Interview: Diane Lane, John Malkovich Ride Legendary ‘Secretariat’

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CHICAGO – Two of the Oscar-nominated stars of Disney’s “Secretariat” breezed through Chicago last month as both Diane Lane and John Malkovich sat down for entertaining one-on-ones about their inspirational drama from director Randall Wallace (the Oscar-winning writer of “Braveheart”). Lane plays Penny Chenery, the owner of the legendary horse who faced discrimination and even an non=supportive family in her quest for the Triple Crown in 1973. Malkovich takes on the role of Secretariat’s eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin.

DIANE LANE Is there a different obligation in playing someone who you know is going to see your performance? What kind of different responsibility does that place on you as an actress?

Diane Lane: It’s sentimentally something that I will carry forward the rest of my life. I don’t know. It’s very surreal. Of course, I’m getting ready to play Penny and I’m spending time with Penny and I can only imagine what it’s like for Penny to have this moment come. Time overlaps itself and I have to just stop thinking about it. It was as surreal for me as it was for her. I remember Secretariat’s win in the absolute most blissful perception of the world. “Horses should be on the cover of magazines because I love them so much.” (Laughs.)

Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures Do you study mannerisms or do you have to let that go and make the character your own?

Lane: I think that it’s a meeting of the two. I did my best to certainly address the distinctions that separate myself from Penny and I can’t recall particularly what they were specifically. I’m a very intuitive actress and I’m a bit of a sponge. If I were different, I would have taken a tape recorder or something like that and had that with me to refer back to but instead you just sit energetically. If I was going to be playing you in a movie, I would just sit and spend time. You can’t replace time. You never know what you’re going to come away with. It’s like going to a place where there’s energy in the room that makes you feel a certain way even though you might not know exactly what happened. Does that make sense?

Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures It’s more intangible than an impersonation. It’s more of a feeling.

Lane: Exactly. I didn’t have quite the level of expectation in that regard as, say, my husband [Josh Brolin] did in “W.” That was much more of a physical comparison. It’s interesting that you describe yourself as a sponge. I once spoke to an actor who said every film was a learning experience. If you agree, what did you learn on this film?

Lane: The last time that I felt this way about my director was probably “A Little Romance” – George Ray Hill. George was very comfortable speaking about why he made movies. It’s a joy to be around somebody who “is where they are.” They’re completely honest with themselves and others about how far they’ve come and their understanding of things. I find that to be very refreshing and very opening. “I’ll show you my card, will you show me yours?” I play my cards very close to my chest. I’m more reticent to go on record stating my creed, agenda, or even to answer your question about what I learned. Randy is an inspirational person. He can’t help himself. So do you think you took a little of that away to the next project?

Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Lane: I did this HBO film, which is another woman who was thrust into the media with an opposite sort of experience in 1973. So, really, I would like to have one of those dinner parties where we put these two women together and I can pinch myself all night. (Laughs.) It’s a great banquet of points of view. It increases my tolerance for the diversity of points of view. It doesn’t necessarily help me hone my personal philosophy. If anything, it kind of blurs it a bit and distracts because I can’t help but become loyal to my character. There are some characters I won’t play because I just don’t want to go there. And that’s okay. I understand that about myself. I love learning that about myself. There’s been roles that I just said “Thank you but please don’t offer me this. I really don’t want to go there. It’s too uncomfortable for me.” That’s alright. What was the most uncomfortable or challenging element of this production?

Lane: The first day of filming – five minutes before leaving the trailer, Randy came in and said a decision had been come to about my hair. We had this wig that was appropriate and agreed upon and tested and approved and then there was this other wig that was for an emergency rain storm. You know, the show must go on to continue filming. And the powers that be saw this wig and it was really unfair because they saw me out of doors in sunlight and laughing and it was a candid moment. Well, that was the wig they wanted me to wear. And I just felt robbed of my creative input. I didn’t really know what to do with my anger and sense of impotence. So, I rebelled and I wore the other wig to the set for the first take of the first shot of the first day of the movie. It didn’t take very long for Randall to piece this together and he was nearly speechless. He was really injured by my betrayal of what he requires as trust. We had never gotten the original wig on film properly and I felt like it hadn’t been seen in the light and in the frame of reference that the studio executives decided…I said, “Wait a minute. This is not what we agreed upon.” And I was basically unceremoniously sent back to my trailer to change the wig. It was a very “Hi, nice to meet you” moment for us all. It was very humbling. And that was the worst day. But once we got through that moment, everything was cake and roses. When I told people I was interviewing you, dozens of films came up. So I’m curious, what’s your “airport question”? When people recognize you, what is it most commonly for and what do they ask you?

