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Brad Pitt: Making ‘Moneyball’ And Being Billy Beane

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
February 13, 2012

Brad Pitt has been nominated for the best actor Oscar in Moneyball, a movie that’s also up for best picture at this year’s Academy Awards. Pitt plays Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s — a former player turned manager after an unsuccessful big league career.

Pitt says he was obsessed by the character’s own obsessive drive to find a level playing field in a sport where money tilted the table.

“He was a guy who had been devalued by the sport as a player and now is working as a GM for a small market team,” Pitt tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “And there is such a gulf in what these teams have to spend on talent [that] they can never play equally — they can never have a true competition.”

In the film, Beane’s character isn’t exactly well-rounded. He’s divorced, trying to stay in touch with his daughter and all the while being consumed with work.

Pitt says he was also attracted to the role for those very reasons.

“I like him for his idiosyncrasies – that he can’t watch the games without getting too emotional, that he often has food down his shirt, that he tends to break a few chairs now and then. These things make him human, make him interesting to me.”

Those idiosyncrasies are evident in a scene between Beane and the owner of the Oakland A’s. He’s asking the owner for more money to sign better players, and his frustration and even desperation are clear. Yet he smiles.

“What I like about that scene is he knows he’s losing the argument,” Pitt says. “He’s getting more and more frustrated and therefore getting more and more pushy and trying every Hail Mary he can to get in there and reason — to the point where he almost insults his boss. And he’s got no other cards to play, and maybe that’s the [reason for the] smirk — it’s a no-win situation.”

Scouts Onscreen: An Insider’s View

Moneyball is based on a true story, but Pitt says such films walk a line between approximating reality as it happened and letting the world of the film become its own reality.

“They’re in this dynamic flux every day,” Pitt says, “and the day you shoot that day informs the day after, what you’re going to shoot next.”

For example, in a scene between Beane and his scouts when they discuss picks for the upcoming draft, Pitt says you can see how the process of research for the film changed the outcome.

“We had a work session where about 30 scouts came in and out,” Pitt says. “We’re all riffing, and after it, [director] Bennett Miller said, “Look at these faces: This is what we have to do — we gotta get these guys in the scene.”

In the film, Beane sits at a table with actual scouts and veterans of baseball, all middle-aged or well beyond. Beane, in his mid-40s, is probably the youngest at the table. When he explains his picks for the upcoming draft, it’s Beane’s instinct against the experience in the room — and the scouts react with realistic skepticism.

Pitt says that though Moneyball had the talents of screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin going for it, they weren’t baseball insiders.

“The [scouts] could lend an authenticity that’s even beyond what we had on the page,” Pitt says.

Producing Moneyball

Pitt is listed as a producer on the film, but despite the clout that comes with that credit — and with being an above-the-title star — he says he always works for the director.

“I just take credit for being smart enough to find a guy as smart as Benett to tell the story,” Pitt says.

Miller joined the production midstream as its third director, after several stops and starts. Before Miller, David Frankel and Steven Soderbergh had both been set to direct.

“We came up to the last minute,” Pitt says. “We were supposed to be filming days before, [but] the studio didn’t like the price. They had no problem with the story, but at that price, they could not justify it. And we could not bring it down to a price that both sides would be happy with, so we had to start over.”

Asked if the experience of making the film had any similarity to that of Billy Beane putting together a championship baseball team, Pitt chuckles.

“A little bit, yes,” he says. “I dare make those comparisons, but we often said ‘the making of’ would be as interesting if not more interesting than the film. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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