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Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
October 8, 2007

An inspirational sports movie for the whole family, The Final Season chronicles the real life story of the Norway Tigers, a small-town high school baseball team with a remarkable tradition of winning. After capturing 19 Iowa state championships over the course of 24 years, the Tigers were suddenly faced with their final season in 1991, when an impending merger with the larger Madison High the following year would effectively end their unique program. The ousting of their legendary coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) by bureaucrats stripped the Tigers of a proven leader, leaving rookie coach Kent Stock (Sean Astin) to rally the team for an unprecedented run at a 20th state title in what would be Norway's last year.

Rachael Leigh Cook, who plays a lawyer working for the state education system, was kind enough to take some time to speak us (on Columbus Day, in fact). She is openly passionate about her love for this small, independent film, yet acknowledges that they don't have the advertising dollars to compete with the blockbusters in terms of audience numbers. So if The Final Season's tale of perseverance, sports elements, or inspirational message aren't enough to pique your interest, then check out what Rachael has to say and catch the movie just because she's a total sweetheart trying to get the good word out. This is a movie for everyone, and we all agree that it is easily accessible to even non-baseball fans.

In this exclusive interview, Rachael talks about working on the project, getting her baseball groove on, and hoping that people will give this movie a chance, describing it as "a real story about people who put their heart and soul into something." She also covers a few random topics that are sure to be of interest to her fans.

The Interview Thanks very much for taking the time to do this interview.

RACHAEL: Oh, of course.

And Happy Columbus Day...

Thank you. And to you!

I hope I'm not keeping you from anything important.

Yeah, we probably shouldn't talk for too long. Columbus would be upset.

It's not too late to celebrate. You can still plant a flag in your neighbor's yard and claim it as your own.

[laughs] That would go over really well.

So I've been watching The Final Season multiple times...

[exaggerated shock] What on earth are you doin' that for?!

I enjoyed it.

Oh, I'm so glad! I was sort of hoping that was the answer.

It was just a happy, feel good family film, you know?

Yeah, absolutely.

What did you like about the story when the script first came to you?

I really liked that aspect. It's a very uplifting family film. I just really liked that...But it is also a very true story. This is not a "based on true events" or "inspired by partial events, maybe." Or what's the new disclaimer they've come up with?

"Inspired by true events" is the way they usually go...

Yeah, that's hysterical. This is very real. And the people who the movie is about even look a great deal like Sean and Powers. It's amazing. And it's just their story is really inspiring. And I've been where they're from. We shot in the real town. I've seen these guys' houses. They're real people. They're still living and working there. So that's what was, I think, the greatest part to me. It's just that it made the experience so real.

How did shooting on location inform your performance? Did you get to spend a lot of time around town, where these people grew up and played ball?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I think one of the greatest things that we did, even if nobody sees the film, is that we were able to restore the baseball field and get it looking the way it did in its heyday. Because it's not owned by Norway anymore, it had essentially been abandoned. I know that a lot of people would probably think that an abandoned baseball field bears a great deal of resemblance to a non-abandoned baseball field. [laughs] But actually, it doesn't. And I was really happy to be a part of the night when we sent out the guys dressed in the uniforms of that time, and sort of recreated that final game, and had so many people from the town come out and watch it and just shake their heads in wonder and say, "This is incredible, this is exactly what it was like."

Growing up, were you a baseball fan?

Absolutely. I went to games with my dad when I was a kid. One of my favorite childhood memories was going to the '87 Twins World Series with my dad and my brother and waving the homer hanky. I don't know much about rural baseball like this or high school baseball, but it's a very cool story. And the sport's beautiful. The director said one time, "Baseball is the only game where the objective is to get home." And I just think it's so full of metaphors, the game. It's beautiful.

What other movies would you count amongst your favorites when it comes to this type of inspirational family-friendly film?

Well, our director also did The Sandlot, which is just adorable, if you've seen that. And I think Rudy...And, you know, here we are, we have Sean in the film. I think people love to see him playing a coach. It's a really kind of full circle moment for him, I think.

So how did the cast react to being in a sports movie like this with "Rudy"?

You know, here's why people love Sean: people love Sean because he is Rudy. When we went to get ready for the film, in the first couple days, I needed to learn how to properly throw a baseball for one of the scenes. And Sean was going to practice hitting what's called a fungo, which is where you just sort of like throw the ball to yourself and hit it with a bat. And so he was practicing those and pitching and he said to Van Scoyoc, the coach in the film, "I want to hit a homerun. And I want to hit it off Mike Boddicker," who's a [very accomplished professional] pitcher. And Sean was my ride. We were in the car coming over, so I couldn't leave until he left. And I thought, "You know, I'm sure Sean is really good at baseball, but we might be here awhile, and the mosquitoes are coming out. Oh man, I don't know about this." [laughs] And Mike Boddicker obviously is a great pitcher who's probably not going to take it easy on him. So we were there for a little while, but I'll be damned if Sean didn't hit that homerun. And that's why he's Rudy, and that's why everyone loves him.

How much practice did it take for you to nail down that scene where you're tossing the baseball around?

