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Interview with director Bill dear
in The Perfect Game
By Hannah Goodwyn
- The director who brought us the feel-good movie, Angels in the Outfield, is telling a new story on the big screen. Director Bill Dear's latest project, The Perfect Game, captures the faith and the frustrating obstacles a group of poor kids from Monterey, Mexico, faced as they made their way through the Little League playoffs in 1957 America.
Using the foundation he received at a Protestant church growing up in California, Dear worked to create a film that told this true story -- and did it justice. In a recent interview, Dear talks about how the film addresses faith, family and racism, and why he chose Cheech Marin to play the priest.
Faith is an integral part of this true-story film. It could’ve been downplayed; what made you want to highlight it?
Dear: I felt that in The Perfect Game faith played such an important role, and it was such a guiding force for the children. The character Cheech Marin plays, Father Estaban, he took that faith and he was open with that faith in a way that he didn’t just say to these children, “No, don’t do that. Spend your time in church.” He found this interim, baseball, that was to him a wholesome sport and something that would unite the kids and get the kids out of the street. It's because they had faith in him and faith in their religion that I think that they became more than just fans of baseball. Baseball became part of what Father Estaban or God had to offer them. And I thought that was an important thing to put in the story.
But it was tricky because when you do you deal with faith, a little faith goes a long, long way for people who don’t tolerate it. And for people who have faith, you can never have enough. I had to find the balance in there so that I could keep the story entertaining, but be really true to the fact that these kids did believe that they were part of a miracle that was happening.
You’ve said that Cheech was always your choice for playing the Father. He’s not the first person most would cast. Why did you?
Dear: I wanted to cast somebody as priest who was counter to the faith, and counter to your expectation of a holy man. And Cheech, I picked him because he’s a very good actor, and Mexican. Everything about him was right for it. He brought that soul and heart of a real person into the priest character.
Cheech made Father Estaban a padre for the people. He was one of the people. I think what was so good is that his very subtle, but honest support of the kids through the movie. That was really important. You really got a sense that he cared about their well-being and he was simple and pure, let’s put it that way. And I thought why not give that to someone with the kind of character color that Cheech brings to a role.
Coach Cesar Faz takes the leadership role in these kids’ lives. But it’s evident that these kids and Father Estaban teach him a few things as well.
Dear: Cesar’s journey becomes as important to him as the kids’ journey becomes to them because he very reluctantly takes on the task of coaching these kids into a little league team. I even talked to Clifton Collins Jr. (who plays Cesar Faz in the film) about how he does it for two reasons.
One is that he’s been spurned by American baseball. He tried and never got any respect and was never elevated to more than a towel boy. Then he comes back (to Monterey) and he’s working in a factory, and these kids want him to play baseball. So he has to decide to open that wound that he has about baseball. It’s not really that he dismisses the kids because their lack of baseball skills in the beginning or their lack of interest because he knows they want to play baseball and he knows that all someone needs is to really want it on the inside – that’s faith in all of us. So he doesn’t want to go into it because he doesn’t want to open his own wounds.
And he doesn’t want to go into because he doesn’t want to see the children go only so far and then be hurt or smacked down the way he was. I think that’s another side of him, that Cesar finds that he didn’t really devote any thinking or time to the church or to the children and their well-being. He is selfishly, but understandably, got to protect himself, by not stepping back into the fire. But he also is trying to protect these children from getting halfway to a dream and then losing it all. And who knows, maybe like them, they would have lost their faith for awhile. So I think there’s a lot riding on Cesar’s shoulders.
Clifton Collins Jr. is such a good actor. He brings these emotions out without us having to verbalize them.
The Perfect Game includes racial slurs to show the racism these kids faced in the 1950s. How important was it to include it?
Dear: Their dream was as simple as to go to a town in Texas, walk the 10 miles to the border, play 1 game, for 6 innings, to be standing there on a real baseball field, on real grass, with a uniform and a glove, and for 6 innings be respected – win or lose – as a baseball team. And I always approached the kids’ dream as that. Everything else was gravy.
Then I thought, OK, they’ve done that, now they’re going on this journey and each game makes them stronger, happier and more aware. Yes, in their mind, America is this dream-land utopia that it would have appeared to have been from someone deep in Monterey, Mexico, in 1957. What they realize is that, no, it’s a hard world out there. It’s not a fair world. And even I think it really takes them back to their core, to their soul, to their faith because when the boy says “Father, why is that boy (referring to an African-American child) sitting alone?” Cheech says, “Some people think we are not all His children.” The journey again constantly reinforces the faith.
Why it was important to put the stereotypes in is because I wanted people to realize that there was a racist element of this. This was the first foreign team to ever do anything, and baseball’s regarded as an American sport. For whatever reason, the one coach who criticizes them because they want a priest because they want a blessing before the game. That’s even a religious prejudice in there. I wanted to show that the world they were stepping in and the victory they would ultimately achieve was not one that didn’t come with a price – even if the price is knowledge and a little bit of despair because you can’t change things, but it was necessary to keep it real. I think that even the (slurs), the way they’re used, people that they’re directed at, I think will understand why we used them because we never use them lightly and we use them very, very sparingly. We were very careful, very careful.
There seem to be many takeaways from the film. What’s the focused point in your mind?
Dear: What I wanted to be the focus was two things. I wanted the rag-to-riches story, which this one was, an ultimate rags to riches. What’s great about this story is that the riches weren’t material riches. There was no big prize at the end. The riches in this story were accomplishment and self-respect. That I liked. That was a story of rags to those kinds of riches.
The father/son story, it always touches my heart. When I did Angels in the Outfield, it was the father/son story and of the boy being given away by his father. I think it comes from years ago, coming out of a single parent home, and then really understanding what it is to have and not to have a father, and then to get a father again. It was that father/son, that reuniting, which was a very important metaphor for the whole story. Because there was a prejudice back in his home. Although you wouldn’t have called it a prejudice, but the father just didn’t believe that Angel would ever be the son that Pedro was. And that was a prejudice against his own child.
So there’s a lot of things in the movie that just kind of touched me. Also, it was a story that had never been told. I wasn't racing back toward a baseball movie, but this story had never been told. It was such a fantastic story and there was actual footage of these kids on the journey, meeting Eisenhower at the White House, and I thought this just fits, it has to be a movie. I wanted to be a part of making it be a good movie, and we all worked hard to that end.
Hannah Goodwyn is CBN.com's Family and Entertainment producer. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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