Disney’s Secretariat is a classic tale of a devoted owner and a talented and determined coach who, with gut courage and absolute determination, overcome almost overpowering obstacles and potentially disabling losses to bring their horse to victory. The story of Secretariat, his owner Penny Tweedy, and his trainer Lucien Laurin is not only the true story of this racing legend but a metaphor for life. This is how you make it in spite of disappointment, disaster, and fierce opposition: you struggle, you fight, you hold onto your dream, you persist, you don’t accept failure.
Finally, in these discouraging times, an upbeat story and a true one. Diane Lane brings us a Penny Tweedy who becomes an inspiration of women of her day. No, not only her day but an inspiration for anyone with an impossible dream. She wanted it, she fought for it, she struggled for it, she didn’t give up, and she won! John Malkovich brings humor and excitement to the role of Lucien Laurin, a semi-retired trainer with an eye for talent and a heart full of passion for this great horse. It’s a good old-fashioned struggle against the odds, and about time. Director Randall Wallace gives us exciting racing scenes that plunge us into the middle of the action. We came away from the film understanding that life may be a gamble, but with dedication, holding on to that dream, never giving in to despair, anything is possible. A feel-good film and the excitement of a roaring good horse race.
Brittany Kyles: How was it playing Penny and coming into your own as a horse owner and typical woman during the '70s?
Diane Lane: It was very surreal to spend time with the real Penny because it is usually not normal to spend time with someone that you are going to be portraying on film. I wanted to make it a gratifying experience for her. As far as the time when the film took place and glass ceilings, I don’t really think it was there for Penny. It was a story from her point of view, doing what needed to be done to save her family. It’s interesting to me because she is such a strikingly handsome woman, so I think it was actually distracting to journalists when they covered the events, and I salute her for breaking out as a hero.
BK: John, what were some of the challenges playing the role of the trainer, Lucin?
John Malkovich: For me, the challenge is always the same -- you're just trying to do something well, and I don’t often think of a challenge in terms of playing a specific role. I think of "What is your part in this film, and what can you bring to the role?" I can’t say there was a specific challenge; it was the same as other movies. You have very little time and almost no rehearsal.
BK: Diane, were there any challenges for you?
DL: Every film, for me, is unique and is its own planet, light and family; it’s a team sport when you’re in it. Then the infinite becomes finite when you see the music and the editing and all the parts that you weren’t there for when it is being filmed -- makes you think that you have accomplished so much, and I feel grateful and daunted by the process. It was a really gratifying experience, and Penny called me the other day to tell me how she was taking all of her kids and grandkids to the film.
BK: How was it watching the original races and footage of Secretariat and Penny?
DL: It was amazing to see the commercials in between and to see where we were in history and where we have come to now. To see Penny in those races, she was truly engaged, and it sealed the deal for me not to screw up. [Laughs]
BK: John, did you watch any of the original footage of Lucin?
JM: It was hard to base my character on his actual person. He was a jockey, and we are physically very different.
BK: On a personal level, what do you think you brought to each character in the film?
DL: I selfishly and personally love horses, and they are my totem animal, if you will. Secretariat was always a blend of mythology and reality that I didn’t understand as a child. I thought people were just finally appreciating horses the way I did. Aside from that childlike aspect, the similarity between my father and his wish for me, and Penny’s father and his wish for her, was a great spot of intention for me.
BK: John, what do you think you brought to the role?
JM: I hope I communicated both the love that I felt for that horse and the story. I hope I also brought to the role that, unlike my brother and father, I have actually made money horse-betting. [Laughs]
BK: Were you comfortable in the outfits?
JM: Comfortable, yes. 1973, I would have thought, was the main year of great history and fashion. [Laughs] When you watch the races, the astonishing ugliness of the clothes is blinding. But was I comfortable, sure.
BK: How do you relate to Penny’s struggle between her roles as a working mother and wife?
DL: It’s no secret that mothers are the number one topic in therapy, so you know everything is your fault no matter what you do, so you can pick and choose what you say yes or no to because you’re always wrong. [Laughs] With all that said, the most precious task I can imagine is to be a good parent because, like horse training, parenting creates greatness and works within a child to get them to believe in themselves. It is a noble task, and I sure love my job.
BK: How did Penny’s look transform you?
DL: I think we were all so informed by the era and, like being on location, we were trying to recreate these spaces that were as tactile as possible. Aside from John, who it was a personal statement for, Penny was a woman of her time, and she was a beautiful specimen of her time. They say clothes and shoes make the man; I think maybe she will bring it back. I love her style, and I fought for it in the midst of Hollywood’s desire for sex appeal because I am grateful that her look was so celebrated for the time.
'Secretariat' is in theaters now.