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MILLION DOLLAR ARM

The Real People
Fortunately for Mittal, one of their very first pitching coaches was the real Dinesh Patel, who the production enlisted to tutor Sharma and Mittal in all things baseball even before production landed in India. Ironically, Patel, the boy who knew nothing about America's favorite pastime but went on to make history as one of two of the first Indians to be signed to play for an American baseball team, was now the baseball expert teaching two similarly inexperienced young Indian men. Mittal relished the opportunity to spend time with Patel, something he did throughout production.

"Dinesh is almost like a throwback to another time, you don't find people like him much anymore," Mittal says. "The perfect word for him is 'noble.' He cares very deeply about his people, his home and his family. He really genuinely loves them and a lot of his aspirations are driven by that. He was very easy to connect to because I also come from a very close-knit family, and whatever I am in my life I am because of my parents. My father quit his job when I was about 5 ½ and we moved to Mumbai so I could become an actor. They did so much for me I can never really repay them. So when it comes to family and how much it means, I think I identified immensely with Dinesh."

Although "Million Dollar Arm" is a fictionalized retelling of what happened to Rinku and Dinesh, Mittal felt a certain responsibility to portray his new friend with as much authenticity and accuracy as possible.

"Because I got to hang out with Dinesh, I did feel pressure because he was so nice and we got along so well," Mittal explains. "I wanted to bring out his real personality and I took huge chunks of him and tried to incorporate them into my performance. Especially in India in the beginning, I would go to him for feedback and that definitely helped."

In fact, most of the actors had the intimidating benefit of having the people they portrayed present at various points during production. Sharma didn't actually meet his doppelganger until well into principal photography but they spoke on the phone and early on, Sharma realized just how far Rinku Singh has come.

"The thing about Rinku is he does not get beaten down, doesn't let pressure get to him, he'll keep going, he'll keep smiling, he is always a funny, personable guy," Sharma says. "He has a confidence in himself, without cockiness. He just intrinsically believes in himself and certainly in his goals. Because he is a real person who is still alive, it was important to me to get his essence - and before all this happened to him, there were some basics: He wasn't as big as he is now, he didn't know much English, he's from a small town, so coming to America must have been really weird and I wondered how he adapted. So we agreed to speak on the phone and I said hello to him in Hindi and he replied something like, 'Yo, what's happening my man?' That's when I understood how adaptable and smart and driven to succeed he is. He picked up the language really fast and adopted an American outlook 100 percent."

However, Sharma notes, he is not portraying the powerful, tattooed Indian-American jock who switches easily between English, Spanish and Hindi that Singh has become. "Over the past three years, he has changed a lot and I had to play him when he was still fresh, when he was far more naive and mystified by American culture. I kind of had to take the guy he has become and age him backwards," Sharma says.

When he finally did meet Singh on a Georgia Tech baseball field - the Pirates lent Singh to the production for a day and a half - Sharma was amazed and a little overwhelmed by the enormous, swaggering pro athlete who strode down the bleachers like an Indian Paul Bunyan. That lasted about five seconds - the charming and ebullient Singh was thrilled to finally meet Sharma and even brought a 'Life of Pi' poster for him to sign. They hung out like long-lost brothers and Singh assured Sharma that when he began, he was skinnier and more uncoordinated in terms of baseball than Sharma ever was.

Patel echoes his friend's sentiments, saying, "Hopefully people will watch this movie and know what we have done and will aspire to do the same. India has baseball but it's not as popular as it is in America or in other parts of the world. If kids watch this and think, 'If we can do this, if we can play, so can they,' that would be great."

Then there was "The Real JB Bernstein," as he was known around the set. He first met Jon Hamm in India, where Bernstein was much more comfortable than the majority of the shooting crew. Bernstein visited the company from time to time in the States as well but he purposefully kept his distance. He wanted to give Hamm the space he needed to create the movie version of himself.

"I know I wouldn't want someone coming to my workplace, hanging around, looking over my shoulder all the time," Bernstein says. "I mean, first of all it's an honor to have Jon be involved in the movie in any way, let alone playing me. I know he had a lot of options so that he chose this role meant a lot."

Bernstein admits to experiencing several out-of-body moments watching Hamm recreate his life on set. "That first scene where Pitobash as Amit is trying to shoehorn his way into the contest and literally stalks me and volunteers to work for free, that was so spooky, it was almost like reliving the moment. And a lot of the interaction between Jon and Lake is very close to home. The stuff in the script about my transformation from serial bachelor to wanting a family and understanding that happiness comes from that is really accurate and it's weird how much both Jon and Lake got not just our mannerisms but really the crux of that metamorphosis," Bernstein says.

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