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There is a special relationship between baseball and cinema. Over the last century some of our most timeless films have centered around the sport, which from the outside looks like nothing more than a small ball being tossed around, hit by a wooden stick, and being caught in leather gloves. So what is it about baseball that works so damn well on the big screen?
This past weekend I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Robert Lorenz, director of the new drama Trouble With The Curve, and talk about just that. Check out our conversation below in which we talk about not only the cinematic magic of baseball, but his relationship with Clint Eastwood, casting for chemistry, and creating his style in his directorial debut.
Baseball really does have an impressive legacy on the big screen. You have movies like The Natural, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams… what do you think it is about the sport that makes it so cinematic?
You know, I’ve been asked that question a lot and it’s a tough call. For me baseball just brings up a lot of nostalgic, happy feelings because I enjoyed it as a kid and I liked being out there playing in the sun, and it was a simpler time for all of us. It’s fun to bring that forth and that’s what I was trying to convey with the movie: this pure aspect of it that we all enjoy, maybe contrast that a little bit with the more unappealing commercialization of it all with the other character [played by Joe Massingill]. So that’s basically where I think it comes from.
On the same subject, this movie is actually coming out almost a year to the day that Moneyball came out last year, and it’s an interesting comparison between films because that film really focused on the modernity aspect and changing the game, while this movie seems to make the opposite argument, saying that the old ways are better. Was that something that was in the back of your mind while you were making it?
Well, we got the script just before Moneyball came out and then it became obvious once the movie came out that, which I really enjoyed, that there might be some comparisons. But I think it’s a good compliment to that movie. I don’t think it works against it in any way. I like the idea that it sort of balances that argument that goes on in baseball about the old way versus the new way, and it’s important. It’s great to explore technology and new ideas, but you have to balance it with the wisdom that comes from experience and what you get from the personal side of scouting.
This film also bucks a trend just in the sense that it’s a father-daughter story, and we’re so used to sports movies being father-son stories. I was hoping you could talk about your approach to that relationship and was it something that initially drew you to the script?
To be honest I didn’t think that much about it at first, and I gave the script to my wife to read – she reads all my scripts – and I get a, “Yeah, that’s nice, whatever” kind of a thing, but she read this one and she just loved it. And I thought, “Wow, obviously there’s more to this than I’m realizing,” and obviously the female aspect of it is very important, so I didn’t shy away from it at all. I think the role of Mickey is perhaps more important than Gus in some ways. It’s really the spine of the story, and I wanted a great actress to play it and I was so fortunate to get Amy Adams because she’s just terrific.
And to talk a bit about that casting, with this kind of role you have to make sure that there’s both chemistry between her and her father, but also the role of Johnny, her love interest. What was the process of casting that chemistry between both her and the other actors?
Justin [Timberlake]… the Johnny role was a little more difficult to cast. We read a lot of people for it, and it’s a great role, but it just needed a certain kind of energy, and Justin is such a likable, charming guy that when his name came up it just made sense. He’s got great comedic timing and he’s the kind of guy that could come in and appeal to both of these characters and point out what it is they’re missing and keep the film alive and keep it energetic and so it didn’t bog down. That’s why I think he’s great for it.
Did you bring him in for a reading?
I did, actually, just because with the bigger roles I wanted Clint to be comfortable with anyone that I cast, so I did ask him to read just so I could sell him to Clint. It didn’t really turn out to be that necessary because Clint is a big fan of Justin’s. He watches Saturday Night Live and he thinks he’s great on there. So I didn’t have to convince him that he was right for the part.
Was it at all a hard sell to get Mr. Eastwood to sign on for the film? This is the first film he’s done in four years and the first time that he’s worked with a director other than himself since 1993.
Well, he’s known for many years that I’ve wanted to direct and I think it was a matter of time before I was going to go off and do it without him. So this was a great opportunity for us to keep working together and both be doing something we liked. He claims he liked it [laughs]. He really enjoyed the script and I think he did a great job with it. He felt like there was something to work with there, and there’s only so many roles that come along for an 82 year old guy that feel believable. And this one was one.
What exactly is the genesis of your relationship, because I know you’ve been working together a long time.
It’s not a very exciting story [laughs]. I was working as an assistant director to learn and observe other directors, and I got a call to come work on this movie Bridges of Madison County, so I went out there and that’s where I met him.
At what point did you become production partners?
Well, on that movie I was called a second assistant director, the next movie I was promoted – my boss left – so I was thrust into this more important role, and I guess I just made an impression on him because he just kept giving me more and more responsibility until he asked me to start producing, and I did both for a little while, and it was too much to handle so I let go of the assistant directing. I’m a little bit of a control freak, so I liked being able to be everything, but I finally had to let that go. But we just got along well.
To talk a bit about your directing style, Mr. Eastwood is well known for rarely taking more than a couple takes of a shot. Was that something you implemented into your own approach as well?
I did. There’s a logic to it, which has to do with keeping everybody on the crew and the cast focused and delivering the best performance all at once, because if you go on multiple takes everybody gets bored and nobody is really focused, so that’s the logic. And it keeps sort of a spontaneous energy and authenticity that comes from people doing it the first time, so you try and capture that. So yeah, I definitely tried to emulate that.
Do you know what you’re going to be working on next? Have you been looking at more scripts?
Yeah, I’ve been developing some other things, and I don’t know which one will come to pass next – we’ll see if we sell more than a dozen tickets on this movie to see if I have any future in this business [laughs]. We’ll see.