Dennis Quaid stars in "The Rookie," the true story of Jim Morris, a former athlete who discovers that it's never too late for dreams to come true. Morris' dream of a big-league pitching career ended with a shoulder injury 12 years ago. He then settled down, had kids, and became the baseball coach/chemistry teacher at the high school in Big Lake, Texas.
Eager to motivate his team, Jim agreed to try out for a major league team if his high school team could win the district championship. When the team went from worst to first, Jim was forced to live up to his end of the deal. Surprising himself, scouts and pitching coaches alike, Morris' pitching speed had increased to 98 mph - enough to win him a job with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Jim Morris and Dennis Quaid joined fellow cast members Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez and director John Lee Hancock to talk about the inspirational film.
DENNIS QUAID & JIM MORRIS
This is a very inspirational story, for girls as well as guys. What interested you in doing it?
DENNIS: Yes, exactly, I wasn't interested in doing a baseball story. My favorite sports movies transcend the sports that they are about. Really, it was about second chances to me, second chances in life, second chances with relationships in your life. That's something that somebody who is not a baseball fan can relate to.
One of the key elements of this film was Jim's love of his family. How important was that to you to portray?
DENNIS: Well, that's one of the things that really hit me about his story because it says a lot of things that we should share. My family is the most important thing in the world to me, too, before anything else. I think it really portrayed that, the script did, and his life does. That was important to me.
Jim, some of the elements in this movie are dramatized. But was your father really so one-dimensionally against baseball in the beginning of your life?
JIM: He wasn't against baseball. What happened in my father's life was, he was supposed to sign a contract with the Mets, and two weeks before he was to go to spring training, he hurt his shoulder playing football in the front yard - I mean to the point where he couldn't throw again. I think he tried to live through me and make me a perfectionist at the sport, which made it really hard on me.
That storyline is something we don't see in the movie.
JIM: Well, it's not a big part of it. The basic thing is, I was made to be a perfectionist at everything I did. Everything was more important than what I wanted. He was like that, but he showed up at the games, and we're getting along better.
DENNIS: There are a thousand other things that happened in Jim's life, too. It would have been a 10-hour movie.
Did Brian Cox ever work with your father to get his character down?
JIM: No. Mike Rich interviewed myself and the family and everybody involved with me, before he sat down and put it on paper.
DENNIS: Some actors like to meet the people that they're going to play, and some don't.
Dennis, did you meet Jim before you started filming?
DENNIS: He came over right after I signed on and we were throwing baseballs in the front yard. Myself, I like to meet whoever I am playing. I consider it a resource. Plus, it's his story and I feel if someone was doing my life story, I'd like to try and do him justice.
You never played baseball growing up, but your wind-up is amazingly real.
DENNIS: I played Little League, but that was the last time I played. I worked with Jim, [to get] the throwing motion and to break it down. Jim Gott, an ex-pitcher for the Dodgers, would come over to my house every day and we'd throw balls. We'd go down to Dodger Stadium once a week and throw on the mound down there. That was really exciting. I thought it was important; I didn't want to throw like an actress.
Did you really have about 90 seconds to film the scene in the Texas Rangers' stadium?
DENNIS: Yeah, during the 7th inning stretch. We had basically one take at it, because it takes 90 seconds to run out there (laughing). That was really a thrill. There were 40,000 people there and they were all going crazy. We had 15 or 20,000 stay behind after the game when we did additional scenes so it was cool.
Besides baseball research, did you research the kinds of surgeries that Jim underwent? How the surgeries would affect his walk, or other movements?
DENNIS: No, because it was basically on his arms and not really on his legs. Well except you [indicating Jim] did have that ligament taken out but you were walking funny way back there (laughing). That was back when you were 25.
He and I don't really look all that much alike, and he's not - with all due respect - he's not Jerry Lee Lewis who is like a world-renowned figure; everybody knows what he looks like, and sounds like, and acts like. So I told him he should start looking more like me, actually (laughing). It wasn't all that important to really look like him but I really wanted to capture the spirit of him.
Your son, Hunter, is a big part of the film. Did he really hang around and was he always there at the high school games? What does he think about being portrayed in a big movie like this?
JIM: He's an 11-year old kid; he thinks it's awesome! He was there all the time. He's my best friend and we do everything together when we are together. We go hunting and fishing, all kinds of stuff, and we just have a good time.
And your wife and other children?
JIM: The kids are absolutely fantastic. They're a little young so… Actually I'm happy with the movie, with Dennis doing such a great job, and with Disney putting it together so when the girls get old enough, I think they can go back and watch it and see what happened and why I was gone for that period of time.
Did you really not know how fast you were throwing? Could a high school kid catch a 98 mph pitch?
JIM: I was throwing as hard then as when I went to try-out camp. I wasn't trying to throw any differently. There's no way I could tell. I wasn't in front of a radar gun in 14 years, so I had no idea how hard I threw. I had to go home and apologize to those kids because I threw that hard at them during batting practice.
DENNIS: Especially the catcher (laughing).
Has there been any explanation as to how you were able to pitch the way you did, at your age?
