LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In her new movie, “Secretariat,” Oscar-nominated actress Diane Lane takes the real-life role of Penny Chenery, whose famous race horse, Secretariat, won the Triple Crown in 1973.
In the film, due out on Friday, Chenery goes from housewife to horse racing power player. At first, she was not taken seriously, but she overcame the male-dominated sport. Lane spoke to Reuters about the film and playing a strong-willed woman with an equally strong-minded horse.
Q: What do you think it was about the real Secretariat that made the nation gravitate toward him?
A: “He was born a rock star. His third race in the Triple Crown was when he decided to impart to the world his joy at what he was doing. You could see the amount of passion in this massive creature eating up the track, finding his way in and loving it. You can’t make a horse do that. That is the horse’s decision.”
Q: It took five horses to play Secretariat. What was it like to be surrounded by these strong and powerful creatures?
A: “It’s like the Jimi Hendrix lyrics: ‘Let me stand next to your fire.’ There’s a greatness to the creation of a horse that I just love. My favorite during production was a horse named Longshot. I found him very endearing. I learned to dial down all my inner voices, really tune in and be very Zen with the horse.”
Q: What does the real Penny Chenery think of the film?
A: “I’m so personally, selfishly, sentimentally satisfied that she’s happy with it. To live up to a great woman such as her, and do right by her, I can’t think of anything much more noble to do in my profession than that.”
Q: Did you relate to her?
A: “Penny is quite a force of nature. She’s somebody to live up to. I personally don’t possess all the qualities that I exuded playing her. She’s a role model even for me.”
Q: What do you admire about her?
A: “She never got defensive with the media baiting her, using the word ‘housewife’ like a dirty word and treating her like she had no business being on a race track. She is her father’s daughter. This was the industry of her family, and she had every right to be there.”
Q: When you first met her to prepare, were you nervous?
A: “Completely. (Laughs) I mean, I wanted to like her. It never occurred to me that she wanted to like me, too. We shared stories about our families, what it’s like to be a mom, what it’s like to be a daughter. And what it’s like to carry the flame of the family legacy and believe in it when there are Doubting Toms all around you.”
Q: Penny was a full-time mom when Secretariat came into her life. You also balance work and motherhood. Any similarities?
A: “For Penny, having Secretariat was like adopting a child or having a child left on her doorstep. It took a lot of her attention away from the other kids. I understand the guilt of motherhood in terms of missing moments and not being there. But I was a career woman for a couple of decades when my daughter came along, so it wasn’t like I surprised her with anything. She grew up in it.”
Q: Your daughter is 17 years-old now. Are you ready to have her officially become an adult and go off on her own?
A: “I’m staring down the barrel of the empty nest now. I’m trying daily to rehearse letting go. I’ve heard of people staying really busy so that you don’t sit there and feel your phantom limb all day.”
Q: “How do you plan on handling it?
A: “Well, if she goes to college in New York, I may suddenly get involved in the theater over there again!”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney