Interview: Carlos Pratts of “McFarland USA”

Interview: Carlos Pratts of “McFarland USA”

Posted on May 17, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Copyright 2015 Walt Disney Pictures
Copyright 2015 Walt Disney Pictures

Carlos Pratt plays a real-life high school championship athlete in McFarland, USA, available on DVD and Blu-Ray June 2, 2015. Kevin Costner plays Coach Jim White, who has never coached running before when he helped a group of boys from one of the poorest schools in the country to win the state championship.  Pratts talked to me about what makes a great coach and the sports movie that made him decide to be an actor.

What is it that makes Coach White so special?

He saw something in his kids. He was just a teacher, a true teacher. He was there for them. He was a mentor to them and as well as their parents. He went the extra step.

And what was it like with Kevin Costner, was she also kind of coachy with you guys?

Absolutely. Kevin was super coachy. He just made us feel right at home. We are quite a family. And if we had any questions he was always there, and if he had questions we were there. We just worked together. It was great. Kevin is an awesome, awesome man.

Did you have to audition for this part?

I did. I auditioned quite a few times. I read for the role of David Diaz originally. But the casting director thought I was more right for Thomas.

How would you describe Thomas as a character?

Oh man! He’s just tough. He’s gone through a lot in life and he’s kind of been shut down so many times. It’s hard for him to open up to everyone. He kind of thinks that this is as good as it gets. He’s come to that realization so he’s not really expecting more out of life. That was just it until Coach White comes to his life and shows him that there’s more. His father was working and his mother at the house and his sister getting pregnant and his father really not being there because of work, end of story. He had to grow fast.

How much running did you do for this film?

Before we were filming we would do 5 or 6 miles a day as a team and then while we were filming it varied. I ran a lot for sure. We filmed one race that was three miles. But filming it, we would run 9 miles before that was over.

And did you go running it all with the real runners from the story, who we see at the end of the film?

No unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance. I did meet Thomas while we were filming but I was very brief with him because…not brief but we have more a little bit of a time together because I did have to go shoot the next scene so I didn’t have the chance to go with anyone but I do think that Hector Duran who played Jonny Samaniego, I think he went for a rune with the real Johnny Samaniego. I almost thought that he did.

What movie made you say, “I want to do that?”

There’s a movie called Friday Night Lights that was like my high school story. And then I went to college and I saw the movie and I just remember welling up. I was like, “Whatever this feeling is, I want to get it back to the world.” and that’s when I said, “I’m going to act.”

One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when the team sees the ocean for the first time.

There have been so many sports movies, but I come understand really quick but that there’s something about Nikki Caro in having a woman’s touch that just makes this one a little different. And I think the way she had everything set up strategically, it was almost like she was being a mother. We did that scene maybe in, like, November and when we got there we were just excited. For me it was like I was seeing like my little brother for the first time. So you find that and then you just challenge yourself and you go and have fun and you jump in. You jump in the ocean together. It was cold but it was awesome. I felt super organic with everybody. You put the seven of us together in any room, we’re going to have a blast. We really are brothers so you can see us just having fun and playing in the water.

You and the other actors had to learn to work together just like your characters did. What is it that creates a team?

Here is the thing about a team. Everyone is going to have a different personality and an ego of some sort or whatever but if you realize that you’re all coming for the same goal and you accept each other and who they are for their strengths and their flaws, then I think you work together in unison. You have to try and encourage each other and help each other but you only push them whenever they can’t push themselves anymore. I think we really did a great job of that.

What has meant the most to you in the responses to this film?

I’ve been hearing a lot that “I’m proud to be a runner again,” that “I’m proud to be whoever,” but it’s really awesome to hear people say, “I’m proud to be me, “I’m proud to be Hispanic,” “I’m proud to be Mexican,” “I’m proud to be black,” or “This inspires me.” Kids will tweet me all the time in their finals week and they’ll take a picture, a screenshot and make fun of when I’m running and they’re like, “I just need that push.” I’ll savor it and say “Good luck.” It’s really cool that something like that gives a little extra strength. That’s what you make when you do with a film. To encourage and start planting seeds that lead to a better tomorrow.

What’s the best advice you ever got about acting?

That you are enough. What that means is that who you are as a person is enough. Never be afraid to show it. Some people act and they are phenomenal at it, but it’s very hard to showcase who you really are and your real emotion. That’s the best advice that I got. It was just to give a side of Carlos in that situation, in every situation.

What do you look for in the films you take on, as a producer or an actor?

I just want to be a role model and I want to film great stories. Before every audition I say a prayer. I say, “God, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Thank you for allowing me to be here. Allow me to use the tools that you’ve given me and to perform nerve-free. If my words and actions are positive, let that everyone see that and learn from them. And if what I’m saying could be viewed in a negative way let people learn what not to do from my actions. And that’s it, I just want to influence and encourage and help make a better tomorrow.

