Back in 1957, the unthinkable happened; the Monterrey Industrials won the little league World Series making them the first non-American team to take the title. Over 50 years later we get to witness history in the making all over again in The Perfect Game.
The film stars Wizard of Waverly Place’s Jake T. Austin as Angel Macias, the kid who convinces wannabe MLB coach Cesar Faz to ditch his day job and teach him and his buddies to really play ball. Little did Cesar know he was about to transform a group of boys who’d never touched a real baseball into little league icons. But just as the road to the championship game was a bumpy one for the Industrials, so was the road to the theater for Austin, director William Dear and his co-stars Clifton Collins Jr., Cheech Marin and Jansen Panettiere.
Not only did they have to shoot the film twice, but producers rotated frequently and their budget suffered. But the group was determined to bring this story to the public no matter what it took, even if it meant having the young stars’ parents holding green screens or Dear having to shoot elements in his driveway using a handheld Panasonic P2 camera.
Even with all the tribulations, Austin has nothing but good things to say about his co-workers, the source material and the experience in its entirety. Check out what Austin told me about pre-production baseball training, his relationships with his co-stars and more.
SY: You look much older now than in the film. How old were you when you shot it?
I started when I was like 10 or 11.
SY: What’s the biggest change in you from then to now? Would you still take the role had it been offered to you today?
Puberty. Everything. Emotionally, physically, I’m just a different person now. Yeah, if they approached me to play it now, which I don’t think they would, you know, it’d be kind of strange. I was the actual age of the kids at that time so we were pretty much similar. Now I think I’d be a little bit of a further stretch.
SY: Were you really into baseball then?
Yeah, I was a huge huge Yankee fan. I still am, but not as much. I was a fanatic.
SY: Did you play?
Yeah, I played little league. I did that every weekend and I just lived and breathed baseball.
Yeah, I went through the boot camp with the other kids in North Carolina. We played catch and stuff like that and we learned some fundamentals of how baseball was played in the 50s.
SY: That was probably a great time, being away with a group of kids your age just playing baseball.
It was so cool. It was everyone hanging out in the hotel, just having a blast. We really had a good time.
SY: Did you have to go through a history lesson to learn about the Industrials?
No, we read the script and we were told by the writer and director what was going to happen and that was it.
SY: Did any of the real players come by the set?
Yeah, we got the real Angel, [Jose] Pepe [Maiz] and we got some others too.
SY: I saw a video online of you, the real Angel and President Bush. How exciting was that?
So cool meeting the president. That’s something that you’re going to remember for the rest of your life, you know?
SY: This film had a very lengthy production process. How long were you working on this?
We shot it over the course of a year and a half to two years and [it took] two and a half to three years to come out. So, four years give or take.
SY: So what’s it like finally seeing it get a theatrical release?
The satisfaction is beyond words. We’re just so relieved that people are finally getting the chance to see it.
SY: And how do you feel about the final product?
I’m completely proud of it and support it 100% and I don’t think we could have done it any better.
SY: I agree. I left the theater with a similar feeling after having seen The Blind Side.
Thanks! That’s what we were hoping for. We were hoping for that comparison and the fact that Blind Side was nominated for the Oscar and did so well, in numbers and in ratings, you know, the film’s very similar. Blind Side did it, I think we should too.
SY: That’s the benefit of going with a ‘true inspirational sports story.’
Yeah, it’s a great feel good movie as it is a great learning experience.
SY: And what did you learn from this? This is really your first –
… first thing to be taken seriously.
You know, Disney’s that – it has its own formula and it’s more about the jokes and making kids laugh more than it is about the substance and the story. Perfect Game is a movie with so much heart and it’s all about the story. You know, it’s something that I’m the most proud of and it’s definitely something that I’ll remember for a while and it’s a film that teaches you about racism and segregation and sexism and all those problems that happened in the past and they’re still happening to this day and it’s a great inspirational story. If you’re thinking about accomplishing something that seems impossible, look what these kids did from Monterrey.
Clifton’s one of my good friends to this day. He’s pretty much your overall badass in every way, shape or form. The uptime of cool. Just a really really genuine, down-to-earth person. He’s got such a great body of work behind him yet he’s so humble and nothing but great thing to say about him. The guy’s awesome.
SY: When I spoke to him about Extract in the fall, he brought up this movie and was going on and on about you and the film overall. He was so excited about it.
We were all really proud of it, especially him. It’s very different from the work he’s done, Boondock Saints and Crank 2 and Capote, Traffic and things like that. This is his first family film. It’s his first film that you don’t walk away from the theater saying, ‘Wow, that was so friggin’ cool. That was awesome.’ This is a film that you’re going to walk away saying, ‘Wow, look what these kids did. That was incredible.’ But Clifton’s a great actor and an even better person.
SY: And what about Cheech?
Cheech is the most relaxed – I mean, the guy dresses like the kids! He’s got a beautiful wife and he’s got a very optimistic personality, which is very admirable.
SY: What about the director?
Bill Dear is the same as Cheech. Bill Dear and Cheech I’m sure hang out all the time. Bill Dear is the really cool uncle or the grandpa you wish you had growing up. He’s the guy that’s going to take you out for a walk one day and just tell you about life and take you out for your first beer.
SY: Did he ever have a hard time controlling a cast of 10 to 12-year-old boys?
No because we respected him. We respected him because he was so cool so when we knew Bill was under a lot of stress and when we knew that Bill really needed to get the shot done, he didn’t even need to say anything. We knew instinctively that the right thing to do was to focus.
SY: I hear there were some pranks on the set though.
Yeah, I mean, we did our pranks and he never really got angry at us. That was one of the producers. He wasn’t the one losing the money. [Laughs] I’m sure we had our instances with Bill, but he’s the director. He’s got to make sure everything’s going right. But at the same time he found the humor in everything, which is great.
SY: Any fun stories from the set?
We were shooting out in the desert, I think it’s where they shot a lot of No Country For Old Men and there was this abandon trailer park, which was right next to our set. So on lunch, me and a couple of the other guys we like broke into one of the trailers just to see what it was like and we thought it was haunted and started freaking out and then we got lost in the middle of this trailer park and we didn’t know how to get back. Luckily we made it back before anyone knew about it, but we were just so freaked out. And we just did those kind of little adventures on our off time.
SY: Are you still friendly with the other guys?
Everyone, yeah. We all hang out. Jansen was over my room last night. I’m good friends with everybody.
SY: That’s awesome especially because it really makes a difference with this kind of movie. You really need that genuine chemistry.
It does! You need the genuine camaraderie that was formed between us.
By Perri Nemiroff