09/09/2011 04:41 EDT | Updated 11/09/2011 05:12 EST

Pitt recalls sneaking into R-rated football flick as 'Moneyball' screens at fest

TORONTO - Brad Pitt says he has fond memories of the 1979 football movie "North Dallas Forty," because it was the first naughty film he ever managed to see.

The heart-throb was asked about his favourite sports flicks Friday as he debuted his new project, "Moneyball," at the Toronto International Film Festival.

"As a kid I loved 'Bad News Bears,'" he told a packed news conference. "I had loved 'North Dallas Forty' with Nick Nolte. I think it was the first R-rated film I ever snuck in to so it has a special place in my heart."

Pitt is hoping that movie-goers have a similar affinity for "Moneyball," which tells the story of unconventional Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, who used an analysis system called sabermetrics to try to win against teams with larger payrolls.

Based on the 2003 book by Michael Lewis, the film has had a rocky road to the big screen.

Three writers and three directors have had a hand in the movie, which opens Sept. 23 and co-stars Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, the nerdy whiz-kid who helps Beane, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as A's manager Art Howe.

Pitt came aboard in 2007 and said he stuck with the troubled project because he was captivated by the way the main characters reinvented themselves.

"Ultimately, I couldn't let go of the story of these guys who, by necessity ... were trapped in an unfair game, an unfair situation ... They had to think differently."

"Moneyball" involved some big names on its way to the big screen — Steven Soderbergh was at one time attached to the project and Aaron Sorkin worked on the screenplay.

Pitt said the personnel changes were necessary because of the material.

"It's not your conventional story or storyline with a conventional character arc," said the "Ocean's Eleven" star. "So it took a lot of shots at it and a lot of people getting their fingerprints on it and trying to figure out what this thing would be."

Indeed, the film is unique in its singular focus on baseball; there's nary a romance to be found.

As "Moneyball" begins, Beane is faced with the prospect of losing star A's players including Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. He soon takes a chance on Brand, who is insistent his analysis system will make the A's competitive against big market teams.

Director Bennett Miller ("Capote"), who ultimately brought the project to completion, says although "Moneyball" is most certainly about baseball, there are greater themes at play.

"This is a guy whose life did not turn out the way it was supposed to," Miller said of Beane, whose career as a player did not go as planned.

"Moneyball" employed various baseball players to play big-leaguers, with the notable exception of Chris Pratt ("Parks and Recreation") as first baseman Scott Hatteberg.

The actor was clearly chuffed about his athlete co-stars.

"What inspired me was hanging out with real baseball players," he said. "Every baseball player, apart from myself, did play in the pros, on either the minor or major league level or in college or farm leagues."

"I mean these guys are throwing 95-mile-an-hour fastballs. Every bit of baseball you see is real."

Hill, meanwhile, spoke of how grateful he was that producers took a chance on him for the 2007 smash comedy "Superbad," and how he feels similarly thankful for "Moneyball."

"I was a very unconventional person to be in this dramatic movie," said the actor, who has undergone a transformative weight loss that has startlingly altered his appearance.

"I do feel I continually get that underdog opportunity and I can't stop smiling about that."

The Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sept. 18.