Exclusive Interview: MONEYBALL’s Stephen Bishop Talks Playing David Justice, The Training and Working With Brad Pitt
As an actor, it’s probably a mixed blessing to play a real living person.
On the one hand, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel as you have access to the person with all their subtleties and quirks but on the other hand, you have to portray a compelling character without becoming a caricature. That is the delicate balance that Stephen Bishop had to manage as he played real life baseball star David Justice in the upcoming movie MONEYBALL starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Daemon’s Movies had the great pleasure to chat with Stephen about his rôle, the intense training demanded by the production and the lessons learned around such great A-list actors. Check out what he had to say below and don’t forget to catch Moneyball which will be released this Friday September 23 in theaters everywhere.
I just saw the trailer for ‘Moneyball’. You were in there. Was that exciting to see?
Stephen Bishop: Oh, yeah, man. That was actually a dream come true for me.
How did you get the part in that film?
Stephen Bishop: I actually auditioned for it. I had to go through three or four auditions. Actually, three auditions and a baseball tryout. I went through the casting process like everyone else. I just had some advantages. I’d played professional baseball, and so I was going to be authentic. There were certain things that I knew about my character that nobody else would probably know. So, it was just a situation where I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and have the right life experience.
You play David Justice. Does playing a real person have any extra challenges?
Stephen Bishop: Yeah. The fact of the matter is that I know David. I know him a little bit, and so it was a little easier for me to portray him than it might’ve been for someone who didn’t know him. So, it had challenges though because you wanted to make sure that you did things that you knew that he did, some mannerisms and things like that, but you don’t want to make a caricature of anybody.
So, you have still put a little bit of yourself into it and instead of trying to mimic him, because the world I don’t think had too much of a grand idea of what David was like off the field and things like that. So, instead of trying to mimic him you did certain things that you knew he did a lot, certain mannerisms and sayings and things like that, but then you put a little bit of yourself into it as well.
So, it was a bit of a challenge, but it wasn’t as challenging as, say, playing Ray Charles where there’s a definite traits and impediments and things like that where you pretty much had to transform into Ray Charles to play Ray Charles because he was so specific.
What drew you to the role?
Stephen Bishop: Like I said, when I was a kid, a young teenager, David was breaking into the major leagues and the resemblance being so uncanny was something that I could relate to. So, he became a bit of an idol for me. So, the ability to play him was, like I said, a dream come true. This was a guy that I grew up mimicking and emulating anyway. So, why not do it now.
Plus, I grew up in the Bay area, in East Bay, a town called Moraga from the age of twelve. I grew up watching A’s games at The Coliseum. So, to be able to play a character in an A’s uniform and be able to work in The Coliseum and to top it all off and be able to work with Brad Pitt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, this is like a perfect storm for me as an ex-baseball player turned actor.
This must have been a physical production. Did you have to train to play this role?
Stephen Bishop: Yeah. I had to learn or polish my ability, I should say…I had to learn to hit left handed because David is a left handed hitter and I’m a right handed hitter. I had to learn to throw left handed. I had to go through two weeks of training at USC with the then USC head coach Chad Kreuter. I would go everyday. Chris Pratt and I and Reed Thompson as well.
The three of us would be at USC everyday by ten o’clock and we’d be hitting and throwing and pretty much going through a training camp. I don’t believe the actors that didn’t have to do any changes to their natural abilities had to do anything. I don’t believe that they had to do specific training. We actually did have a day of basic rehearsals where it was kind of like a training day, but it was also a day of going through what we were going to be doing once the week started.
Since you played professionally, do you find there’s a difference in playing in the real world and playing in front of a camera?
Stephen Bishop: The thing is that the cinematographer, Wally Pfister, and Bennett Miller the director, they knew very well that certain things you can’t really fake. You’re going to just have to catch the right angle of a baseball player doing certain things and get out of his way. So, it wasn’t really too much adjusting that we had to do. It was pretty much playing baseball. The one thing that some guys found difficult, other guys didn’t so much, was being able to perform on cue and being able to hit the baseball solidly over and over again while the camera was rolling and while you actually had to. There were some guys that would foul balls off when we couldn’t have a foul ball. Even the most polished major league player fouls a ball off, but for the sake of a movie you want to hit it right. There was some of that.
Fortunately, in the scenes where I had to hit I was fortunate enough to be able to execute and not have too many of those types of takes where I had to stop because I’d foul a ball off or something like that. It was the same as playing, but maybe a little more difficult because the lighting was different than when you played at night. You couldn’t really see the ball as well, but if they wanted a close-up of you hitting they’d just have to do something to get a close-up and they wouldn’t be right there because the bat was going to be in the zone. So, you pretty much used your skills and they just recorded it.
