Secretariat: Interview with director Randall Wallace

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"Secretariat," directed by Randall Wallace, follows the story of the horse that won the triple crown in 1973. The film, which stars Diane Lane and John Malkovich, is being released by Disney on October 8.

On John Malkovich and his cast


Wallace was delighted to work with Malkovich, noting that “Lucien Laurin is a role unlike any he has ever played. He’s an amazing force on a movie set; he inspires everyone on the cast and crew. It was just a joy to see him play this man who has so many colors and dimensions.”


Otto Thorwarth was cast to play Ron Turcotte, the man who rode Secretariat to greatness. Thorwarth, a real-life jockey, impressed filmmakers with his acting abilities. “Otto became one of the most delightful finds of this whole film,” says Wallace. “He walked in and looked me in the eye, and I knew that minute he was going to be Ronnie Turcotte. He was fearless. And beyond that, there was a joy about that fearlessness.”


Historical racetracks


For Wallace, filming at the storied racetrack Keeneland and the legendary Churchill Downs was key. “It was impossible for me to think of shooting this film without being in Kentucky,” he says. “We certainly availed ourselves of everything Keeneland had to offer, including its amazing collection of documents and records on horse racing and Secretariat. But to go to Churchill Downs — I’d been there once and it was a magical experience, and I knew we had to have it for this film.”


Shooting horses


“Horses are so romantic that it’s tempting to film them in a romantic and remote way,” says Wallace. “Our intention from the very beginning of this movie was for the audience to experience the races as a participant, rather than a spectator. I want audiences to feel that they are in the races, experiencing the thunder, the excitement, the chaos and the violence.


“Dean (Semler) is the Rembrandt of cinematographers,” continues the director. “He is also game for anything. The idea of filming the races in this visceral way excited him. He didn’t jump to any conclusions about how it should be done, but he was sure it could and would be done. You would think that the cutting-edge cinematographer would insist on the most expensive and elaborate equipment, and Dean was prepared to use all that. But he also wanted to experiment with a small, lightweight camera that we could put on the end of a stick and get right into the races. What that enabled us to do was to feel Secretariat as a character, to feel Secretariat’s experience as well as the jockey’s. Movies are an exercise in finding those moments that define an identity of a person or, in this case, a horse. If we could be there with Secretariat, we would be that much closer to understanding who he was. Dean’s camerawork was a critical part of allowing that to happen.”


Musical score


When it came to the end-credit song, director Randall Wallace called on his own songwriting experience to craft “It’s Who You Are.” “I began working on the song as part of my own private journey to see the heart of the story,” says Wallace, who pursued a career in the music industry before switching his focus to film. (He later teamed up with Glennie-Smith to write the end- credit song for “We Were Soldiers,”“Mansions of the Lord.”)


In a film that’s about the greatest racehorse of all time and the journey he sparked, “It’s Who You Are” was written, says Wallace, to “address the question: what is the heart of victory?”