Niki Caro

Niki Caro

Words: Geoff Berkshire

The Kiwi director is taking her life-affirming film credentials cross-country with McFarland

The Kiwi director made her name in 2002 with the Oscar-nominated coming-of-age drama Whale Rider, an uplifting movie set in New Zealand’s North Island about a young Maori girl with ambitions of becoming chief of her tribe. Now she’s taking her life-affirming film credentials cross-country with McFarland, USA, the true story of high school teacher Jim White (Kevin Costner), who coaches a running team made up of impoverished Latino teenagers to glory.


THE RED BULLETIN: What did you know about running before this project ?

NIKI CARO: Not much. Making this movie, I discovered how transcendent the experience of running actually is. Now I run almost every day.

How much did the actors need to train to look like credible runners?

We cast a mix of actors who had never run before and runners who had never acted. They all helped each other. It was a lot of training every day [sports co-ordinator Mark Ellis was on hand to put them through regular drills], and they were very committed. But, people who have watched the movie have told me they couldn’t tell the experienced runners from the experienced actors. That’s great to hear.

Did you watch any movies to see how the sport has been brought to the screen?

There aren’t many. Chariots Of Fire and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner are the big ones. Nothing very recent and nothing set in America. It felt like fresh territory.

“ We’re dealing with underdogs competing in an underdog sport… that’s very inspiring”

You’re telling a true story set in the late ’80s. How important was it to make sure the movie is authentic to what really happened?

It was extremely important. With the boys especially, I’d say we are very close to the actual events. I’d say the movie is spiritually accurate, if that makes sense.

There seems to be an enduring appeal about underdog sports movies. Why do you think that is?

It’s true, and this is the underdog sports movie of all time. We are dealing with underdogs competing in an underdog sport. I think that feeling of watching someone work hard to achieve their goals is always very inspiring.

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03 2015 The Red Bulletin

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