From Wednesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman. To see a video of my interview with Merriman, click here.
Ryan Merriman hopes to knock it out of the park with role in Jackie Robinson biopic
The Choctaw native will star opposite Harrison Ford in the upcoming film “42.”
Over the years, Ryan Merriman has cheated death in “Final Destination 3,” been “Touched By an Angel” in the TV series of the same name and tossed footballs and dribbled basketballs in various roles.
But the Choctaw-born and bred actor is taking up baseball again for one of his biggest onscreen opportunities to date, playing 1940s Brooklyn Dodgers right fielder Dixie Walker in the Jackie Robinson biopic “42.” The film also will star big-screen icon Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni (TV’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) and T.R. Knight (“Grey’s Anatomy”).
“Just to work in that kind of caliber of film is very fun, and I’m working forward to it,” Merriman told The Oklahoman during a recent visit to his home state.
Merriman, 29, reported Sunday for a two-week baseball camp with the other actors portraying players in the movie. Shooting will begin May 14 on location in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. The film is slated for April 12, 2013, release, just in time for next baseball season.
“It’s running, conditioning, hitting, fielding … and we’re wearing the wool, old-school, real-deal uniforms. My mitt is from the ‘40s, and it’s like almost flat. It has no pocket. I don’t know how these guys caught the balls they did, and then you know, wood bats. No gloves, wood bats, pine tar, so it’s getting pretty cool,” Merriman said, adding that he and his “teammates” already have been honing their skills with a coach in Los Angeles.
“Dixie threw right and batted left, and I’m a righty both sides (of the ball). So I’ve been learning to bat left lately, and it’s been interesting.”
Taking its name from Robinson’s number, which has been retired by every Major League Baseball team, “42” chronicles Robinson’s historic breaking of the sport’s color line when he made his Dodgers debut on April 15, 1947, blazing a trail for Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and other black players.
Ford will play legendary Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson; Meloni will portray the Dodgers’ outspoken manager Leo Durocher, who makes a stand on behalf of the pioneering athlete; and Knight has been cast as Harold Parrott, the team’s traveling secretary who has to deal with housing the black player during the dark days of racial segregation. Chadwick Boseman, who appeared as runningback Floyd “The Franchise” Little in the period football biopic “The Express,” will play Robinson.
Writer-director Brian Helgeland, whose credits include “A Knight’s Tale,” “Payback” and the Oscar-winning screenplay for “L.A. Confidential,” has penned and is helming the project for Legendary Pictures.
“Brian Helgeland … is an amazing writer/director. And of course, Legendary Pics they just did ‘Batman (Begins’ and its super-sequel ‘The Dark Knight’) and ‘The Hangover’ and some big movies. They’re big boys,” Merriman said.
Merriman will play a significant role. One of the team’s most popular players, Walker opposed Robinson joining the squad, even writing a letter to Rickey asking to be traded. Walker ultimately came to respect Robinson, calling him “a gentleman” and “as outstanding an athlete as I ever saw.”
“He was kind of the main bigot almost when it came to African-Americans being introduced into baseball. His reason came more from the upbringing in those times. He owned a hardware store, and he knew that that would affect his business. … But you know, Jackie did amazing things with how people treated him and what he had to go through,” Merriman said of his character.
“From an actor’s standpoint, Dixie probably actually has the most screentime out of the ballplayers that are on the team; unfortunately, when Dixie kind of turned around doesn’t happen until the ‘50s. So in this film, you don’t really see that change in him. But he did later in life apologize.”
Merriman, whose recent credits include a guest appearance on “Hawaii Five-O,” a recurring role on “Pretty Little Liars” and a supporting part in the Roger Corman’s upcoming debut 3-D feature “Attack of the 50ft Cheerleader,” found his years of baseball experience invaluable to winning a place on the “42” roster. He started with T-ball as a boy, made the Choctaw High School baseball team and still plays with a recreational softball team in Los Angeles.
“I went through four different auditions for four different characters, and I came back in the fifth time for Dixie. And then on top of that they had baseball tryouts, and there were 20 guys and five of ‘em made the cut. It was definitely a blessing from the man upstairs. It’s a big one, and hopefully I’ll knock it out of the park,” he said with a laugh.