Lane: Well, there’s a couple of them. Whatever happened to the boy in “A Little Romance”? What were you thinking in the train scene in “Unfaithful”? And then there’s all manner of things including some things that I’d rather not repeat today. (Laughs.) It’s okay. I have become a smoother stone with time and my jagged edges are definitely, gracefully surrendering themselves to more malleable and circumspect take on things. I’m looking for what’s fun rather than becoming overly analytical and taking things too seriously. I think that’s a curse of youth – “I’m going to go impale myself on some furniture because the wig got changed.” Well, actually it’s really okay with me. (Laughs.)

JOHN MALKOVICH: With “Secretariat” opening in theaters and “Red” and “Drunkboat” playing the Chicago International Film Festival along with “Jonah Hex” this past summer, it’s really easy to see the diversity of acting choices you make in just a few months in Chicago. It’s always been an impressive aspect of your career. Do you consciously seek out something different from what you’ve done before when choosing a role?

Malkovich: No. Everything already is different. It’s already a different story. It’s very likely a different period. It’s always people who their experience is completely different. The way they view the world is different to other characters – how they see the world, what the world is, the actions they take, hopefully, their manner of expression, although that depends on how good the writing is. So, no, I think that’s done for you.

Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures What would you say most informs the decision – the quality of the writing overall, your character, your collaborators?

Malkovich: It’s a combination of all those things but the most important thing is “can it be a really good film,” no matter the genre. Although some people hate certain genres. They hate comedies. They hate action films. I don’t hate any of those things.

Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures Maybe that’s the source of the diversity because you don’t have genre specifics.

Malkovich: No. Not really. The other thing evident in the workload this year might be that you’re working incredibly hard. Have you thought of slowing down a bit?

Malkovich: “Drunkboat” is very old. It’s been bouncing around with conflicts between producers for years. About five or six years. But you still have a pretty impressive pace.

Malkovich: I work very hard. And you never think about slowing down?

Malkovich: It’s hard to do that when there are things you want to do. Every day brings more propositions and I do a lot of things. Already, next year kind of scares the hell out of me because it’s so busy. Hopefully, the year after, I can slow down. Seeing an old VHS tape of your performance of “True West” with Gary Sinise really influenced my love for theater and I have to admit that I still primarily consider you a theater actor.

Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Malkovich: Sure. So do I. So, does being a theater actor make you a different film actor?

Malkovich: Not so much. Because they’re such different things. For instance, film, you don’t really rehearse. So the depth is much more limited because there is no time. In film, they rehearse for a week and call it rehearsals. The way you build a character in a theater – I just finished a tour in Europe and a little bit in Canada. I’ve already worked on it two years. I hope to work on it many more times. Just keep trying to figure it out and deepen it and make it more compelling, faster, and funnier and more surprising. You get the chance to do that in the theater but not in the movies. You have to make pretty quick decisions and then you have to stick to it. It can’t be changed. It’s a very, very different form. I think of myself as a theater actor also because that’s really what I was trained to do. Do you find it more rewarding?

Malkovich: No. No. I find it just a completely different work. It’s like they’re actually not related. If you compared it to being a musician: Your first instrument, what you trained to do, was to be a pianist and then you got known for playing the saxophone. There’s nothing wrong with that but it may not be your real home. You just live there. I like very much to do movies. Not all of them. But then again, nothing is worse than being in a bad play. Or being in a play that you know can only be so good. No movie is as nearly a miserable experience as that. How is doing theater in Chicago different from other places?

Malkovich: I don’t know if it is. Here, for us, what was great was that we got to stay here and do our thing and develop together before we went off. That’s very hard to do if you’re in New York, Los Angeles – I think it’s pretty impossible. Now, I don’t even know how easy it would be in Chicago. But, I loved doing theater here and I still like it when I come back. It’s been five years but I’ve kept very busy in the theater my whole career. I end up doing it here, there, somewhere else. I just haven’t come back. They asked me to read this play that they’re doing now called “Detroit” but I knew the schedule was absolutely impossible for me to make. How is Randall Wallace, the director of “Secrtariat” different from other directors that you’ve worked with?

Malkovich: Randall is someone very, very emotional; very, very passionate. He doesn’t have an ounce of cynicism. He’s not jaded. He’s not world weary. He’s a person of faith, which is not, let’s say, the norm in Hollywood or in Europe for that matter. He’s a lot like my best friends from my childhood. I was in Randall’s first film [“The Man in the Iron Mask”]. With this film…As everyone does, we learn a lot, we become more experienced, and more sure about what we want to do and how we want to do it. Also, Randall is really funny. He has a great sense of humor and is a “down-home” guy.

“Secretariat” opens nationwide on October 8th, 2010. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

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“Secretariat” is gaining

Secretariat” is gaining Oscar-worthy buzz & we have the inside scoop on the inspirational film! The cast sat down with ARTISTdirect to talk about the tale of perseverance at the heart of the film & much more!

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