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Answer Man: ‘Moneyball’s Stephen Bishop talks being David Justice

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Stephen Bishop never made it in Major League Baseball like he wanted, but he has established himself as a big leaguer when it comes to acting. Among other places, he's appeared in "Friday Night Lights" (the movie and the TV series), "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI: Miami." And it's not by chance, he says, that he got his most recent (and biggest) role so far, playing former slugger David Justice in "Moneyball."

Not only does Bishop bear a physical resemblance to Justice, he grew up being a fan of his, and even got to know him as a young player himself in the Atlanta Braves system. The series of events that led him to this movie role might seem coincidental to some — but not to him, as he explains in the latest Answer Man session.

David Brown: Your name might not be that well-known to the public, but you've been in a lot of big productions that people have seen in TV and movies. Does that mean, at this stage in your acting career, you're a guy who's able to act and doesn't need side jobs to pay the bills?

Stephen Bishop: I've been just acting for about eight or nine years. I have other ventures on the side that generate some income, but they're not "jobs." Like, I'm a green building advocate, and I work with a wood flooring manufacturer representative to supply hotel chains and high-end interior designers. I'm also working on their behalf with the government to try and get green government buildings. So I make money in different ways, but I don't have another job — I've never been a waiter, I've never worked in retail. Since about 2000, I've really just made my living doing this; living off my (acting) jobs and residuals and staying afloat that way.

DB: There's a book that quotes you as saying you really looked up to David Justice, from the time you were a kid, and even as a baseball player. Did you idolize him?

Bishop: When I first saw him play, he looked so much like me, and then he played the way I wanted to play, that it was logical for me to want to emulate him and mimic his moves an mannerisms in hopes of those things translating into me becoming a professional ballplayer.

DB: What was your nickname back then?

Bishop: The guys on my team called me "Baby Justice."

DB: So does that blow your mind a little bit that, here you are, playing him in a movie? Or are you more, like, "Well, this was meant to be"?

Bishop: It has seemed very serendipitous to me. But it's something more. {YSP:MORE}

It's something that I've been groomed for over the last 20 years. David and I became friends after I had signed with the Atlanta Braves. He took me under his wing and really treated me like a little brother — throughout spring training, and then when we were in Atlanta together, he would take me to basketball games.

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I've known David for a long time, so it's clear to me that there was a purpose involved in all of this. I'm just very fortunate and blessed to be aware of it, so I can see these things happening. My mother says I'm very blessed to be aware, because a lot of people have these types of moments in their lives, but they're unaware of the existence of the higher power that controls these types of things, that puts them in your path for a reason. I don't think it's coincidence or happenstance. It's something I was meant to do, and I was given the tools to do it at a younger age and, 15 or 20 years down the road, here I am playing a guy that I know like the back of my hand. Not just his physical mannerisms, but I've also had a chance to know him on a more personal level as well.

DB: So, there wasn't any additional pressure you put on yourself to get this part right, because you were so comfortable with the concept?

Bishop: It was more pressure for me to do him proud. I'm fairly confident in my abilities as an actor at this point in my career. I've had a lot of good teaching and a lot of good experiences, so I've grown into that part of my life. But when you play somebody that you know, in a film where they can be seen as a bit of an antagonist, you want to do the film justice and you want to do the person justice — no pun intended (laughs).

So that was the pressure for me — making sure I got all of the information from David and from Billy Beane about their relationship in real life, as it compared to what it was in the script. So, my only concern was making David look as good as he could possibly look while still telling the story that needed to be told.

DB: How excited have you been to see yourself in the trailer?

Bishop: Oh, wow. When you do something like this, the first thing anybody sees is the trailer. When it came out, I was really anxious to see if I made it. And to have them showcase me a little bit in the first trailer — and even a little bit in the second one — it's been incredible.

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Credit: @richardiurilli with the animation

The bat flip they show, that's a style thing that all baseball players respect. All of my baseball player friends who have seen the trailer have called me and said, "Man, you looked so hard when you flipped that bat." Know what I mean? That's a great thing. I love it. I'm so happy for a chance to be in the trailer and I'm thankful to Bennett Miller (the film's director) and to the people at Sony for showcasing me in it. It's a great thing.

