In the film, Jon Hamm's sports agent concocts a seemingly ludicrous plan to drum up interest -- he travels to India to recruit two young, nonprofessional cricket players to compete in a pitching contest worth a million dollars and a professional baseball contract. The kids, of course, have no idea what American baseball is or, for that matter, what America is, but he tries just the same. Paxton plays Tom House, a USC coach who agrees to help train the boys, and Alan Arkin plays Ray Poitevint, a scout who accompanies Hamm on his journey to India.
The two actors maybe share a scene or two together, but based on their banter, someone should be developing a trilogy of films where the two play curmudgeonly detectives solving a string of unsolvable murders. When I first got on the phone with them, Arkin was screaming, "Bill, let go of me, let go of me!" To which Paxton calmly replied, "Never."
Still, we tried to have a conversation -- about what brought them to the project, what they're still dying to do in their careers, and whether or not they're real life sports fans.
Please keep in mind that this interview is totally bonkers, hilarious, and very much worth reading.
What initially brought you to the project?
Alan Arkin: My agent... Money...
Bill Paxton: Listen, when I read this script I thought, well, I love a human-interest stories that are character-driven.
Arkin: Aren't most movies human-interest stories?
Paxton: They should be, they should be.
Arkin: What else is there besides human-interest stories?
Paxton: There's nothing else.
Arkin: Then what the hell are you talking about?
Paxton: I don't know. But I got to the speech where the character who wants to be a coach and comes over as an interpreter for the two boys, and the Jon Hamm character sends him out to the mound to give a pep talk. And when I read that speech I thought, I want to do this movie.
So, Alan, you just needed a check?
Arkin: [Joking] No, that was Bill who said that. It was an incredibly crass thing to say. And it was not me... I didn't say that. No, I thought the script was very moving, and I love being connected with things that are based on true stories. I was very, very moved by the way the Indians were treated. They were brought to life with great humor and great respect.
I was going to ask you what it was like to play characters based on real people. Bill, I know Tom House is a real guy, and Alan, your character was a composite character -- but did you try to reach out and talk to your real-life counterparts?
Arkin: When I play a composite character, which I also did in "Argo," I try to meet every person that it was based on and then try to do 15 to 20 per cent on each one of them.
Is that true?
Arkin: No. If I'm playing a real person that nobody's ever heard of or knows, except maybe their wife or their parents or their kids, then I feel like I have free reign to do whatever I want. I just play an old curmudgeonly guy with a heart of gold.
Which is rare for you.
Arkin: Yes, it's very rare.
What about you, Bill?
Paxton: I was cast very late. Alan and these guys were already in India and I spoke to [director] Craig Gillespie briefly on a transcontinental call. They set up a day when I went to USC and I got there very early in the morning and spent about a day with him and watched him teaching these young pitchers, and these are guys who are just out of high school or college. And I guess there's an archetype that comes to mind when you think of a baseball pitching coach but he wasn't any of those things. I thought, Gee, I wish I could spend more time with him. I told him so and he said, "You just be you and you'll be a perfect me."
Were you both big baseball fans?
Arkin: No. I was a stoopball fan. I played stoopball all the time.
Paxton: I remember going to baseball games with my dad out to Turnpike Stadium to watch the Texas Rangers before they became a major league team. But the earliest baseball memory I have is a Victorian baseball park, I think it was called The Grey Field, that was on the north side, near the packing houses of Fort Worth. And I remember a really early memory of going to that ballpark, and it looked like an old wooden thing like a Charles Addams thing, and that made a great impression on me. But as an adult I haven't followed it, although I like to go to a Dodgers game here and again.
What about cricket?
Arkin: I did a film in Australia once and somebody spent about three days trying to explain cricket to me and I never did get a hint of what it was.
Paxton: I have a similar experience. My wife is British and I would fly over to England when we were dating and stay at her folks' house. And late at night, all that was on was darts, World War II documentaries about how they took on the Nazis, and then they'd be replaying cricket matches. And they all worked better than Nytol, I've got to say.
You've both been in a billion movies each. Bill, can you tell me what your favorite movie of Alan's is and Alan can you tell me what your favorite movie or performance of Bill's is?
Paxton: Now you're really putting us on the spot!
Arkin: Hands down, my favorite performance of Bill's was in "The Godfather."
Paxton: Thank you. I've been watched Alan my whole life and I've been so entertained by him. But "Catch-22..."
Arkin: Don't say it. I'm leaving the room.
Paxton: "Freebie and the Bean" is one of my favorites...
Arkin: Oh, Jesus Christ.
Paxton: It's a classic! I'm telling you! These are the movies that inspired me to want to come out here.
Arkin: "Twister." I really liked "Twister."
Arkin: But you're terrific in it! When the cow was swirling around!
Paxton: The cow?! Oh gosh.
Bill, you're in another big, exciting summer movie. What can you tell us about "Edge of Tomorrow"?
Paxton: It's all those things and more.
Arkin: What are you in?
Paxton: "Edge of Tomorrow."
Arkin: What is it?
Paxton: It's a Doug Liman/Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt movie.
