It was also intimidating. I only knew him as one of the most iconic film stars in the world. But we wound up really enjoying each other. I admire him. I think there’s not an ounce of pretense or anything other than true intelligence. He’s a real gentleman, and he’s funny to be around, and he also gave me some advice which was really helpful. I’m incredibly humbled by the whole experience.
Interviewer: What was your favorite scene with him?
Hill: The one where we’re doing that trading over the phone, and he has to make the decision to really do something bold and out of the ordinary, and really act on his convictions. And for my character, it wasn’t so much about the players or baseball but just the joy that his ideas were being put into practice. It felt like the first time I was on a movie set and somebody said, “What are your ideas? What do you think? Let’s shoot one of your ideas.” And I’m like, “What? We’re going to shoot something that came from my brain?” So that’s how I played that scene, and it turned out fun to watch. You know, that movie shouldn’t be entertaining, but it is. You know? A scene about GMs trading baseball players shouldn’t be that exciting, but it is. “Moneyball” is a movie about baseball statistics. And unless you’re a sportswriter or something, that sounds like a very boring film. The truth is, it’s moving, and intense, and funny, and sad, and honest. I think what the filmmakers did is use baseball as a really beautiful aesthetic backdrop to tell a really moving story about underdogs and value, and specifically being undervalued. There’s also a real “punk rock” kind of attitude about two guys saying the world is round when everyone else says the world is flat. Brad’s character is the bazooka, and my character is the ammunition, and together we burst through a wall that was built 150 years ago. It’s an exciting, motivating story to be a part of. My character is someone who is used to blending into the wall, and suddenly there’s a light shining on him, and though he has some funny lines, he’s far more moving than comedic. He’s empowered for the first time in his life. And that, to me, is beautiful and inspiring.
Interviewer: How do you respond to the criticism that….
Hill: Poorly! (laughs)
Interviewer: …That neither the book nor the movie addressed the elephant in the room at the time, which was the issue of steroid usage in baseball. Especially in relation to Giambi.
Hill: Oh, um…I’ve never once that about that. But to me, I think baseball was a tool to tell the story. Myself, I re-fell in love with the game while making this movie. I played Little League as a kid, and collected baseball cards, and went to games with my dad, but had kind of moved away from interest in it for a while, I was more a basketball fan. (By the way, your team did really well this year. Congrats.) But shooting in the Oakland Coliseum makes you feel like a little kid again. It’s why people are so fond of baseball; it’s nostalgic from when you were young and carefree and just hanging out with your friends and having a good time. That feeling definitely rushed back to me. And when I watch the movie, every time it rushes back to me. How could you not be romantic about baseball?
Ronald P. Salfen is interim pastor of St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.