Getting the Part in “42”, a Jackie Robinson Film Starring Harrison FordApril 8th, 2012You often hear actors say they are just glad to be working. I’m not an actor, but I’m glad to be working. After Moneyball hit theaters last year I got lots of text and emails alerting me to my appearance in the movie. I had no idea my name was going to show up in the Brad Pitt flick. Friends and family thought it was pretty cool to “see” me in a movie, although technically I wasn’t in it. But now I’m actually getting a real chance to act in a baseball movie and the way this came about is well beyond chance. Try to follow along. I coach my son’s 12 year old baseball team here in Atlanta. One of the players on my team has a younger brother who plays on an 11 year old team. This 11 year old has a teammate whose mom, Donna, does some work in casting and has been an extra herself. She was helping out a local casting agent find experienced baseball players for an upcoming feature film about Jackie Robinson. Donna mentioned this to the mom of my player who in turn mentioned that her 12 year old’s coach is a former baseball player. My player’s mom told me and I made a connection with the Donna. A few days later I met the casting agent, Rose, who is working directly for the casting director on this film “42”, Jackie Burch (Die Hard, The Breakfast Club). Rose said that she was looking for experienced players to be in the background of this film, on the field as Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1947. I thought that might be pretty fun. But after meeting me she also said she might want me to read for a role. I didn’t know what to think, I kind of laughed it off, I’m not an actor.Jackie called me a few days later to inquire about my playing experience and my availability to read for the role and potentially film it. I mentioned this to Donna and she told me how lucky I was to speak to Jackie. Not knowing the business or the people in it I couldn’t relate to what she was saying, “You have no idea, actors would kill to get the chance to talk to Jackie, never mind the opportunity to read for her.” I had to take her word for it.Around the same time this was taking place my Mets experience was happening. Jackie asked me to send video of me reading the lines. They were on a tight deadline and I was in Florida, I wasn’t going to have time to do it. It looked like I would have to pass on the opportunity. I sent Jackie’s assistant an email and told her I’ll try to get the video in. I never did. A couple of weeks later when I started to realize the Mets deal was probably not going to happen and my schedule was going to free up I inquired about the possibility of me being an extra background player in the movie. They hadn’t had the interviews or tryouts yet. Rose told me to come down.When I got to the production office I saw Rose. I told her I was unable to get the video into Jackie and wondered if I could still get the chance to read for the part. She said she would mention it to her but that there was a chance she wouldn’t let me read because I didn’t get video in like she originally asked. I understood that, I had circumstances, there was nothing I could do about it. Surprisingly I got a call from Jackie’s assistant asking me to come read for the part. There were no hard feelings about my failure to get my video in. I sat in a waiting room of former baseball players waiting for their 60 seconds with Jackie. At first I didn’t recognize any of the other players there, most had college experience some low level pro ball, but no names I knew. Then I saw Jason Childers name on the sign in list, a former reliever who had some big league time with the Rays, I remember playing against him in AAA. I was definitely nervous waiting. My attitude I thought was ‘what do I have to lose’ but I for whatever reason I was still a little nervous. Jackie’s assistant emerged from the reading room and called my name.I walked in and immediately could conclude who Jackie was. The first thing I heard her say to someone else in the room in a low tone, “See, this is the age player we’re looking for.” All the other players I saw in the waiting room were younger than me. Score one for the old guys. I stood in front of the lights and was facing the panel of three people when Jackie said to me, “Why are all you baseball players so cute?” (Humblebrag, I’ll take it).I read my line. The part is Dutch Leonard, a Phillies pitcher who is facing Jackie and has something sarcastic to say. I read it again. “OK, thank you, we’ll let you know.”I left there not feeling very confident with how it went. 30 minutes later I was driving home when I got a call from Jackie’s assistant, “Hi CJ, Jackie would like you to come back tomorrow and read for our director.” I was pretty surprised, my first callback. I returned the next day. This time I was going to be ready, less nervous and more confident. I got to the office and waited for my turn. This time there were some real actors in the mix with the baseball players that were reading. I got the impression the small reading roles could go one of two ways. You give them to an actor and try to make him look like a baseball player or you find a baseball player who can hopefully deliver a line. My name was called. Jackie was there, the director and two of Jackie’s assistants. This time they had a camera. Jackie asked me about my playing experience. I started giving my background, a few words in when she jokingly said, “OK, stop bragging.” I somewhat acted as I read out my line. The director said to me, “OK, this time after you deliver the line, look at me, as if I’m Jackie Robinson and give me an intimidating look.” I gave it my best. It felt pretty natural. Over the course of my 18 years playing professionally that’s not something I would do often, that’s more of a college or high school thing, but I remember what it felt like. “OK, very good, we’ll let you know.” And I was done.I felt like I had done pretty well and my attitude had changed. No longer did I not care if I got the part, now I really wanted it. A few days passed by with no word. I had heard through the grapevine that I was one of two finalists for the part. Anticipation was building. I got the call but missed it. I listened to the voicemail and returned the call immediately. “Congratulations, you got the part, you’re now an actor, you’re Dutch Leonard.”That was pretty cool. After I got off the phone I told my wife and kids, who were also anticipating the news. They were ecstatic and belted out a few screams, even my 4 year old got in on the act, though he had no idea what everyone was yelling about, he’s always up for making noise. I called Donna to let her know. She was beside herself. “How come you’re not jumping up and down going crazy right now?” It’s not my personality, it never has been. I was excited but on the outside you would never know it. She said, “Actors will go to thousands of these things before they get a line in a movie, you got one on your first try.”My part doesn’t film until late May but I’m looking forward to the experience. Ironically enough many of the baseball scenes will be filmed at Historic Engle Stadium in Chattanooga, TN. Engle Stadium was the first home stadium of my pro career, the Reds sent me there to play for the Chattanooga Lookouts right after I signed out of college. Full circle.