‘MONEYBALL’ THE MOVIE / Ex-players, coaches taking hack at acting

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

With the current A’s team off to the second-worst start in Oakland history, fans might prefer to relive the 2002 season, when the A’s made the playoffs and also ran off a 20-game winning streak. Ex-A’s manager Art Howe and coach Rick Peterson will play…Steven Soderbergh will lead the “Moneyball” project.

That season will be celebrated on the big screen in 2011, when Steven Soderbergh’s “Moneyball” movie is released – with Brad Pitt playing Oakland general manager Billy Beane but many of the other principals playing themselves. Former Oakland manager Art Howe is on board, as are pitching coach Rick Peterson, several scouts, ex-scouting director Grady Fuson and first baseman Scott Hatteberg.

“Unless I’m being punked,” Hatteberg said with a laugh. “I talked to the casting director, and I’m just blown away. I’m a big movie guy, and Soderbergh – are you kidding me? It doesn’t get much better than that. But if they’re going to run us out there with Brad Pitt … I don’t know how you can screw up playing yourself, but I’m afraid I will.”

“I told them, ‘I don’t want to ruin your movie,’ ” Howe said. “But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and Steven is one of the best in the business, so what the heck?”

In Michael Lewis’ 2003 bestseller, which is the basis for the movie, Howe is not portrayed in a flattering light, so Soderbergh went to Howe’s home in Houston to persuade him to join the production. Howe said he and his wife, Betty, had some initial reservations, but “talking to Steven, I’m comfortable with how everything will be handled.”

Howe didn’t get the chance to address his occasionally tense relationship with Beane in the book, but it’s likely that the movie will present Howe’s perspective more fully.

That, in fact, might be one way of making what was in essence a business book more cinematic. Soderbergh has said that he plans to set a standard for baseball movies, so the on-field action is sure to have greater prominence, as is the relationship between Howe and Beane, which was one of the most interesting dynamics of those contending A’s teams, 2000-2002.

None of the former A’s personnel has seen a script, though filming is expected to begin next month in Los Angeles as Soderbergh recreates the 2002 season. (Warren Beatty’s 1981 film “Reds” and its depiction of the Russian Revolution is one inspiration Soderbergh has mentioned when it comes to reconstructing the past.) The production is expected to use some major-league ballparks, including the Coliseum, during the summer.

Peterson will serve as a technical director after Beane recommended him to producers. Peterson met with Soderbergh for several hours recently and Soderbergh explained that he has used people as themselves before, most notably in “Traffic,” a movie that earned Soderbergh the Academy Award for best director in 2001.

“He said this is the way in the future movies will be done,” Peterson said. “He wants to make a movie about what really happened and he wants it to be as real as possible.”

Peterson believes that 26 people will be playing themselves, with former A’s reliever Chad Bradford a possibility because he’s on Tampa Bay’s disabled list. Bradford should be able to play next month, however, probably rendering him unavailable. Ex-A’s third-base coach Ron Washington is also too busy managing the Rangers, so Hatteberg has a suggestion: longtime Soderbergh collaborator Don Cheadle.

Beane will be played by Pitt, but Beane said he has not spoken to the actor and doesn’t know if Pitt will need to spend time with him to develop the role. Beane downplayed the casting choice, saying only that, “No. 1, I wouldn’t want to play myself, along with the fact that I’m not qualified to do it. … My guess is that the producers find it a more attractive product if it’s someone other than me.”

Surely, Beane’s wife, Tara, has thoughts about Brad Pitt playing her husband? “We don’t talk about it a lot,” Beane said.

He’s not involved with the production other than to answer the occasional e-mail from Soderbergh, and Beane said, “I just kind of bury my head in the sand with the whole thing. Other people have thought about this a lot more than I have. Between running a baseball team and (raising) twins, it’s about 40th on my to-do list.”

Former assistant GM Paul DePodesta also will not be playing himself, even though DePodesta does have acting experience, with some bit roles on TV. “Apparently, my stint on ‘Homicide’ wasn’t enough to convince them,” DePodesta said.

Comedian Demetri Martin will play DePodesta, which DePodesta doesn’t mind, because he’s a fan of Martin’s work. Like everyone else, though, DePodesta is curious about how Soderbergh will turn a fairly static book into a film.

“I don’t know what to think, to be honest; the entire thing is surreal,” DePodesta said. “I was telling Billy that it does seem odd. People will be talking about whether the movie is better the book – and it’s our real lives.”