Friday, February 20, 2015

McFarland USA "Must See" Movie Review & Exclusive Interviews with Carlos Pratts & Rafael Martinez

McFarland USA "Must See" Movie Review

When is the last time you have seen a movie without any expectations and left the theatre bursting with feel good emotions? Walt Disney Pictures has successfully made a triumphant movie that will move you to tears. McFarland USA opens in theatres on Friday, February 20, 2015, and is already creating a buzz in Hollywood. A trailer of McFarland USA can be viewed by visiting Disney Movies.

I had an opportunity to see this movie when I was at Disney World last month, running the Disney Dopey Challenge. However, the McFarland USA movie screening was Sunday afternoon, the same day as the Disney marathon and the last day of running four consecutive races. Needless to say, I was disappointed that I did not make it to the most talked about 2015 movie screening, amongst the running community. A few weeks ago, another opportunity arose for me to attend an advanced screening of this movie. I believe in second chances and moved my schedule around so that my kids and I could view this "must see" movie, thanks to See it First.

The only thing I knew about McFarland USA, before watching the movie was that it was a true story about a 1987 cross country high school team in a small California town. As a long distance runner, I was excited to share this movie with my kids and watch the magic of running transform on the big screen. My kids are 12 years old (boy/girl twins) and an almost 9 year old daughter. My son plays competitive soccer and has placed in his age group when he ran a few local 5K's. I knew he would enjoy this movie, as he is an underdog himself and excels at running and soccer. My kid's reactions to the movie was incredible. During the last competition race scene, my 12 year old daughter blurted out "This is Awesome!" This is the same daughter that would rather be drawing, than playing a sport. I secretly hoped after watching the movie, she would want to sign up for Girls on the Run.

Kevin Costner as "Coach Jim White" with the McFarland Cross Country Team
McFarland USA takes you to a place that is foreign to many of us. It carefully introduces you to a culture, that at first glance, would scare "outsiders" away. However, Jim White, played by Kevin Costner, the new McFarland High School cross country coach, who has moved his Caucasian family to this primarily populated Latino, low income, small California town, decides he is not going to run away. He is a careful observer and gently allows himself into the lives of his students and their hard working, migrant farm families. Coach Jim White sees an opportunity to inspire the kids in this town to dream big, to want more out of life, and to not be afraid of failing, even when you are the underdog.

Kevin Costner as "Coach Jim White" spends a day in the fields with McFarland migrant farm workers

For younger kids, the movie may move a bit slow in the beginning, as the story is set up and viewers are being introduced to key characters and becoming familiar with the town, McFarland, CA. You must wait for it patiently and then, the magic suddenly begins. The McFarland cross country team is recruited and lives become transformed during their training and while competing. They begin to bond as a family and support each other to achieve goals that were once upon a time ago, unimaginable.

I was especially impressed with the cast and the fact that most of the actors who played the McFarland cross country team runners are newcomers to the big screen. They portrayed their characters with grace and skill and I'm certain that they made the town of McFarland, CA, proud to represent!

I highly recommend this movie for everyone! My kids loved this movie too! McFarland USA was a heartfelt movie, as viewers experience a range of feel good emotions. There were a few times my kids asked me if I was crying (and yes, I let the waterworks flow)! The director, Niki Caro, spent her time making sure this amazing true story was portrayed accurately and carefully crafted character development. It is a fantastic family movie that restores the faith that you can do anything that you put your mind too. Inspiration is the theme throughout the movie and the viewer is on an amazing journey watching multiple lives transform. It's PG rating is due to language. There are a few minor "bad" words that were casually mentioned but this should not detour you from taking your kids to see this incredible movie!

I had the opportunity to interview two of the featured actors in McFarland USA. Rafael Martinez who plays David Diaz, one of the three Diaz brother's who train and compete with the McFarland cross country team and Carlos Pratts, who plays Thomas Valles, the star runner on the McFarland cross country team. Both of these actors are extremely humble and gracious to have been given this amazing opportunity to be cast in McFarland USA. What impresses me most about these two young actors is their appreciation for the goodness that has occurred in their life and their mindful way of giving back to the McFarland community. Alongside their McFarland USA acting family, they recently constructed a new playground in McFarland, CA! I am certain we will see these two awesome actors do big things with their career!