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DB: I liked the bat flip, and also the moment of you trying to buy a soda pop out of the machine. I don't know if that really happened, but it just looked just like David Justice trying to buy a soda pop machine. The whole look of the film, going by the trailer, just appears to be real.

Bishop: That was the goal. Bennett wanted to make a realistic baseball film, and he set out to make it the best baseball film ever made. I hope that it turns out like that. All of the players are either professional or at least major college baseball players, so the baseball scenes are authentic. And the actors who play the baseball players with the bulk of the speaking parts are all actors as well as having some baseball experience.

Chris Pratt, who plays Scott Hatteberg, I believe he's one of the only guys who didn't have at least major college experience, but he's such a good actor that he was able to pull it off. He and I trained together, because I had to work on hitting left-handed to be David. And so did he. He had to hit left-handed to learn how to be Scott Hatteberg. He and I worked together at USC, with their former head coach Chad Kreuter, three weeks before we started shooting.

So, it's going to be authentic and real, and I like that it's a baseball movie about the people and not so much about baseball. That's going to add some heart to it.

DB: Had you read Michael Lewis' book before getting involved with the movie?

Bishop: No, I had not. I was aware of it.

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DB: Would reading the book mess with the screenplay version you have to go by to make the film?

Bishop: My method is, I don't want to know too much about anything other than my character. For example, we're having a conversation right now, but I don't know anything about your life. If I had read a prepared script about your life, I'd be talking to you a different way because I would be sensitive to some of the things you might be going through.

I take that viewpoint with me to acting. I don't want to know too much about the other characters and what their circumstances are, because it would cause me to, maybe, emote in a different way toward them. I didn't read the book "Moneyball," because I didn't want to know anything about it. I just wanted to play David.

DB: You played minor league ball from 1993 to 1995. Do you have any regrets or disappointments to this day about not getting a chance to play more professional baseball?

Bishop: Yeah, I do. I feel as though the Braves let me go without just cause. I'll always feel that. I put up numbers and, for me, that's what you're supposed to do. The other things don't matter. I put up some significant numbers in a short period of time after coming off a fairly significant injury. I believe that they derailed my career unjustly. I do have regrets, because I feel I had the ability to make it to the major leagues. But once you're released once by a team, you're looked at as damaged goods by somebody else.

But at the same time, it was clearly meant to be that way, because here I am in an A-list film, with A-list actors, producers, director, cinematographer Wally Pfister, who shot "Inception," fulfilling the dream of another career. I knew when I was playing that I would eventually act, so that was [destiny] — God letting me do my first love, getting paid to play baseball — and then get off that train and transfer onto the train that would take me to my ultimate destination.

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DB: You mentioned that David took you under his wing and you became good friends. Does that mean you've met Halle Berry?

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Bishop: I have met Halle Berry, but I did not meet her through David. I met Halle right before I started filming "Moneyball" because she and I have the same personal trainer, Gunnar Peterson. So I met Halle at the gym very recently. I did not meet her when they were together. She was actually always gone, off shooting, when Dave and I would hang out. Clearly, when she was around, he was hanging out with his wife [laughs] and not with some punk kid that he was trying to mentor.

DB: Is she good people?

Bishop: She's very nice, was very sweet when I met her. Very down-to-earth. It's tough to be any other way when you're in your gym clothes with no makeup on and sweaty (laughs). We spoke about the fact that I was playing her ex-husband and she was supportive of that. She was a very nice lady. Nothing but good things to say about her.

DB: Did Brad Pitt buy the crew lunch every day?

Bishop: I don't recall Brad doing that at all; We always had caterers and craft services on the set that Sony would pay for everyday. But what Brad did do was, on Fridays, they would pass around a bucket that everyone would put $5 in and whoever's name was on the $5 bill would win the entire bucket. And Brad would put obscene amounts of money into the bucket for people to win. Someone won, like, $1,700 one day.

