McFarland, USA has already inspired so many people, bringing great conversations amongst families and learning about a culture that is foreign to many of us. After speaking with the director, Kevin Costner, and the real people behind the movie, I am super excited to share this post for the young actors that portrayed the high school runners in the film are just a great group of young men. With some of them actually from McFarland, it was not only important to all of them to be part of this film but to do it right. When you read my review, you can see that I feel they did a great job doing just that.
The Cast of McFarland USA
When you sit down with an actor or two for an interview, it gets a bit crazy. There is excitement, stories and emotions being shared, and it makes it pretty interesting to try to share the entire experience, so I am going to do my best to try to share the love these young men not only have for the movie, but for the people they portray, the town that they are sharing with the world, and especially each other.
A little about each actor.
Carlos Pratts –
Carlos plays Thomas Valles, a natural runner with amazing talent, however that wasn’t the case for him. Chris became a runner after preparing for the cross-country scenes.
How is filming for a TV series different from filming a movie?
“Doing a movie is so different than TV shows in the sense to where it’s so fast. TV’s very fast and you have 60 pages when you shoot a pilot, so you don’t know where your character’s gonna go, but when you do a movie, you have a beginning, middle and end. So it’s like within these 120 pages, I create my arc. So you have a lot of trust in the script, and then you get to explore. I think you have a little more confidence in whatever you’re doing in the film, as opposed to TV, you just have no idea. You shoot the pilot. They tell you a little bit, and then the scripts start going. Basically chemistry and what’s happening with the actors. Your character develops or dies.”
Everyone from the film has had only great things to say about Kevin Costner, and Carlos also shared a great story with us to help bring to light how why they all felt the way they did about Kevin.
“I have a 9-year-old little brother and these guys have all got the chance to meet my family because we are family, you know. So my little brother comes on set and Kevin takes a real liking to him. A 9-year old, as we all know, there’s no flood gate. It is what it is. It’s just kind of (snapping his fingers), just get it out there. It’s November, like right after Thanksgiving. We’re about to go into Christmas, so everyone’s really excited about the holidays. He’s got this DVD of Christmas at Kevin’s, and it’s like George Lucas and Spielberg said let’s make our own holiday. There’s camels, there’s presents. They have blocks and blocks and blocks and blocks of huge things about the size of this room, where they make snow for the kids. It’s a beautiful thing. Well, my little brother looks at it, and he said Kevin, ‘how much money do you have?” (Laughing) Kevin responds, just looks to him and he says, ‘it’s not how much money I have, it’s about the fact that I just share with everyone else. ‘ The only reason I’m telling that story is because that person is the person that we spent 4 months with, and to answer who is Kevin Costner? How is he? He’s that person.”
Actor Rafael Martinez plays Danny Diaz. He is a naturally soft-spoken and polite guy, and he admits that he cut school in order to audition for the movie. I think it’s safe to say, he has no regrets.
Johnny plays Jose Cardenas. Known for his good heart and always giving back to his community by acting as a role model by working with kids and inspiring them to follow their dreams. He also supports Wolf Connection, a group in Acton, California, that rescues wolves that have been tortured and abandoned, and then rehabilitates them into therapy dogs for at-risk, inner-city kids.
I love the story shared by Johnny on acting.
“I wanted to share something. I remember being 5 years old and I called 4-1-1, and I asked how do I become an actor? My dad looked at me and was like ah, my adorable son. I can’t help him out because he didn’t know how the industry worked. But I wanted to say, not to make this long, (but) dreams are possible. Goals are possible. Because I got in McFarland, you know. It’s a blessing to land on my own TV show called American Crime with Oscar-winner John Ridley. So that’s coming on March 5th. I’m blessed, you know. I’ve got other roles coming up, and it’s, just you want to tell people that dreams are possible because I came from the gang-banging world. Most of my whole family are gang-bangers, and I broke the chain. I decided, you know what, I don’t want to go through that path. I don’t want to live that life. So if I want to do that, I got to put my mind and my heart. I’ve been in and out of jail back in my past history. There’s struggle out there, and we got to help these kids out, you know. There’s a lot of kids out there that have talent, that have a lot of hear. They just don’t have the opportunities. That’s why this place is like Casa 0101, which is a non-profit organization. Josefina Lopez was, wrote Real Women Have Curves, is the founder of this place, and she brought me into this theater and showed me that I can do it in life. This is what we need. We need places like this. We need resources.”