JIM: No, the medical field is baffled. They fixed my arm at 25 to live life, to go golfing, and to play with my kids - not to pitch. So when I took the head baseball job, I had to throw batting practice because I couldn't have other kids throwing every day. I tried to make my motion as smooth as possible so that I wouldn't torc my shoulder or my elbow. Somehow with that, my arm speed picked up. I only threw in the 80s the first time around so there's no reason to think I would be throwing 98 mph the second time.
This movie is about Jim's big break that came almost out of the blue. When you look back on your career Dennis, what do you consider your big break?
DENNIS: "Breaking Away." This was the movie I did where things got a lot easier for me. I was sort of struggling from job to job before that, and then when the film came out all of a sudden I was getting sent scripts. I didn't have to audition all the time. That was my big break.
Did you have to convince the director you could do that film?
DENNIS: Actually I had another job on some other movie that nobody has probably ever heard of - it came and went. I went to see Peter Yates and he was saying, "You don't understand; you have to do this movie." I said, "I already have a job." He said, "No, no, you HAVE to do this movie." He was standing in front of the door (laughing). I thank God; he was like a dad to me. I'm happy I listened to him.
Having done biographies before, was there something similar in your approach to this?
DENNIS: Well this, to me, was not a bio-pic. It's not a bio-pic, it's the story. Bio-pics are made to sort of happen over years, and you have to see these sorts of set events that everybody knows about. You've seen "Ali," you know what I'm talking about. With Jim, this is a story taken out of his life. I really don't look at it as a bio-pic because of that - and his story is not over.
Jim, what are you doing now that you have retired from baseball?
JIM: Inspirational speaking across the country with corporations, and volunteering a lot of time in the Dallas area where I live, with high school baseball.
You were injured again when you were pitching. Was that frustrating or were you ready to go at that point?
JIM: No, I mean the culmination of a life-long dream could have ended with Royce Clayton and I would have been fine. It took me that long to get to that point, all I wanted to do was to be there. And I got that opportunity and it's something I owe my high school kids for because I never would have tried it again if it hadn't have been for them.
Do you want to go back to coaching, maybe at the minor league level?
JIM: I like working with kids more. I think that adults who get paid a lot of money are not as easy to work with as kids who still have that burning desire in their heart to get there. Hopefully I can teach them something.
In the movie, we see how much more important football is than baseball in Texas. Is baseball more elevated now?
JIM: No, it's back where it was. It's just West Texas; it's been that way forever. I mean, Dennis went there. The football field is green in the middle of winter and the baseball field has no grass at all. It's just a year-by-year process. There're more kids playing now in the big league because of it. But football runs Texas.
What was your experience like being on a Hollywood movie set?
JIM: I was a consultant for the movie; I was there the whole time. Dennis came up to me about the third day and I had watched - on the second day I think I was there - a scene go for 12 hours. And he came up to me and said, "So you want to be an actor?" And I said, "I don't think so (laughing)." It was amazing and I asked him how much film that was worth, and he said, "About 10 seconds." That was 12 hours of filming. I was blown away.
DENNIS: Maybe it was 30 seconds.
Jim, you played one of the umpires. Dennis, can you evaluate his acting prowess?
DENNIS: He was a good umpire.
JIM: It was almost lunchtime and everybody wanted to eat.
DENNIS: Yeah, that was his motivation. His motivation was lunch. He was a natural.
Dennis, did you ever think about using a radar gun to see how fast you are?
DENNIS: No, I never put myself on a radar gun because I don't want to be disappointed. I just wanted to look like I knew what I was doing - that was really important to me - then I relied on sound effects for the rest of it.
You've had lots of offers for your life story. What was the worst sales pitch you heard?
JIM: They wanted to do a movie about how it really is in the locker room. I was like, "What are you talking about?" One of the producers, Mark Ciardi, was one of my first roommates back in like 83 and 84 and he pitched the movie idea to Disney and they loved it. I don't think I thought there was really going to be a movie, even though people were talking to my agent about it, until Dennis signed on. Then I went, "Wow, they are actually going to make a movie about this." I still try not to think about it very much. I give all the credit to my kids.
What is it about baseball movies, over some of the other sports, that makes moviegoers love them so much?
DENNIS: Well, I've done football and I've done baseball. Somebody said that baseball is what America thinks of itself as, and football probably is what America is. There's so much Americana in baseball, the good times, the family - it's a family-oriented father/son type of sport. Whereas football is the 'warrior.' It just speaks to something - Americana.
Dennis, what is up next for you?
DENNIS: I finished a film that I did after this that's called "Far from Heaven." It's the anti-family film is what I like to call it. Todd Haynes directed it - the "Safe" guy. Julianne Moore is in it, too. It will probably come out in the fall.
Why do you call it the anti-family film?
DENNIS: Well, it's the perfect family in like 1957 and they have everything so perfect, and they have these deep dark secrets.
How is the music career going?
DENNIS: I'm having just a blast with it. It's really a lot of fun. I don't want a record deal or anything like that. I've been playing music since I was 12 and I like to play in a band. It takes the place of theatre for me, the live performance element.
Why do you not want a record deal?
DENNIS:DENNIS: I did that in the 80s - I had another band - and that was more about my ego and the rest of that, trying to prove something or whatever. To tell you the truth, I really didn't have all that much fun doing it. Now I really just love to do it - to play with these guys.
Interview with Rachel Griffiths - >Page 2