didn’t add more female characters to the film. “The love story was between Billy and Pete,” replied Pitt. “I think that came across even though we cut the nude scene.”