Diane Lane discusses her role as Penny Chenery who took her prized horse all the way to the 1973 Triple Crown
The critically acclaimed drama Secretariat will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 25. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has provided us with an interview with the movie's star, Diane Lane, who portrays Penny Cherney. Take a look at what she had to say below:
Why is the story of Secretariat so appealing?
Diane Lane: The story is amazing because it's true. It is rare and wonderful to portray a woman who is an honorable person. She was an inspiration, not just to women, but to everyone. She shows how important it is in general to have faith in yourself and take chances and risks. For me it was such an inspiring story and to meet the real woman that you're playing-as I did-is extremely rare. It was very surreal to spend time with her, somebody that you're going to be bringing to the screen. It raises the stakes. It is incredible that she could actually look at my portrayal of her. Also the story of Secretariat is so amazing, this horse was such a champion and such an athlete, a great, legendary sports figure and wonderful creature.
What was Penny Chenery like when you met her?
Diane Lane: She was great. She came to the set and blessed us with her presence and was in the seat next to me for one of the races. She is a lovely women and so impressive because she is a real living legend. She was such an important figure historically and playing her was daunting for me. I am a huge fan of hers and I had a lot to live up to.
Do you think Penny saw herself as a pioneering role model?
Diane Lane: No, I don't think that Penny ever took on that role or saw herself in any heroic way at all. It was just her life and it was rather a timeless story from her point of view, taking on the family business and doing what needed to be done to save it. She rose to the challenge and really inherited the mantle of that task. It was interesting to me because she's such a strikingly handsome woman and you could spot her from across the racetrack with that big hair. I think it was actually distracting to journalists. They wanted to say 'hey, what are you doing here?' and she would never stoop to being defensive. So I take a page from her book and salute her for not letting that become an issue. I think it was an epiphany in hindsight that she made those important footprints in the sand for women. For Penny herself, she didn't see it like that. When you yourself are taking these strides, sometimes you can't really take stock of things until much later.
What obstacles did Penny have to overcome?
Diane Lane: She had to fight to be respected as the voice of authority in her own barn with her own horse, whether she was racing the horse or not. Because she was inheriting her father's business and property, there were a lot of big decisions that fell to her, in addition to the fact that she was also a full-time, stay at home mother. There was a deep sense of betrayal that she had about the fact that what she was doing could have been very damaging to the family and to herself. In the aftermath of what Secretariat achieved and in the footage I've seen of her interviews, she's so much more relaxed and comfortable. I completely identify with how she was feeling, being put on the spot with the press, feeling like she didn't want to be on the defensive. Yet she had to defend herself because they were all saying at the time: 'what are you doing here? You're a woman, you're a housewife.' And she just wouldn't respond in a way that could be used against her, so in that way she was very smart and savvy.
As a mother and actress can you identify with her at all?
Diane Lane: I completely identify with her. For me, going away to work is the hardest part of my life and career. I love my work, but there is no price you can put on what you miss when you are away from your kids. Anybody who travels for their work knows this and understands the compromises you have to make, certainly any mother.
Do you see yourself as a positive role model to your children?
Diane Lane: One hopes that as a working mother you are also being a good role model by having a career that you love.
Can you identify with Penny's leadership qualities and career drive?
Diane Lane: I can relate to this woman a lot because, like Penny, I am my father's son. What I mean is that of course I'm my father's daughter but I'm also my father's son in terms of the business, in terms of the family expectation that I would act. I followed in his footsteps. For me the family inheritance isn't gender based and it's true for Penny too. The leadership qualities that she has are not based on her being a woman, but because we're dealing with the early '70s, her strength is sometimes considered to be more masculine than feminine.
What motivates and propels your character?
Diane Lane: I think Penny's journey is about winning, it's about having a lot of positive energy and sticking with your dreams even though nobody else believes in you. Sometimes that takes a lot of courage and strength. My dad used to say it takes two generations to make a star and I think that that's true for any field, whether it's a journalist or an actor or a writer or a woman in the horseracing world like Penny. There are layers of information that you can't just come upon in life by chance. You have to have the wisdom of your parents and the wisdom of your own experience added to that, it is a combination of skills and what you learn from others.
Did your own father pave the way for you?
