Skeptics might be leery of a family film where the outcome is known to even the most casual of racehorse fans. The movie’s namesake, after all, was plastered all over the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated in 1973 after he won racing’s legendary Triple Crown.
But director Randall Wallace (who was nominated for an Oscar for his “Braveheart” screenplay) knows how to tell a story. He knew the real drama and intrigue behind the racehorse’s legendary win never played out in a magazine cover story.
“I wanted to discover this story’s soul,” Wallace told us during a recent press junket stop at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead. “And that soul is really this incredible woman, Penny Chenery and her determination and drive and the team surrounding her and this amazing horse.”
Until her father’s death, Penny Chenery (played by Diane Lane) was a housewife and mother who only entered the exclusive boys’ club of horse racing in order to save the family business.
Lane got to meet and do research with the now-retired Chenery (who has a cameo in the film in the Kentucky Derby sequence) as she prepared for the role.
“Penny was living up to her father’s legacy and the family business,” Lane told Intel. “Even when she got hijacked by the media, she refused to stoop to defend herself.”
In one powerful scene with Secretariat trainer Lucien Laurin (played by the scene-stealing John Malkovich), Penny puts her team on notice that losing is not an option.
And yet when new evidence comes to light after the heated discussion, Penny seeks out her trainer and jockey to apologize ( As one female media rep whispered in an advance press screening last month, “You’d never see a man do that!”).
“Most women are born apologists,” Lane explained. “We’re always supposed to factor in people’s feelings. I was really grateful to be able to show the full dimensions of this multi-faceted woman. And yes, when the stakes are that high, that includes anger. Anger has a place.”
Throughout the film, Malkovich’s Lucien Laurin dresses in one hilarious period-perfect pastel-hued polyester nightmare after another (particularly his golfing attire in his opening scene).
How did Lane manage to act opposite him while staring at his wardrobe?
Lane did s a spit take into her iced tea glass, laughed and replied: “John didn’t even blink when it came to the wardrobe! We got along so well. He has a powerhouse of options available to him and he left no stone unturned with the energy he brought to this film. He was as sold on this story as anybody on the set. In Secretariat, I think Penny realized she had been given this amazing gift, a gift she in turn shared with the world.”
“Secretariat” opens in theaters today.