I recently had the opportunity to interview some of the stars & real life athletes that the Disney Film McFarland USA is based on at a recent press conference. It was great to chat with the likes of Kevin Costner and the real life athletes that this inspirational tale tells the story of on the big screen. The film is based on the 1987 true story of novice runners from McFarland, CA, an economically challenged town in California’s farm-rich Central Valle. They give their all to build a cross-country team under the direction of Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), a newcomer to their predominantly Latino high school. Coach White and the McFarland students have a lot to learn about each other but when White starts to realize the boys’ exceptional running ability, things begin to change. Soon something beyond their physical gifts becomes apparent—the power of family relationships, their unwavering commitment to one another and their incredible work ethic. With grit and determination, the unlikely band of runners eventually overcomes the odds to forge not only a championship cross-country team but an enduring legacy as well. Along the way, Coach White realizes that his family finally found a place to call home and both he and his team achieve their own kind of American dream.
Kevin Costner is a bit of a sports fan (A bit of an understatement) so he really wanted to be a part of the film.
I had read the story some time ago. I don’t know if it was ten, 15, 20. I don’t know. I’m 60 now, so I don’t remember how long ago I read this story. But I had read about it in Sports Illustrated. And I remember being very taken with it. I had lived in the Central Valley in Visalia so I actually played McFarland in high school baseball. I was taken with the story, and then of course closed the page and moved on with my life. And then this movie came up. This shining cloud Niki Caro said, “Would you be in this movie?” It’s so nice to be wanted. I mean you might think that I get everyone I want; I don’t. And to be wanted, and for that to match up was really a nice thing for me, and it was a beautiful thing, actually.
To play Jim, who, you know, there’s these men and women all over America who are affecting our young people. And relationships that coaches establish with young people is something that carries through their life if it’s done right. There’s not a lot of Jim Whites, but there are Jim Whites, and he represents the best of the best. It’s almost biblical. Our children have a hard time listening to their parents, right? There’s a moment in time where kids really don’t want to hear anything from their parents. But a coach can take on that thing and make them believe. If they are of the cloth that Jim White came from, a very graceful, very quiet man, who is somehow let them know what was possible. Not that they were gonna get there, but this is possible for you, a goal. And Jim White, in just kind of putting the goal out in front of them, look what happened. Champions. They exceeded beyond their expectations, so it’s a great lesson to us, McFarland, that if we give our children, our young men, our young women goals, we let them see what’s possible, they can exceed beyond their own wildest expectations. It’s just a very good lesson, this movie. So I was proud to play the essence of Jim White. I’m not Jim White. I think we’d all like to be Jim White in some way. But it was a pleasure to be able to do that. From that Sports Illustrated article to make this giant circle to actually being in the movie. I mean that feels like a movie, doesn’t it?
I then chatted with the real life Diaz brothers who were depicted in the film one on one (David Diaz, Damacio Diaz, and Danny Diaz) and being a Diaz myself I felt right at ease chatting with them.
The Brothers never thought they would have a film made about their lives:
We we’re very excited. McFarland was a powerhouse as far as cross country running is concerned. But you never think they would ever make a movie about you. With all the inspirational stories in the world, that they would choose ours to tell is humbling.
The movie had been in the works for some time.
Back in 2000 or 99, I can’t remember exactly we had signed to give our rights to make the movie, but then Mr. White said a couple of years later that it had fallen apart and wasn’t getting made. It was back and forth on and off for about 14 years. But once Disney took it on we knew they would actually make it since Disney is not a company that says they are going to do something when they are not. So once Disney took it over we knew it was for real we were very excited and thankful.
I felt privileged and chosen for such a great honor with such an amazing studio to tell the film.
What are the Diaz brothers hoping Latinos families and young kids who may be having a tough time get from seeing their story?
That there is a way out! That there is something out there beyond what they are accustomed to. There is something beyond their norm. What was normal for us was working in the fields. Our parents did it, our uncles did it, our grand parents did it. That was our way of life. But going through this experience and being on this team and getting an education showed us their was a way out. Going to college and to the universities we saw there is a way out if you choose to take it. You have to make choices and I hope these kids will get a gleam of that from this movie and see that we made a choice to better ourselves and they can too.
I then got to chat with the adorable Ramiro Rodriguez who plays Danny Diaz in the film. He was actually cast about a week before the film began shooting so he didn’t have as much time to train. He did have one advantage as he is from McFarland and he actually had the real Danny Diaz as a counselor in high school. He knew him personally so he knew he could pull off his personality on film.
I knew already how Danny was. We already had a relationship, so we would talk a lot about it when I was cast. Just knowing how he was I could really find similarities between us and really add that to the character of Danny Diaz.
Was shooting more difficult for Ramiro since he was cast one week before shooting began and didn’t have the same amount of time to train as his cast mates? According to Ramiro it wasn’t.
Actually it wasn’t. I knew what I had to do and I put my mindset to it to do the work. I had to prove a lot of people wrong and that I could do it. The most important person that I had to prove was me. Coming from a place that really didn’t have resources to study acting and showing that I could do it and I actually did.
I also got to chat one on one with Carlos Pratts who is also one of the lead roles in the film. You can check that Interview out over at LatinaMom.me.
Check out this new McFARLAND, USA extended clip below:
MCFARLAND, USA is rated PG and will be in theaters everywhere this Friday!