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He's a great guy, though. He just never had to buy lunch because there were always caterers around. I had a scene with him that was one-on-one, so I got to spend a lot of time with him and have conversations with him. Now that guy is down to earth. He is clearly a mega-superstar who, when you sit and talk with him, he's a regular guy. He's a guy's guy. I'm better for having met him and being able to have spent some time with him.

DB: Did you get to meet Royce Clayton, who plays Miguel Tejada?

Bishop: Royce and I actually became close friends. I just played golf with him last week and will again soon. Royce is now a really good friend of mine. He and I probably hung out, probably the most of anybody.

DB: I used to cover him in Chicago when he played for the White Sox.

Bishop: Oh, yeah? I'm from Hyde Park — [5100 block of] South Woodlawn [Ave].

DB: I wasn't sure where you grew up.

Bishop: I lived in Chicago until I was about 10 years old and moved to the Bay Area, where I grew up actually watching A's games. That's another reason why this is such a great thing for me: I got to play on the field that I grew up watching guys play on. This is a full-circle, across-the-board dream come true for me.

DB: What kind of real baseball manager would Philip Seymour Hoffman make? I'm very curious to see him transform into Art Howe.

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Bishop: He would be great, actually. His demeanor as Art Howe was spot-on. He was very calm but stern when he would go out to the mound, or have conversations with the players or with Billy Beane. Philip is a demanding presence anyway. He even got in there and swung the bat — took batting practice with us — so he wasn't one of those guys who would be gone as soon as his scene was over. He hung out. He'd be a player's manager, that's for sure, but he would be able to command the respect of the umpires and the other teams.

DB: Have you seen how much weight Jonah Hill has lost lately? Is he OK?

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Bishop: [Laughs]. Yeah, I think he just lost a lot of weight because of the parts he's been playing recently. I don't know all of the real reason behind it, but I'm happy for him because it's going to make him healthier, ultimately. But if he's happy with it, I'm happy for him. I think, because he was doing the movie "21 Jump Street," that he wanted to be a slimmed-down version of himself. The people in that movie are young heartthrobs.

DB: That's some serious Brando/DeNiro method acting when you gain or lose that much weight for a role.

Bishop: I gained 25 pounds for my role in "Friday Night Lights," then I lost 15 and put back on five more of muscle to play David Justice. If you want to transform, you've got to do it. You're right, it's dedication. That's the difference between people that work a lot and people that get looks here and there but don't ever catch. Jonah is clearly committed. As is Brad, as is Isaiah Washington, whom I recently worked with. I just hope, at some point, to be mentioned in the breath of some of these people. So I just do what I see them doing.

DB: You're also going to be in "Battleship," which I will see no matter how absolutely ridiculous the trailer looks. I am excited. It looks like "Pearl Harbor" meets "Transformers."

Bishop: That's what it looks like. That's going to be an incredible movie. Peter Berg (the director) is a genius, and when you combine the effects they're using, it's going to be a big one.

Follow Dave on Twitter — @AnswerDave — and get to know The Stew on Facebook.

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Previous Answer Men (and Woman):

2011 • Orel HershiserWill RhymesLogan MorrisonBilly BeaneLuke Scott

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2010Goose GossageJayson WerthTroy TulowitzkiHeath BellBilly WilliamsJoe MauerNyjer Morgan Charlie ManuelFred LynnBucky DentGary CarterMatt StairsVin Scully

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2009 Shane VictorinoCarlos PenaJay BruceJoe Nathan Joe MaddonJoakim SoriaJoey VottoTom GlavineAdrian and Edgar GonzalezChris VolstadPaul KonerkoEdwin JacksonMark DeRosaTim LincecumDave RighettiPedro MartinezDenard SpanCal Ripken

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2008 • Hunter PenceJustin MorneauDavid WrightErin AndrewsAndy Van SlykeDerek JeterBob UeckerBert BlylevenTorii HunterJoba ChamberlainLarry BowaZack GreinkeKerry WoodHuston StreetJosh HamiltonMilton BradleyCC SabathiaMike MussinaJason BayCole HamelsRon SantoFrancisco RodriguezRyan DempsterEvan Longoria

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