Here's an action item list for you:
1. Go see the movie McFarland USA! Get tickets here!
2. Enjoy reading their thoughtful answers to my interview questions below!
3. Share the love and please Tweet and/or Share this post on Google or Facebook > Thank you!
4. Follow these amazing actors on Instagram and Twitter!
Follow Carlos Pratts on Twitter              Follow Carlos Pratts on Instagram

Follow Rafael Martinez on Twitter         Follow Rafael Martinez on Instagram

Interview with Carlos Pratts and Rafael Martinez

Rafael at McFarland USA World Premiere
Carlos as "Thomas" competing in McFarland USA

1. What is your acting background? How did you get introduced to acting?

Carlos: "I was introduced to acting when I was in high school by Mr. Larry Wood. He was an amazing man, who is a large part of why I am where I am today. RIP Mr. Wood. When I moved to Los Angeles, I met an amazing teacher, Amy Lyndon, and have been with her ever since. With her help, I was able to land a few spots on different TV shows, independent films, etc. Which all led me to this point."

 Rafael: "I got into acting when my parents took me to see Spy Kids when I was about 8 years old. I wanted to live an exciting, adventurous, life like the characters in the movie. The only way I saw that possible was through acting. I don’t have much of a professional acting background. I had gone to acting school from when I was 8 years old until I reached high school. During all those years of acting school, I never got an agent or manager because I was scared of taking that leap of faith into this profession—no one in my family or friends or community had ever done something like this before so it was very intimidating to me. I had only done one “big” thing which was performing in an adaptation of Igor Stravinsky's ballet "Petrushka” which played at the LA Philharmonic in 2004. Other than that I had no other experience professionally. I had left college and hadn’t acted for 5 years and then, one day while in school, I auditioned for a play and got the role. While performing on stage, something clicked in me, something I can’t describe but it felt right. I somehow knew that acting was what I wanted to do. So in the end of my freshman year of college I decided to come back to my hometown, Los Angeles, to try acting as a career! While down here, I found someone to represent me and then began working on a couple of small roles on low budget films, then an year and a half later after coming down from college, I auditioned for this role of a guy named David Diaz in a Disney film called McFarland, USA and I got it! It was the greatest day of my life."

2. Did you know anything about the McFarland, CA, cross country team before you auditioned for the movie, McFarland USA?
Carlos: "I knew very little. I had seen them on ESPN before but did not make the connection until I read the script."
Rafael: "I had never heard of McFarland, CA, or of McFarland High School’s cross country team before auditioning for the role. I ran cross country during my freshman year in college but I never did hear about them. It shocked me that this was a true story and I was hooked the minute I read the script. They are really an amazing town and inspire me to every day to win at life."
3. Did you have to receive athletic training for this role? And if you did, who trained you?  And what was your training plan?
Carlos: "We trained as a team for a month prior to filming. Every morning we would go to Masters College and train with Coach Zach and Amy. We would run 5 or 6 miles and then practice running hills and sprints as a team. At night I would go by myself to Brick Fitness and train with Brian Nguyen (Mark Wahlberg's personal trainer), work out with them and go over nutrition plans. Once we started filming, I was up by 3 or 4 am, working out with the exercises they had made up for me to continue, while we were on location."
The McFarland USA cross country track team cast trained everyday for one month to prepare for their role as a runner!
Rafael: "I received plenty of athletic training before principal photography. I had about a month and a half to learn everything about running. We worked on our formation, strides, posture, etc. It was hard but fun. I remember when we couldn’t balance during our one legged quadriceps stretch! We kept falling down! The Masters College had a fantastic cross country team and their coaches, in partnership with Game Changing Films, trained us daily. We trained 5 days a week. I usually ran 6-7 days a week. I had to lose a lot of weight because I wasn’t exactly runner quality.  Every day I would get up and eat a small breakfast, drive to the training facilities in Santa Clarita, begin our warm up with a 2-3 mile course into a dirt trail, then intervals with the exercise depending on the day then do 45-60min of cardio on a treadmill, elliptical bike, etc., then followed by an ice bath—those were brutal.
4. Have you always wanted to be a runner?
Carlos: "I wanted to be a runner the day I auditioned for McFarland! lol"
Rafael: "Not always. I remember joining my university’s cross country team during my freshman year college because I wanted to expand my horizons. Everyone on the team had been running for years and I was a novice to the game. I thought running was hard and boring but no matter how hard cross country was, I loved the friendships I made while in the team. We became family, and so the pain wasn’t that bad if it meant: togetherness. 2 years later, I got the role of David Diaz in McFarland, USA, I knew training was going to be tough but I had some confidence since I had a small history with the sport. To be honest, I enjoyed training for the movie because I rediscovered the sport with a new approach to it. Throughout training and shooting, I learned a lot about myself, my strengths, weaknesses, it was a beautiful way to meditate and pray. Who would’ve known! I love running now! I can’t go more than two days without it."
5. What inspired you to accept this role?
Carlos: "It was just such a beautiful script and I knew the film had potential to be great. At the end of the day, I just want to make a difference. I knew from the beginning, that this film had the potential to inspire every one that ever came across it."
Rafael: "I have always been a fan of movies with a good message that you cannot resist feeling good afterwards. McFarland, USA is that type of movie, so I was very excited. But when I read the role of David Diaz, who was this optimistic, hardworking, spiritual teenager, I was even more excited to take on the role."
6. Who inspires you?