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Actors Interview

McFarland USA

Posted on February 19, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Some gang-style violence, mostly off-screen, characters injured
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 20, 2015
Date Released to DVD: June 1, 2015 ASIN: B00UI5CUSM
Copyright Disney 2015
Copyright Disney 2015

In 1987, Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), who had never coached or even run cross country, took a team of kids from one of the poorest communities in California to a state championship. Of course that would have to become a Disney movie. But in 2015, it is near-impossible to make a movie about a white coach and his all-Latino team without falling into one of two equally fatal traps. We are no longer in an era when it is acceptable to have a “mighty whitey” movie has a white savior teaching people of color a better way to live. We are also no longer in an era where it is acceptable to have a “magical Negro” plotline, with a person of color teaching a white person a better way to live. We all have people in our lives who teach us important lessons, but presenting these stories in a sensitive way is an almost insurmountable challenge.

“McFarland USA” comes as close as it can to surmounting that challenge by wisely — and honestly — showing what everyone in the story learns from the experience. That comes from warm, sensitive performances by all involved and by telling details. The best is after the team comes in last in their first meet because the coach failed to check out the terrain. The team had never practiced on an incline and the course of the raise included some steep passages. So, for their next practice, Coach White brings them to a place where he and the audience see enormous piles of something under tarps. White knows only that this is a good place to practice running uphill. The team knows what is under the tarps — millions of discarded almond shells, removed by field workers, so supermarkets across the country can stock shelled nuts in little plastic pouches. The symbolism, and White’s growing understanding not just of the challenges faced by his team but of their dedication, perseverance, and strength is un-sappy and touching.

It begins with White getting fired for an outburst at an arrogant high school football captain, and taking a job as an assistant football coach in the small farm town of McFarland in central California. The entire population is Latino and most of them work in the fields as “pickers,” starting at age 10. The kids and teenagers work before and after school. White is quickly relieved of his responsibilities as assistant coach when he takes a player out of the game because he has been injured. He decides to start a cross-country team, even though the principal tells him ‘That’s a private school sport.  They breathe different air.”  White has no experience.  Also, because this is 1987, it would be about a decade before he could just Google how to do it. No one at the school has the time — or the shoes — for distance running. But he can see that they can run, and he gets them to agree to try to compete.  At first, he does not even have a stopwatch to time their runs.  He uses a kitchen timer.

It is a poor community.  No one in the boys’ families has more than a 9th grade education.  The high school is next door to the prison, with a barbed-wire fence.  The families see sports as “not essential,” a distraction that keeps the boys away from paying work on the fields.  “Every hour with you is food off my table,” says one father.  But White and the community learn to trust each other, even after a scary encounter.

Director Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”) has a sensitive touch and a trust in her story and characters that gives them space to breathe.  The running scenes are vivid and exciting.  By the time we get to the end credit sequence, showing the team now in their 40’s and still running every day in McFarland, we see that more than the state championship has been won.

Parents should know that there are a few bad words, some drinking, and some gang-style violence. It is mostly off-screen, but characters are injured and there are brief disturbing images.

Family discussion: Which teachers have made you see that you were capable of more than you thought? How did White and the team demonstrate that to each other?  When did the team start calling him “coach” and why?

If you like this, try: “Spare Parts,” “Chariots of Fire,” and “Hoosiers” and this interview with Carlos Pratts

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Based on a true story DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Sports Stories about Teens
List: Great Movie Coaches

List: Great Movie Coaches

Posted on October 28, 2009 at 8:38 am

The athletes have worked harder than they ever imagined, pushing themselves to the limits of their endurance. They’ve learned how to run faster and hit, kick, or shoot harder. They’ve watched tape of the other team, the champions, the ones who seem unbeatable. They’ve learned that there is no “I” in “team,” and then they learned it again. And then comes that moment when they feel that they have nothing left. It is time for some encouragement and motivation. They need some words that can remind the players that what they are doing matters, that it is worth stretching their souls and bodies to the limit, that this is a defining moment that will tell them and everyone who knows them and everyone who will ever know them who they are. They need to know that it is not about scoring or medals or applause; it is about courage, determination, loyalty, and knowing you have given your entire heart to something. That is when they need a great coach.

Movie coaches, most of them real-life characters, have provided some of the most memorable moments in film history, inspiring us in the audience as they inspire the athletes on screen. And, in our own private, faint-hearted moments, we often think back on those “Win one for the Gipper” speeches for our own sense of meaning, purpose, and confidence. When you feel as though you can use a pep talk, these coaches are always available on DVD.

12. A League of Their Own Sometimes the coach is the one who needs some inspiration. In this movie, Tom Hanks is a former baseball player who is bitter following an injury. He has a drinking problem, but his former fame gets him a position as the coach in an all-female league, created to keep the fans happy while the male players were fighting in World War II. It is the heart, dedication, and ability of the players that inspires him to become the coach they need. Quote: “There’s no crying in baseball!”