Ummm...An embarrassing amount. [laughs] I'm not horrible, but there's a lot more to it...You know what? It's kind of like running on film--you really gotta think about the way you're running in order to not look really stupid. My husband says the only person who can run properly on film is Tom Cruise. [laughs] And I think he's right. He got it down to a science. But yeah, throwing is hard without looking stupid.

Well, I thought your scene looked pretty natural. I wouldn't have thought twice about it...

Oh, thank you.

Was it a nice change of pace to be in a movie involving high school where you're part of the school system rather than the student body?

Oh God, yeah! I've been doing everything I can to break down those walls and people's idea of me as someone who was cryogenically frozen and should still be in things for a much younger audience. [laughs] I was thrilled to get cast as not only someone with a job, but a lawyer. And opposite Sean, who's not a child. It was a great moment.

The movie mentions statement games, which mean little in the standings, but may send a message to opponents or critics. Is it fair to say acting has equivalent "statement roles" which offer little in the way of money or visibility, but prove to others, or even yourself, that you can do a particular thing?

Yeah, absolutely. This really did that for me. I mean, for the year after I shot it, it really helped me to get other parts. My agents could say, "What do you mean she's too young? She's playing a lawyer opposite Sean Astin in this film." Yes, that helps a lot. So that was absolutely a statement. But mostly I love sports movies, and that was a really big impetus for me to do this.

What is an example of a project that you got as a result of this role?

I'm really excited about this movie I did called Bob Funk that we shot here in LA. Very, very funny comedy in the vein of maybe Punch Drunk Love or something like that, based on a play that ran in New York. And it's great. It's about this very sardonic futon salesman who works for his mother's company. He's very sort of self-destructive, too, and it's about how he very, very slowly changes his ways. But in the meantime, I'm this woman who's been brought in to replace him as he gets sort of demoted through the company. It was a lot of fun.

There's a little girl singing the national anthem in The Final Season...

Oh, how cute.

Did you have bouts of stage fright as a kid, as her character does?

I certainly wasn't performing at that age. I have no clue how she did it. Man, I could not be cuter than that kid! I could not have done that at her age. No way.

But you did print ads and commercials when you were like 10, right?

Yes...[But] that's really different. I'm not even sure what made me think I could do that.

As a veteran now, is it possible for you to still be awestruck by a certain type of project?

Oh, yeah. Mostly I have real moments of head scratching thinking to myself, "Oh man, how am I going to pull this off?" And that's where the work starts. [laughs] And you know, if you're not a little bit nervous, you're not very interesting, I don't think. So I'm banking on that.

So, Rachael Leigh Cook...Why the three name thing?

Ummm...You know, I sort of came up in the time of like "Jonathan Taylor Thomas." I guess Jennifer Jason Leigh had already been there. But, you know..."Mary-Louise Parker" and "Jennifer Love Hewitt." It was just kind of the thing to do. I think it just sounded a little more colorful than "Rachael Cook."

What is your favorite black and white animal: panda, penguin, cow, or something else?

Cow. They're just so cute! [laughs] I'm also a vegetarian, so I think I'm allowed to love cows.

Since learning the guitar for 2001's Josie and the Pussycats, have you kept up with playing a musical instrument?

I haven't kept up the music, no. Regret to say...I may have a bit of muscle memory left if I really went back to practice, but I learned under such stressful conditions that I think I sort of pounded it into my head, and it sort of left me as fast as it had come.

You've been involved with, a program that encourages young women in filmmaking. What attracted you to their work?

That's a great organization! I love this program. I love it because the ratio of men to women directors that are working in the industry is shocking. Just so shocking. I really hadn't thought about it as much as I did after I had already agreed to work with the organization. I sat down and...You know, this sounds vain, but I went through my own resume and tried to count how many female directors I had worked with. I think I came up with 5. And over TV, film, voiceover work, that's just shocking, because I've worked on, you know, at least 40 projects. So that was a real eye-opening moment.

Their website features two shorts--one for each US coast. You represented the West Coast very well for us.

I think we lost. But you know what? If you gotta lose to anyone, it's gotta be Laura Prepon. She can not be cooler.

Will you be doing more voiceover work in the near future?

That's been a lot of fun. I don't know what I'm doing next in that aspect, but I'm looking forward to it. I think I did an episode of Robot Chicken that hasn't aired yet. People are always trying to get secret info from me about the video game world, about Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, and I don't know anything. But hopefully we'll record some more of those pretty soon.

People who do both often say that voiceover work has a lot of benefits over live action...

Oh, yeah. I mean, you don't have to hit a mark, you get a million chances to get it right...There's an infinite number of reasons why voiceover is the best gig around. [laughs]

Can you show up to work looking like a total mess if you wanted to?

You know, sometimes they'll shoot you just for reference of what your expression might be, or in things where the animation isn't quite done. Or they'll shoot you for behind the scenes footage. So it's a little bit of a myth that you get to look however.

Anything else we should be looking out for, in terms of your work?

I love Bob Funk, and that's really good, and other than that, I just really gotta beg people to see Final Season, because we do not have that much of an advertising budget, and it's a really special story! And I really hope that we can get people out there, because this movie's about real people's lives. This isn't fake. This isn't about blowing things up. This is a real story about people who put their heart and soul into something, and I just hope people take something away from that.

Well, Rachael, thank you again for taking the time to speak with us...

Oh, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it.

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