Diane Lane: Absolutely, but I didn't know that he was doing that. I think families do layer information upon each other. In Penny's case it involved the study of horse breeding, which was the family business that Penny came from. It is interesting to analyze the genetic qualities that get passed along; in fact some qualities skip a generation or two. It is also true with animals. We have seen many 'children and grandchildren' (offspring) of Secretariat, the colts and foals and fillies, and frankly they haven't turned out to be like him at all and have not possessed the same qualities-although some of his 'daughters' and 'granddaughters' have done well. But we're still waiting for that extraordinary gene to pop up again.
What do you think the overall appeal of Secretariat is internationally?
Diane Lane: It is an American story but it could happen anywhere to anyone and I don't think that the story has to do with a particular nation. I think it has to do with the human spirit and that crossover of spirit in animals and spirit in people. It looks at the spirit of this horse and the pleasure of running in its simplest form. It's not always about winning or losing, it's also about the quality of the experience and the journey itself.
Diane Lane: He is wonderful, completely uplifting and has a gift for telling archetypal stories like this one. I think that Randall's looking for people who possess that largesse d'esprit, people and actors who understand human nature, vulnerability, what amounts to the flipside of grandiosity. It can be tricky sometimes to work for a director who has written (or contributed to) the screenplay, because they're often very attached to the writing and want to stick to every nuance. But I have to say that in this case with Randall it's wonderful, because his direction serves his writing, they go together and it works really well.
You look beautiful and so elegant in the film. Can you discuss Penny's style?
Diane Lane: I think we were all informed by the era. Penny was a woman of her time. I love those shoes with the authentic heel. I had to fight for them because sometimes in film people will say 'Oh, can you do the sexier version of this,but I'm grateful that the style was celebrated and respected so it is authentic to the time.
Are you interested in horses yourself?
Diane Lane: I grew up loving horses. I was relatively obsessed, starting with my rocking horse at age two, all the way through my painting and drawing phase. I grew up loving Pegasus, that was my dream animal and I am sure the same is true for many children, but it was a little bit more intense with me. I enjoyed riding and rode whenever I had the chance, I would ask my parents to take me riding as often as possible. That's what I wanted to do as a career."
And you combined riding and acting didn't you?
Diane Lane: Well when I started acting, I couldn't wait to be in a Western and then I'd beg the horsemen to let me ride at lunch and then I'd get lost in the desert on a horse. I remember making Burt Lancaster wait because I was lost. I was 14 and acting in a Western, it was my second film, Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981). I have so many memories of wanting to be around horses. Then my husband finally made our dream come true-my dream personally, when we got some horses ourselves and had a ranch. But we had to let go of the ranch and we don't have the horses anymore. They're fine and happy but they're not in our lives any more. But yes, I do definitely have an equestrian nature and it is a Western experience for me. It is definitely great to be making this film about such a champion as Secretariat. There is really nothing like the beauty, strength and grace of a horse like this. I realized working with the horses, they really are individuals with egos and personalities that must be addressed if you're going to be working with them, which means standing near them. Please and thank you go a long way with a horse.
Have you always been passionate about acting? Was it natural for you?
Diane Lane: I loved acting, I started as a child and it is interesting because I didn't compare myself to others that were doing the same thing. I just felt that I needed to stay focused and stay out of trouble. I cared very much about the end results and if you stick with that trajectory long enough, you eventually get better and hopefully you're forgiven for your mistakes in terms of your growth. Nobody arrives at any level of perfection, you are constantly learning more and in hindsight there are always times that you would have made different decisions, especially if you're any kind of an artist. It is impossible to achieve total satisfaction, it is a constantly morphing thing, it's like gambling. You know, you get addicted to the chance that the movie may be wonderful and larger than life and sometimes that is what happens. In some of the movies that I've worked on, I definitely felt like we were winning at gambling.
Do you have any favorite movies from your career so far?
Diane Lane:Under the Tuscan Sun was wonderful because Italy is my favorite place in the world. It was a magical experience to work there, although it was so painful to be away from my family for that long. But a year or two later I returned for a road trip through Italy with my husband and we stayed in the same hotel I had stayed in and had the same view I had enjoyed from my window, so he could see the view. What I need now is some horses in Italy (laughs) and then I'll be satisfied."
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