You mentioned Brad Pitt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but what was it like working with this cast overall?
Stephen Bishop: It was an incredible experience for me. It might still be the best time that I’ve ever had as an actor. It was cool because you got to see different types of actors on the same set and how different types of actors approached their crafts. Brad was different than Phillip. Jonah [Hill] was different than Brad. It was a joy to be able to work with them. I had scenes opposite Jonah and I had a scene opposite Brad where it was just me and them. So, it was cool to be able to sit with them and talk to them and actually work with them and go one on one with actors of that caliber.
And we had so much fun because all the guys on the set were real baseball players. Either ex-pros or major college baseball players. So, we had that in common and we became, like, a team to the point where we were going to field a team to go to Arizona and play a tournament. We were talking about doing that, but it never materialized. We could’ve won. The team that they put together for the film was that good. Lets face it, we had a few major league players on our roster. I mean, Royce Clayton was a seventeen year major league shortstop. Any amateur tournament you go to, if you have a major league shortstop you’re going to have a pretty good opportunity to win.
What did you learn as an actor by watching all these different acting styles?
Stephen Bishop: I learned that being free to live in the moment is the most important thing. I learned that a lot of the things that I’ve been doing throughout my career have been on track as far as my acting ability. It just reinforced some of the beliefs that I’ve had, watching Phillip and watching him do different things in takes and live naturally in the moment. I’ve always done that.
I’ve gotten a lot of parts because I’ll do something in an audition that I know nobody else is doing. But it’s a natural thing, and it’s a choice. You hear about choices, actors making choices, I learned that making a choice to free yourself up, to do whatever happens is the most important thing. That’s life. Life is whatever happens in the moment. It’s not a planned or a rehearsed action.
Who was the best hitter in the cast?
Stephen Bishop: The best hitter in our group was Royce Clayton. I mean, lets face it, he’s a seventeen year major veteran. He was the only major league hitter in our group. So, he was clearly the best hitter. The best non-major league hitter was probably Art Ortiz. He actually hit a few balls out of the Oakland Coliseum. I stayed in character when we did our batting practice and all of that, and so I hit left handed. If I was able to hit right handed I would like to say that I probably would put myself up at the top.
You were robbed because you had to hit left handed.
Stephen Bishop: But it’s okay. I hit the ball pretty well left handed. I actually hit a ball off the fence left handed and that was everybody’s goal, to hit one out. You want to hit one out of a major league stadium. I committed. I said, ‘I’m not going to hit right handed. I’m going to stay in my character. I’m going to stay practicing throughout this. I’m not going to do this for selfish reasons.’ I tried to hit one out left handed and I hit one to the fence. So, I was happy with it. We had a lot of good players, and no self-respecting baseball player, especially a hitter, is not going to put himself at least in the top five of any group that he talks about.
What about pitchers?
Stephen Bishop: Wow. There were quite a few good pitchers. Casey Bond was nasty. He plays Chad Bradford. His sidearm was just atrocious. It was nasty. I would not want to face him ever. Not ever. Not on any day of any week of any month would I want to face him. Derrin Ebert. He plays Mike Magnante. He was a major league pitcher and so he obviously was very talented. We had a guy, I forgot his name, but he played Billy Koch. He threw really hard. He was a first round draft pick. Those were probably the top three pitchers that I can remember.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can talk about?
Stephen Bishop: Yeah. I recently got back from Cape Town, South Africa where I was shooting ‘Safe House’ with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Before that, in November of last year, I did Peter Berg’s ‘Battleship’ which will be coming out in May of 2012. Supposedly ‘Safe House’ comes out in February 2012.
If you could work with any actor or director who would it be?
Stephen Bishop: That’s a good question and it’s a very difficult question because I just recently worked with number one and number two on that list. Denzel Washington would’ve been number one had you asked me months ago and Brad Pitt would’ve been number two. I would love to work with somebody like Daniel Day Lewis. He’s an incredible actor. I’d like to work with…who else do I really admire? Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I just worked with him. Robert De Niro is the classic. I’d definitely like to work with him. So, I mean, like I said, I just got to work with the number one and two on my list.
You need a new list now.
Stephen Bishop: Yeah. With certain things you reach your goal and you look forward to continuing down the path. It’s like, ‘Wow. I’ve reached a part of my goal very early in my career,’ and it seems like it was well worth the struggle and all of the time that it took to get here. These are unbelievable times for me.
(Photo credit: Chris Patey)