For a day at least, the East Bay felt just like Hollywood. Brad Pitt worked his way down the red carpet at the Paramount Theatre while the hundreds of fans who had gathered for the "Moneyball" premiere shouted, "Let's go, Oakland!" -- just as they do at A's games.
"It's very cool," Pitt said, looking around at the scene. "This is a special screening for us. The people of Oakland gave us such a great response. They stayed up with us for hours on end to tape the baseball scenes (for the movie) and never lost energy."
Fans lined up for hours Monday as they waited for the stars of the movie that opens Friday. Based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis, "Moneyball" tells the story of how general manager Billy Beane bucked baseball's conventions on his way to turning the small-payroll A's into a powerhouse in the early 2000s.
Lewis was on his way down the red carpet himself when he heard the fans roar at an arriving limousine. "I wonder who that is," Lewis cracked. (Pitt, by the way, was not accompanied by Angelina Jolie.)
Other cast members, including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill, also attended the Paramount premiere, as did Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. One of the East Bay's own stars -- Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger -- was there, too, basking in the evening's glamour. "It's great that the premiere is in Oakland," Sullenberger said. "That's the best place for it, and I'm glad it happened." Hours earlier, Pitt plopped down in a chair in Section 244, high above center field at the O.co Coliseum and joked that acting was the only way he'd ever make it to the big leagues.
"My relationship with baseball was cantankerous at best," he said, "I had a crap arm. I couldn't hit. My career ended with 18 stitches under my eye after a pop fly at high noon.
"It was not my gift."
With that, Pitt flashed a wry smile at Beane. They sat next to each other throughout their press session and, as their easy jokes made clear, the two developed a rapport during the project. Pitt, 47, said he felt a "kinship" with Beane, 49, even while reading the book. He joked that the famously casual G.M. "has incredible fashion sense and is a hell of a dancer."
Beane admitted that it was surreal to see himself portrayed on screen by one of the biggest stars on the planet. "But it's Brad Pitt doing it," he said. "How am I going to complain?"
Pitt, who has producer credits, locked into the project after reading Lewis' book. "I couldn't let it go," he said. Only mildly interested in baseball before, Pitt said he became fascinated by the way Beane looked at the game through an economic lens and found unorthodox strategies for taking on lavish-spending teams like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
The A's made the playoffs for four consecutive seasons starting in 2000 despite a payroll that ranked among the lowest in the game.
"Economics and (baseball stats) aren't necessarily edge-of-your-seat material," Pitt said. "But the story these guys laid out was."
In the movie, Pitt captures Beane's blend of arrogance and charm, as well as his swings from fiery to pensive. He chews tobacco and guzzles junk food. ("That part was pretty easy," Pitt said.)
Beane joked that the only parts of the movie he didn't like were the scenes that showed him as a lousy major league player.
"I had no idea how bad I was," Beane said.
"Artistic license," Pitt replied.
Scott Hatteberg, who hit a home run in 2002 to cap the A's record-breaking 20 game-winning streak, was on hand for the news conference and saluted the film's dedication to accuracy. Actor Chris Pratt, for example, studied Hatteberg's home run obsessively and re-created his precise celebration during the home run trot.
Pratt and Hatteberg even look so much alike that the former first baseman was mistaken for the actor a few times at Monday's event. Turning to Pratt, Hatteberg joked, "If you're in an action movie, maybe I can get some stunt work. I used to pop wheelies on my Huffy when I was younger."
Turning serious, Hatteberg added: "Really, it all comes down to the character of Billy Beane, and I think they nailed it. I really do."
Contact Daniel Brown at email@example.com.