Niki Caro

What’s Next for Niki Caro

Words: Geoff Berkshire

The Whale Rider director is taking her life-affirming film credentials cross-country with new project McFarland, USA.

Director Niki Caro broke through on the international film scene with her 2002 Oscar-nominated coming-of- age drama Whale Rider. Now the New Zealand native returns to tell the true story of high school teacher Jim White (Kevin Costner), who coaches a team of impoverished Latino teens to cross-country success in McFarland, USA.


THE RED BULLETIN: How much did the actors need to train to look credible as ace runners?

NIKI CARO: We cast a mix of actors who had never run before and runners who had never acted. They were all able to help each other. It was a lot of training every day [sports coordinator Mark Ellis was hired to put them through regular drills], and they were very committed. But in the final product, people have told me they can’t tell the experienced runners from the experienced actors. That’s great.

What did you know about running before taking this project on

Not much, to be honest. I suffered through races in gym class, but I didn’t think much about it. Making this movie I discovered how transcendent the experience of running actually is. Now I run almost every day

Did you watch any other racing movies to see how the sport has been handled on film?

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. How important was it to be authentic to what happened? 

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

There seems to be an endless appeal to 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 so inspiring.

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03 2015 The Red Bulletin

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