Ramiro Rodriguez plays Danny Diaz and is one of the actors actually from Mcfarland. In fact, he had no intention of auditioning when he agreed to drive his cousin to the casting tryouts for “McFarland, USA.” He landed the role of Danny Diaz after being pestered repeatedly by executive producer Mario Iscovich to audition.
Sharing about being the heavier one in the movie –
“Throughout high school and pretty much my whole life, I’ve been the chubby one, and in this movie, I see it a lot. They picked on me. I mean, in the movie I know it was a joke. Yeah, they could tell me that I’m fat, but to be honest, in real life, it really did hurt me. But for him (character Danny Diaz) to triumph the way he did in the movie, it’s really a triumph for me also. He proved everybody wrong that a big man could do it. It showed me also that I could do it too.”
Everyone in the cast mentioned how Hector is like the little brother of the family. Even though he has acted before this is his breakout role as well this was a learning experience for him.
What was the biggest thing you walked away with from making McFarland, USA and playing Johnny Sameniego?
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned through this film, which I already knew but it just reinforces it even more, is the idea of equality and not judging a book by its cover. As you see in the film, Kevin Costner comes into this small town and he kind of judges the book by its cover. Once you get deeper into all the values that are there, you see that everybody’s equal. The only thing that separates us is the color of our skin, so we should try to treat each other equally.”
Sergio, playing Victor Puentes is also from McFarland and is a runner and a member of the McFarland Track Club. He has been running since 2001 and considers himself a “decent runner.” It’s pretty special that his running coach in middle school was Thomas Valles, the real-life person represented by the role that Carlos Pratts plays.
What is it like for you to be from McFarland with all of the hype in sharing the story?
“Now people are actually kind of proud saying that they’re from McFarland. Back then it was, ‘Where are you from?’ I’m from McFarland. ‘Where’s that at?’ Oh, you know, between Bakersfield and Visalia. ‘Oh, that town that smells likes cows as you pass?’ Now, it’s like people are so proud. They say that if someone asks you where are you from and they say McFarland, they’re not going to believe you now. It’s a movie. It’s so crazy. It’s truly a blessing.”
Michael who plays Damacio Diaz is also from McFarland. He had to overcome many adversaries in his young life. Growing up without a mother or father, he was raised by his grandmother and was emancipated at age 14. At 15 he lived on his own and fell into a life of gangs and hanging with the wrong crowd. After being held at gunpoint four times, he realized that this was not the life for him and decided to try to turn around his life. Determined to become a positive influence in his younger brothers Jonathan and Joshua’s lives, he joined dance and became more social in high school. Hearing about an open call for a film being shot in his local town, he went to audition, but after three auditions he never heard back. It took 8 months before he heard he got the role, and now he’s aiming high to become a triple threat in the entertainment industry.
The scene in the film where they visit the ocean for the first time was actually super special to him for it really was his first time! He’s truly is enjoying the experience.
On the brotherly love for each other –
“I’d like to say that, you know, not only for you guys to know, but I’d like these guys to know that you guys are the reason that I have the confidence I have to believe in myself in everything I do now, to write the music that I write and, you know what I mean? Go out there and not be afraid to put myself on the line. You guys got me to believe in myself, to have the empowerment to have other people believe in me as well.”
I just love them. All of them. And the movie! Go see it! Seriously, you will thank me.