Carlos: "My Parents, My friends, Angel Gonzales who is like my older brother, and most importantly God."
Rafael: "God inspires me, more specifically Jesus Christ. He has made things clear for me. I have always liked to give or serve people. There’s a fulfillment in doing that--filling the missing pieces, that is. If I can fill the missing piece in someone else’s life somehow, even if it’s just answering a question, that makes me happy. It’s a tough question to answer but let’s just say the better day in the future inspires me. Having a great time of adventure with my future wife and children inspires me. That’s a longing image I have yet to live."
7. How has your life changed since McFarland USA was filmed/released?
Carlos: "That is a hard question to answer. Many doors are opening up but that doesn't make it easier. The level I'm at now is filled with actors in the same place and I am going to have to continue to work just as hard, if not harder, to stick around. It continues to humble me."
Rafael: "My life has changed since the making of McFarland, USA. When making the movie, through running, I realized the inner power I had to make my life better—just like Jim White helped shape these boys’ life through running, I personally felt moved. In the past, movies have helped me get through dark times and I’m very happy I’ll be able to share a story that can empower anyone who watches this movie. In a way, my life has changed because while making McFarland, USA, I found God and he has been guiding me to be a person of love, service & faith—much like my role as David Diaz. I have learned to focus more on my progress as an artist rather than trying to control the result of things. Ultimately, I feel liberated and happy."
8. What was it like working with Kevin Costner?
Carlos: "Kevin, or "KC" as I like to call him, is the man. Working with him was incredible. I learned so much and grew, not just as an actor but as a man. I learned so many lessons along the way that I will take with me forever. It was the best experience of my life."
Carlos as "Thomas" and Kevin Costner as "Coach Jim White" at cross country meet
Rafael: "Working with Kevin Costner was amazing. He was a great role model on set. He gave us advice on acting and technique. He’s not only a great actor but also a great guy. He was always helping us with the scenes and answering our questions regarding acting and life. He has a huge capacity for delight. He was always positive and saw the light in the tunnel and helped us see it as well. Kevin had this paternal loving relationship with us. This also helped the chemistry on-camera between characters Jim White and the McFarland runners. Kevin Costner is smart, funny, loving, and a hardworking man—I learned so much from him."
9. What was your favorite scene in McFarland USA and why? (without giving away the movie)
Carlos: "The orange grove scene where Jim eats the orange. It was the first time you see them not just as a team, but as a family."
Rafael: "I have two favorite scenes in McFarland, USA. One of my favorite scenes in McFarland was the last race in the movie. We really felt like it was the championship race. We worked so hard physically before and during the movie to run like cross country runners. We shot the last scenes of the movie during the last week of production. And after running nearly every day for 4 months, the championship race felt like real deal. What you see in the movie is us really fighting for the finish line—not acting. Another favorite scene was a beach scene in the movie. I think it was one of the better scenes in where we all bonded as brothers. We were all freezing because we were shooting the scene of us running into the water, over and over again. I remember at one point we all huddled together to keep ourselves warm. I thought “Man this is crazy,” but when in my life am I ever going to do something like this again. It was the greatest time of my life."
10. Share an interesting fact about yourself that may surprise my blog readers.
Carlos: "I'm pretty good at impersonating actors and impersonating the band "Third Eye Blind."
Rafael: "I am an introvert. I love spending time by myself! I like spending my weekends indoors, watching movies, or running in areas of town I’ve never seen before. Nonetheless, I too enjoy the company of one or two other people but if you add a crowd of people into the scene, it drains my energy and I would need to withdraw and rejuvenate myself. I always try to last as long as I can in a social environment but it’s one of the greatest challenges of my life."
Rafael Martinez
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