Based on a true story, “McFarland, USA” is about a high school teacher (Kevin Costner) who is forced to move to a small California town after an incident at his previous school. He forms a cross county team at a predominately Hispanic high school where he recruit several students who happen to be fast runners. Actors Carlos Pratts (FX’s “The Bridge”) and Hector Duran, who play Thomas Valles and Johnny Sameniego, were in town a couple of weeks ago as they promoted the film and talked about the importance of family, working with their co-stars and bonding with Kevin Costner.
What is it that you want families to take away from the movie?
Hector Duran: I hope families will feel inspired to be there for their young children. For the children, we hope we inspired them to have large goals in life and not be limited based on what they see. They can be and accomplish whatever they want to be.
Carlos Pratts: I agree with him. It’s a beautiful story that we knew before auditioning for it. It’s just something so special for kids that we are hoping that when they watch this, they can chase their dreams. Nothing is impossible. No matter what situation you are in, it can always be better.
The movie talks about family connections and the strength of those connections. How has your family supported you in exploring your dreams?
Pratts: When you are an actor, it’s not easy. There’s always going to be people telling you, “Go back home,” but they do it out of love. As much as they said that, each little victory that you get along the way helps them see the bigger picture at the end. Being a parent is tough and parents just want the best for their children. In the movie, the parents want the best that they can provide for their children. Our parents do not want to see us struggle, but at the end of the day, they just want us to be happy and this is what make us happy.
What was it like working with Kevin Costner?
Duran: For me, it was an honor to work with Kevin Costner. I did not know he was such a humble guy. You probably heard it from other people, but you can’t explain how humble he really is until you get to know him.
Pratts: He is amazing. Here is a story on how amazing Kevin Costner is: I have a nine-year-old brother and when he came to the set, Kevin took a liking to him. It was really cool and he was so kind to my family. Around Christmas time, Kevin has this annual Christmas gathering where he invites all of the Santa Barbara community to come. He invited us to go and there was endless amount of food, snow and I think I saw some camels. My little brother looks at Kevin and says, “How much money do you have?” Kevin responded, “It’s not about how much money I have. It’s about the fact that I get to share it with everyone else.” The reason I bring that story is because that is the guy we worked with. He shared and he brought it every time. He was there for us no matter what.
Did either of you do cross-country or track before making this film?
Duran: I actually did when I was younger. I ran my first half-marathon when I was 11 and in good shape. Prior to filming this, I was out of shape so I did have to get back in shape to train for this movie. We trained for a whole month every single day by doing 5-6 miles as a warm-up. For me, it was a little easier getting back into shape because I already had the mental conditioning.
Can you elaborate on what the audition process was like? Why did you want to take on this role?
Pratts: I went through eight auditions to get the part and my first audition was the role of David Diaz. I remember reading the script and I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait to meet the person I would be playing Thomas because that is an awesome role. I went in and read for David until the casting director told me, “I don’t think it’s going to work with you as David, but I think you’re Thomas.” From that point on, I went on to go through a long audition process. I am thankful that I got the part.
Duran: This audition process for me was kind of short. I audition for this a week before actually booking it. Luckily, I had all that prior training leading up to that. I also had another movie that I have booked at the same time as “McFarland, USA,” but seeing Kevin Costner working on this made me want to work on this film.
As a cross-country running team or any sports team, you have to work together to achieve your goal. As actors, do you guys spend a lot of time outside the filming of the movie in order to establish chemistry with one another?
Pratts: We were basically together from August 25ht until December 10th. The only days off we had was on Sunday. We would all hang out and we would bond. I am not going to lie to you and said that we did get along in the beginning. It’s normal for seven people, especially for some of us who can be strong-headed. We realized very quickly that there is a big picture here. There is a story here that needs to be told and all of our egos need to put aside to tell this. When we forgave each other for the things we don’t agree with, that’s when we became a family.
“McFarland, USA” is now playing in South Florida theaters.