ANDERSON, Ind. — Jeremy Hazen was intrigued by a casting call notice he spotted. The fact that he could hit, throw and catch a baseball may have been the difference in earning him a shot in front of the cameras.
Now Hazen is getting a role in the upcoming movie “42” -- a movie about Jackie Robinson's first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Hazen currently works at a baseball facility in Nashville, Tenn., but for the past few months he was in Atlanta.
Just performing in front of the movie cameras put him in a situation as critical as any he ever faced in a real game.
“There was a spring training scene where they were filming a third baseman taking ground balls,” explained Hazen, who played college baseball at Anderson University. “Harrison Ford (playing Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey) was in the scene watching. The third baseman couldn’t really play that well so they put me there for the scene. So Harrison Ford is there and they’re hitting grounders to me, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Please don’t miss it.’”
Probably not many skilled baseball players like Hazen have ever been in a position of being scrutinized by someone of Ford’s notoriety and fame.
“It was surreal to hear that voice and have it come from a real person rather than the screen,” said Hazen. “It was very intimidating working next to him. But he seemed very nice. He said hello to people he came in contact with. We’d see him off and on during the filming.”
Hazen had some mutual friends who were involved in gathering players for the film, which will premiere next spring.
The first casting call drew between 800 and 1,000 to Atlanta, and from there 300 were picked for tryouts at a baseball facility in East Cobb, Ga.
“At the tryouts, they would make cuts right on the field,” said Hazen. “For instance, they would watch the outfielders throw and would just dismiss some of them. Some just weren’t very skilled at all.”
Even though he had the skills, he still wasn’t convinced he would make the final cut of about 25 players.
“I didn’t get in with any great expectations,” he said. “It was a chance to just get to play for a few more days.”
He went home to Nashville after the tryouts and was told he’d be called if he made the cut.
After a couple of days of waiting, he got the call informing him he would be in the cast.
So he returned to the East Cobb facility to prepare for the filming.
“We were there for about a month training and going over every scene that we’d be filming,” said Hazen. “They had to be careful. If one of us got seen on one team, then we couldn’t show up again for another team.”
So Hazen settled into a role as right fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals.
That was when he had his big hitting scene.
“I hit a line drive to second base where Jackie was playing,” said Hazen. “He makes a diving catch. Then he spins and throws for a double play. The scene shifts to Ford, who is impressed with the play.”
Christopher Meloni, best know for his role in the TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, will handle the role of Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher.
Chadwick Boseman, who has had single-episode roles recently in the TV series “Justified,” “Castle” and “The Glades,” will have the lead role as Robinson.
Boseman previously portrayed former Syracuse running back Floyd Little in a small role in the Ernie Davis biopic “The Express.”
“He was OK,” said Hazen in evaluating the baseball play of Boseman. “They worked with him a lot in Hollywood before he came to work with us. They had three Jackie doubles for him in scenes.”
As far as Hazen could tell, there was nobody playing Anderson’s own Carl Erskine in the film, but he did get an assist from the former Dodgers pitcher before going down to film.
“My dad (Jim) and I were able to sit down with Carl before I left,” said Hazen. “I’d met him a couple of times but never had time to sit and hear those stories about that time. It was great. He gave me a signed copy of his book. It helped me a lot to know the context of that time.”
Now Hazen must wait. The movie isn’t due to open until April 15.
“I am anxious to see what the finished product will be like,” he said. “We saw some of the rough cuts from time to time. They have talked about having the premiere down in Atlanta, maybe at the Braves park on the big screen. But I don’t know the details yet. We were told we’d be invited.”
Rick Teverbaugh is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind.