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This uneasy relationship with the national pastime didn't prevent him from falling for Moneyball. After reviewing the script and agreeing to play Beane four years ago, Pitt devoured the book, which he basically memorized, says De Luca. During meetings questions would arise, "and Brad would say, 'Oh, wait—Michael Lewis writes about that on page 272.'"
Pitt admits making a dramatic movie based on a book "with math and science and sabermetrics at its forefront ... was a huge question for us. But somehow it didn't feel like a risk. I was just so taken with the book. It had these universal themes."
A small-market G.M. with a small-market budget, Beane is a decided underdog. "And I'm a sucker for the underdog story," says Pitt. He's also a connoisseur of '70s films, which, to his mind, Moneyball evoked. Beane's and Brand's compulsive number-crunching—their sabermetrician's geekiness—reminded Pitt of the obsessiveness of Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle in The French Connection. Like Jack Nicholson's R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Beane is "the voice of reason," says Pitt, an antihero "speaking against establishment." In the banter and byplay between the jaded G.M. and his ambitious assistant, Pitt was looking for a Woodward-and-Bernstein kind of chemistry from All the President's Men.
"In scripts today," he explains, "someone has a big epiphany, learns a lesson, then comes out the other side different. In these older films I'm talking about, the beast at the end of the movie was the same beast in the beginning of the movie. What changed was the world around them, by just a couple of degrees. Nothing monumental. I think that's true about us. We fine-tune ourselves, but big change is not real."
Beane will argue that he has changed since '02, in at least one regard. "I'm almost 50 years old. There are very few desks I can flip anymore." Lewis details the bat-breaking tantrums for which Beane was notorious as a player. If the movie is to be believed (it is), he has continued to lash out at inanimate objects as a G.M. "Have I tossed some things in my career? Sure," he admits. "But that's along with every other G.M. you've ever interviewed."
The chairs, desks and coolers at the Oakland Coliseum are safer now: Beane had partial shoulder-replacement surgery in the spring. "They put a titanium cap on the humerus," he explains. "I had no cartilage in there—it was bone on bone. I won't be surfing Mavericks anytime soon, but at least I can put my hands over my head when I go through airport security."
Beane remembers a morning last year when his wife, Tara, rose unusually early. "She was up at six in the morning, blow-drying her hair." Later, when the nanny arrived—the Beanes have young twins—Billy noticed that she was wearing a skirt. "I'd never seen her in anything but jeans."
As it happened, they were having company that day: Pitt was stopping by for a combination social call and role research. As Beane said to his wife and nanny, "Who are you guys kidding?"
Another time Pitt visited with Angelina Jolie and two of their six children. After sending out a decoy car from the Claremont hotel in Berkeley, where they were staying, they pulled out, unnoticed, in a regular rental car—"just like any other family," Beane recalls. Pitt called Beane from the road to give him a heads-up. "I'm not sure I lost 'em," said the cinematic Beane to the real-life Beane. "Some paparazzi might show up at your doorstep."
"But they didn't," says the real-life Beane. "He'd lost them."