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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The First Olympics

Posted on February 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tension, some injuries
Diversity Issues: Recognition of the prejudices of its era
Date Released to Theaters: 1986
Date Released to DVD: July 21, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B001A4YNPI

As we prepare for the London games, I highly recommend:

The First Olympics: Athens 1896, one of my very favorite sports movies ever, is a made-for-TV miniseries about the first modern-day Olympics. We take the Olympics as a given now, but there were 1500 years between the time of the ancient games and the establishment of the modern Olympics with countries from all over the world putting aside their political differences for athletic competition in the spirit of good sportsmanship and teamwork. Showing the origins of everything from the starting position for sprinters to the impulsive selection of the Star Spangled Banner as the U.S. national anthem, the story is filled with drama, wit, and unforgettable characters, sumptuously filmed and beautifully performed by a sensational cast that includes then-unknown David Caruso of “CSI,” one-time Bond Girl Honor Blackman, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, and Louis Jourdan. It was a Writer’s Guild and Casting Society award winner when it was first released. It is a great introduction to the games, a thrilling and inspiring story, and outstanding family entertainment.

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