A comedy MVP on "Parks and Recreation," Chris Pratt plays it straight in the critically hailed baseball movie “Moneyball”
Author DAN SOLOMON
FOR THE MILLIONS who tune in to the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” each week, it may be hard to imagine Chris Pratt as anything other than lovable chucklehead Andy Dwyer. But while Pratt —who jokes “I’ll take anything” when it comes to being offered parts—has shown his knack for comedy, he now brings some of that nice-guy appeal to a more serious role: that of Oakland A’s player Scott Hatteberg in Moneyball.
“It was a noticeable shift for me, but I was really happy to be working on something that was dramatic,” says Pratt, 32, who first broke through with a co-starring role on the 2002-2006 family drama “Everwood.” Playing Hatteberg, who epitomizes the unconventional “sabermetrics” approach to baseball that lies at the heart of Moneyball, not only provided the chance to flex some acting muscles he hadn’t used in a while, but also allowed this former high school athlete to get back to a different set of roots.
Play recently caught up with Pratt to talk about getting paid to play baseball every day, working with arguably the most famous actor in the world and making room for a little Hollywood hot sauce.
In high school you captained the wrestling team, played football and did track and field—pretty impressive! So, what’s your background in baseball? I mostly played it as a kid. I wasn’t great—I certainly never would have put on a professional baseball uniform were it not for this movie—but I played from the time I was in T-ball until I was maybe 12 or 13.
Is it fair to say you had some prep work to do for this part, then? I lost a lot of weight! I play a heavier character on “Parks and Recreation,” so I had to drop some pounds before they would give me the role, and once I got the role it involved a lot of baseball training. Chad Kreuter, an ex-pro who was coaching at USC at the time, took me down there and let me work out with the guys six days a week for weeks on end. I had to learn how to swing a bat left-handed because I’m naturally a righty, so I really played a lot of baseball.
Sounds like a dream come true. Oh man, it was awesome. It was surreal. Every once in a while I would just look up and think, “This is work. This is what I’m doing for my job right now.”
During filming, when you were standing at the plate and under the lights, with all those screaming fans, was there a part of you that felt like a real ballplayer? When I’m in that moment, there’s no part of me that doesn’t feel like a real ballplayer. I mean, hopefully. That’s the goal. I got to step into the shoes of somebody who’s considered a hero by so many people. I got to walk into the Coliseum in that uniform with people all around and I felt, just briefly, what it must feel like to do that on a day-to-day basis. And it feels great.
Your character, Scott Hatteberg, is a real-life baseball star who was in the public eye not that long ago. How did you approach playing him? There were the physical mannerisms of his at-bat, like in “Game 20″ [when the A’s won their 20th consecutive game]—I had the DVD of that and I must have watched it a thousand times. I would watch it every night, and the first few nights I watched it 20 or 30 times. I found out later that Scott and I are really similar in real life. I’ve gotten to meet him now—he’s a terrific guy—and we’re from the same part of the country, so we talk a bit alike, and we have similar physical mannerisms and we look alike.
What about channeling his personality? In movies like this, it’s based on a true story but you get the Hollywood hot sauce in there, too. So I was afraid that if I tried too specifically to nail down who Scott Hatteberg is, it might not fit so perfectly into the screenplay [co-written by Aaron Sorkin], which read really well. In terms of physical mannerisms, I could do it. But in terms of his personality and everything like that, I wanted to take ownership of that myself. After I read the script I knew exactly how I wanted to play the dramatic stuff, so that’s what I did.
Moneyball has been a hit with critics and audiences, and there’s talk of a Best Picture nomination. Did you know from the start that this film would be something special? Yes! I got that feeling when I auditioned, and when I read the screenplay I thought, “Oh my God. This is rare. I have to do this. I will do anything.” Then I thought: “Oh no. I’m way too fat to do this. I better start losing weight!” [Laughs.] That was the train of thought.
Who’s more intimidating, Brad Pitt or [“Parks and Recreation” co-star] Nick Offerman? Gosh, that’s a good question. I don’t think that either of them is very intimidating. I do believe that they’re both greatly intimidated by me. That’s something I do know.
What was working with Pitt like? I was watching Brad Pitt movies before I even knew I’d be an actor in Hollywood, so I loved all of his work my whole life. I really respect him as an actor, and as a man and a philanthropist and a father. Not to mention he’s one of the most famous people in the world—maybe the most famous person in the world—but he’s really a nice guy who’s somehow managed to stay grounded.
Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jonah Hill—were there any things you learned from doing a film with such a talented group of co-stars? I learned from Phil Hoffman the best way to get people to stop bothering you when it’s time to focus. He seems like a regular guy, which is a huge compliment when you’re talking about someone who’s an Oscar winner, but he’s also very focused; when it comes time for him to do his work, he needs about 10 minutes to be left alone. I learned from him to just put your head down and start pacing with this look on your face like you’re deep in thought. It was astounding—people would come up to him like they wanted a picture or wanted to talk, and they’d see him do that and turn right around and walk away.
I guess it lets people know you’re not being rude; you’re just not available. Right. When fans want to say hi, you should always be nice and realize what a treasured and cherished position you’re in. At the same time, if you’re there to do a job, you have to focus. That was a good trick to learn from Phil, and I’ve used it since. It’s amazing the amount of respect you can command by furrowing your brow and pacing in circles. I probably look like an idiot when I do it at the grocery store, though.