11. Personal Best Scott Glenn plays the coach of women training for the Olympics. In one memorable scene, he has a monologue as he watches one of his athletes run around a track, and shows his frustration on both of their behalfs at the second-class treatment of women athletes and and his fierce pride in watching her beat a man. Quote: “The high jump is a masochist’s event–it always ends on failure.”

10. Knute Rockne All American The legendary Notre Dame coach was an innovator who changed the game of football by popularizing the forward pass and set many records including five undefeated seasons. Pat O’Brien plays Rockne in this film, and Ronald Reagan plans the player whose death inspired the most famous locker room speech in history. Quote: ” I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years — None of you ever knew George Gipp. It was long before your time. But you know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame…And the last thing he said to me — “Rock,” he said — “sometime, when the team is up against it — and the breaks are beating the boys — tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper.”

9. Remember the Titans When an Alexandria, Virginia school was integrated for the first time, it wasn’t just the teammates who had to learn to work together. Coach Boone (Denzel Washington) and Coach Yoast (Will Patton) had to become a team as well. This true story of their first team and its undefeated season, and if you plan to watch, bring a handkerchief. Maybe two. Quote: “In Greek mythology, the Titans were greater even than the gods. They ruled their universe with absolute power. Well that football field out there, that’s our universe. Let’s rule it like Titans.”

8. Coach Carter The great thing about Coach Carter is that after he turns his rag-tag players into a disciplined, winning team, he benches them. Samuel L. Jackson plays real-life coach Ken Carter, who benched the team and locked the gym to insist that his team members could not play unless they did their schoolwork and got good grades. Quote: “You really need to consider the message you’re sending this boys by ending the lockout. It’s the same message that we as a culture send to our professional athletes; and that is that they are above the law. If these boys cannot honor the simple rules of a basketball contract, how long do you think it will be before they’re out there breaking the law?”

7. Glory Road Josh Lucas plays real-life coach Texas Western Don Haskins, who coached the first NCAA basketball team with an all-black starting line-up in 1966. Haskins did not intend to be a civil rights pioneer. He just wanted the best players he could find. And in that era, there were plenty of black basketball players who were not getting offers from anyone else. So Haskins put together a team with a lot of talent and a lot of passion for the game, and then he showed them how to be better players and an even better team than they had ever imagined. Quote: “Your dignity’s inside you. Nobody can take something away from you you don’t give them.”

6. Miracle And don’t miss the documentary: Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team. It’s still referred to as the “Miracle on Ice.” No one thought the American hockey players had a chance against the Soviet team in the 1980 Olympics. The Americans were amateurs from different teams. The Soviets were the world champions. The David and Goliath game that resulted was voted the number one international game in hockey history on the 100th anniversary of the game. The American team beat the Soviets because they had coach Herb Brooks, played here by Kurt Russell. Brooks said he won because he picked “not the best players but the right players.” Quote: “Great moments… are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight.”

5. Friday Night Lights Before the television show, there was a book and there was this movie, with Billy Bob Thornton as coach Gary Gaines. In small-town Texas, everyone in town goes to the high school football games, everyone thinks they know what the coach should be doing, and every player knows that he may never do anything again that matters to as many people as winning the season. Quote: “Being perfect means going onto the field knowing that you did everything you could have done, with clear eyes, love in your heart, joy in your heart.”

4. Hoosiers Gene Hackman plays Norman Dale, who must battle his own demons to be the coach his high school basketball team deserves in this quietly powerful film inspired by the real-life story of the small-town team that took the Indiana state championship in 1951. Quote: “These six individuals have made a choice to work, a choice to sacrifice, to put themselves on the line 23 nights for the next 4 months, to represent you, this high school. That kind of commitment and effort deserves and demands your respect. This is your team.”

3. Chariots of Fire A competitor in the 1924 Olympics took the unusual step of seeking a coach, considered vaguely unsporting in those days of the gentleman athlete. And the coach, Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm) was an unconventional choice. So overcome he cannot bear to watch the race, Mussabini sits in his hotel room. When the word comes in that his runner has won, he quietly punches out the crown of his straw hat. Quote: “A short sprint is run on nerves.”

2. Stick It (and also see Bridges as a coach in Surf’s Up) Jeff Bridges is so natural as the coach of girl gymnasts in “Stick It” and a surfing penguin in “Surf’s Up” that if feels like he was born to play the perfect disciplinarian/mentor/source of inspiration. In the underrated “Stick It,” his toughest challenge is a gifted athlete who quit gymnastics and is then sentenced to compete again to stay out of juvenile detention. He has to teach her to trust him before he can begin to coach her. Quote: “This isn’t the real world. This is my world. You don’t have to like me or like it here, but you do have to respect it.”

1. The Heart of the Game Bill Resler is a tax law professor who agrees to coach a girls’ high school basketball team in this spellbinding and documentary about the quintessentially American themes: race, gender, class, lawsuits, heart, skill, optimism, despair, setbacks, and triumph. Unforgettable. Quote: “Devour the moose!”

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