Arkin: Oh, right. It's science fiction. How is it?
Paxton: It's great.
Arkin: Have you seen it?
Arkin: They didn't invite you to see it?
Paxton: They never do.
Arkin: When does it open?
Paxton: It opens June 6th.
Arkin: Oh, I'll be there.
Paxton: I got to play a drill sergeant from Kentucky, who believes that a man, no matter how low he's sunk in life, can be redeemed and brought back to life on the battlefield. Tom Cruise gets thrown into my platoon and I have orders that say he's impersonated an officer and is a deserter and a coward, and instead of being down on him, I'm like, "Boy, you're in the right place. I'm going to teach you something." It's a pretty fun movie because it's got this situation where he keeps getting killed in this initial battle and he wakes up and it's happening again.
Arkin: Oh, it's like that movie with Jake Gyllenhaal that he did two years ago.
Paxton: I didn't see that one.
Arkin: It's wonderful. What's it called?
It's called "Source Code."
Paxton: I've heard that's good.
Arkin: Yeah, I've seen that a couple of times.
Paxton: It was fun for us actors, working with Tom, as he keeps repeating the cycle he starts anticipating what we're going to say and do...
Arkin: That's exactly what happens with Jake Gyllenhaal...
Paxton: So it's a very reactive role...
Arkin: That's the SAME THING THAT JAKE GYLLENHAAL DID TWO YEARS AGO.
Paxton: But this one has aliens though. It's an alien invasion.
Arkin: That'll be good. Are they good guys or bad guys?
Paxton: They've taken Europe like the Nazis.
Arkin: Oooooh, the aliens are bad guys? That's a novel approach. That's an interesting twist.
Paxton: Let's move on.
Is there anything either of you are still dying to do?
Arkin: I'd like to reprise my role in "The Godfather."
Paxton: I think we just need the action. We like the craft, we like the work, we like to be busy and using our minds and it's always challenging. Each role has to be custom made. I like doing the research. I'm researching Sam Huston right now for a project and I'm learning so much about the guy.
Arkin: My favorite thing about making movies is that it's the only area of human life that I've ever discovered where I can walk away from somebody in the middle of a conversation with somebody and they won't be offended.
Is that what you want to do right now?
Paxton: Come back Alan! Come back!
Arkin: You can only do it on a movie set. On a movie set, everybody knows that even though you're standing around looking out into space, you're really working. So if somebody comes up to you and starts talking about the ball game last night, you can just walk away from the conversation and not even say excuse me and someone will say, "Yeah, he's got a lot on his mind." If someone bores the hell out of you, you don't even have to say anything about it.
Paxton: [laughing hysterically] Oh god...
Are there any filmmakers you'd like to work with?
Paxton: I want to re-team with Alan Arkin. I'd like to do an unrequited love story with him.
Arkin: Between the two of us? We're getting into dangerous territory.
Paxton: It could be a familial thing. It could be anything.
Arkin: Which one of us is unrequited?
Paxton: I came across a piece years ago, it was a great piece called "Final Rounds" and it's about a father and a son and they grew up in the Carolinas and the father would always take him out on the public course and give him his philosophy on life. So the son nicknamed him Uppty the Mystic.
Arkin: Uppty the Mystic?
Paxton: So he gets a call and decides it's high time he and his dad take this trip together, and they've always talked about going to England and Scotland, playing the old courses. And the movie would be those two weeks of them together, going back. It's just a great, great piece. I've always thought it'd make a great movie.
Arkin: As long as I don't have to play golf. I can't even pretend to play golf.
Paxton: It's okay. It's okay. We can double you for all that. I made a golf film. Hell, I made Shia LeBeouf look like a great golfer.
You've both transitioned between television and film -- is that something you see yourselves continuing? And how was your arc on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."?
Arkin: Arc on "S.H.I.E.L.D."?
Paxton: I did six episodes of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
Arkin: Was that you?
Paxton: Wait a minute... You're the clairvoyant. You know, there was a time, years ago, I had a great agent named Hildy Gottlieb...
Arkin: She's my agent now.
Paxton: Oh, my gosh.
Arkin: Is she your agent?
Paxton: She was my agent for about 8 years and then she married Walter Hill and decided to get out of the business for a while.
Arkin: Now she's back in! She's one of the best!
Paxton: I know she is. But she said to me early on, "What kind of career do you want?" And I said, "I want to do features." And she said, "Well you're going to be out of work a lot." So I just went up for features and I was out of work a lot. But eventually I started to get credits and that became my thing. There used to be a stigma attached to television. If you wanted to be a feature actor then you tried to stay out of television. Because it was hard, if you were in television, to make the transition to features...
Arkin: That's not true anymore. There are a lot more exciting things happening on television.
Paxton: So yes, I just watched this thing "True Detective," which I thought was great, "Downton Abbey," "Breaking Bad," and it's a whole new world. An actor can easily traverse both and it's great work. As Michael Caine said, "It's all work, mate."
[Then they do their own Michael Caine impressions until I hang up the phone.]
"Million Dollar Arm" opens on Friday, May 16.