Benched is pitched (har, har) to audiences as the latest entry in the sports movie genre, but it almost ends up working more as a buddy comedy instead. The scenes of gameplay are present and they’re easy to get wrapped up in, but the drive behind those scenes – along with other elements in this charming story of winning and losing – is the love/hate dynamic between two little league coaches playing on the same team (John C. McGinley and Garret Dillahunt).
As someone who was pleasantly surprised by the chemistry in Benched, I was excited to talk to co-director Robert Deaton and star John C. McGinley (TV’s Scrubs, Office Space, Wild Hogs) about how this movie was made, as well as find out if any personal parallels were used to make their crowd-pleaser.
Addison Wylie: Robert, you’ve collaborated on projects before with fellow director George J. Flanigen IV. What compelled you two to make this feature film together? Was it mutual since day one of development?
Robert Deaton: George and I, from the very beginning of our careers, had the goal of one day making a film. After year’s of shooting music videos and commercials, we finally decided that in order to achieve this dream, it was time to really buckle down and really focus our efforts to make this happen.
AW: Did working within the sports movie genre allow you to step out of your element as a storyteller? Have you been fans of sports movies?
RD: I have always been a sports fan, but my inspiration to make this film came from the countless hours I have spent coaching youth baseball. I have coached a thousand kids and, like Michael (Garret Dillahunt) believes in the movie, there is something special when a group of kids come together and become a real team. The other thing that I love is that sometimes – no matter where you are in life – the most important thing in life is for your son or daughter to “catch” that ball.
AW: Speaking of previous experience, you have a wonderful way of playing agitation, John. As a performer, what do you enjoy doing more: indulging in salty dialogue or silently ripping strips off your co-star with an exhausted glance?
John C. McGinley: For me, everything in acting is about verbs. As long as I’ve had time to explore what I am doing – and I go through a pretty exhaustive process of exploring verbs – the verbs are squared away by the time someone calls “action”. The verbs carry me through whatever behavior manifests.
AW: How do you first approach this role of a competitive coach? Do you tap into childhood memories and remember the intimidation you felt when talking to confident adults, or are you influenced by boisterous adults you’ve met recently?
JCM: No, I largely depend on the words on the page. This script that Richard Dresser wrote has all the answers contained in it. I had time to take the script apart and put it together. That armed me with everything I needed.
AW: Robert, you have two phenomenal actors anchoring Benched. They work really well off each other in the movie. In your opinion, what do they bring to the table to make that dynamic work?
RD: Their level of preparation has to be unmatched – they knew these characters inside and out. Only twice in the entire film was there any improvisation. There was so much dialogue in the film, but they both insisted that they not change or alter one word in the script, and that they stay true to the story.
AW: The young cast is exceptional too – they’re charismatic and they’re impressive lil’ baseball players. When these roles were cast, were you looking for experienced ball players over acting experience or vice versa?
RD: Thank you very much for saying that! What’s amazing is that all the kids, except two, were local kids who play ball in the local leagues here in Nashville. We were looking for kids that fit the roles first and foremost. For example, we knew that the role of Frankie did not have to go to a great ball player as he was not one in the script, thus acting chops were more important. The rest of the kids really needed to know how to play ball. After all, they make it to the championship game!
AW: Benched made me feel reassured that kids are still interested in outdoor activities and creating genuine friendships without using online platforms or devices. Did you receive a similar reassurance while making the movie?
JCM: My experience with kids in 2018 is that they are interested in outdoor activates. I haven’t encountered young people and children in that way at all.
RD: I just feel that the best things you can do for young kids is get them involved in youth sports. It teaches so many things that prepares you for the rest of your life. Being a part of a team is one of the most special things you can ever do.
Benched is now playing in select theatres, and is also available on VOD and Digital HD.
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