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Director Randall Wallace on Secretariat

By Hannah Goodwyn Producer - Moviegoers may not recognize the name Randall Wallace, but it's his writing talent that brought us the blockbuster films Braveheart, Pearl Harbor, and We Were Soldiers. His newest film Secretariat, about the Triple Crown race horse that captured the attention of the nation back in the early 1970s, had him in the director's chair. A seminary student, turned storyteller, Wallace did't watch the famed Kentucky Derby race that secured Secretariat's dominance, but after hearing the story of this horse and his incredible owner, he just had to make the movie.

Recently, spoke with the director about Secretariat, how his Christian faith influences his work, and what audiences can expect from his future movies. Secretartiat is the first movie you've done that centers on a athlete, more specifically a race horse. What drew you to the story?

Randall Wallace: I never saw this as a sports genre film. All of my films have been about extraordinary courage and exemplary heroes. At the heart of those stories, there has always been the message that love prevails. Braveheart, We Were Soldiers, and Pearl Harbor have had a certain mingling of that message with the sense of loss.

Secretariat certainly goes with the quality of sacrifice, but with this story is about pure joy. This celebrates the victory of love prevailing. The horse loved to run. He loved being alive. He loved using the gifts that he had. The woman who owned him (Penny Chenery Tweedy) had to do that, too, against the challenges of other people who didn't believe that she could do what she did. I found that inspiring. It captured me. The movie focuses on the relationship between horse and owner, but it's a little bit more about Mrs. Tweedy herself. Was that intentional from the start and why?

Wallace: The horse is certainly a huge part of the movie and understanding who he was. He's important, but it was intentional to focus a lot on Penny, because in my view most of us don't have the capacity to be Secretariat, but all of us encounter the kind of challenges that Penny faced in terms of having sometimes even the people who love us most not able to believe that we can do what we most aspire to do and Penny having to face that lonely journey to do it. You've said, “a championship heart is a normal heart until it hears and responds to the call of a miracle.” What do you mean by that?

Wallace: Yes. Well, that's what I think, that all of us are made in a miraculous way, that to live at all is a miracle. To love is an even greater one. It is love that makes the normal extraordinary. What is the main take-away from the film?

Wallace: I believe that it's a line I wrote for Penny. When she says to her brother in a critical moment—you know, in this movie, it's normally people that we think of as enemies who are telling us that we can't do something. Her brother is telling her that not only is what she wants to do impossible, but he doesn't even understand why she wants to. And he says, "Why do you want to do this? Why do want to take these risks? Our father was a great man, but we can't go back.” She says, "This isn't about going back. It's about life being ahead of you, and you never know how far you can go unless you run at it." The take-away I would like the audience to have is not just to live, but to live passionately; to live with joy and exuberance. The film features scripture from Job 39 and the song "Oh, Happy Day". Why add faith elements to Secretariat?

Wallace: C.S. Lewis wrote on this same kind of discussion. He said that Christian literature would not be produced by a committee of Bishops deciding to do some writing together. It would be an expression of what somebody who holds those values would make. The purist purpose is heart. I don't think of this movie as containing my personal dogma or my personal doctrine. My faith isn't built on my own understanding of things. My faith is built on the idea that, or on the experience that, life is greater than I can imagine it to be. The way I understand God is that God is not within my explanation or understanding. So I don't try to convince someone of my particular way of looking at things, but I think by affirming that courage matters and hope prevails and love works. I am saying that I am being the truest to what I believe, and I am also reaching across boundaries to connect what I really do believe with others. It's sort of like what John Wesley said, "Let's not argue if our heads are together. If our hearts are together, let's join hands." This is a movie from my heart. Your name is on the song list as having written three of the songs in Secretariat. One being “It's Who You Are”, which speaks to living life as if you’re running a race, similar to what it says in Hebrews 12. Tell me the inspiration behind it.

Wallace: That was how that song came about for me. I was thinking about the themes of this movie, about what it really means. You know the line that a lot of people quote from Braveheart is "every man dies, but not every man really lives." That line came from me exploring the same question in that story. What difference does it make what the main character in Braveheart, William Wallace, does? What do his choices matter if 700 years later he would be dead anyway? My feeling was that it was about who he was and what his life meant. To really live, he had to be willing to die in this way.

When I was thinking about the themes of Secretariat, it seemed to me quite similar. What does it matter if Secretariat wins all three of those races, or if he doesn't? What does it matter to Penny? What is Penny's true race? So I was thinking through that question, and that's when I wrote the song about running the real race. It isn't how fast and how far or who cheers. It's about you being who you are supposed to be, who you are created to be and embracing that. The way that informed me in this was it guided me to create the scene when Penny is speaking with the horse at the end and says to him, "I've realized something. I've already won. I didn't quit.” That, to me, is the deeper piece. She is the victor standing alone with the horse. She didn't have to have the events of the next day. It may, in fact, be that her willingness to let go that way was what helped her create the courage to do what she needed to do to help the horse and let the horse be free enough to run his best race. Diane Lane and John Malkovich embody some strong characters in Secretariat’s story. Tell me a little bit about working with them to make the script come alive on screen.

Wallace: I needed characters who were authentic. I think one of the worst mistakes that Hollywood can make, or anybody can make, is to assume that the audience is somehow slower or foolish or less than the filmmakers are. I think that the audience is actually vastly more intuitive, and caring, and smarter and in touch than we give them credit for being. I needed characters who are completely authentic and believable in what they were doing. So I fought for Diane Lane. It wasn't that the studio was against her, it was just that studios often go through their projections of how much money they can make with different actors and casts. Diane, to me, seems a perfect one; she had that strength and likeability. The same with John Malkovich; I worked with John before, and I knew I wanted his character to be passionate, and almost frightening, and really funny; and he was the perfect actor to play those things. As you mentioned, your movies focus on stories of courage and honor. What are your plans and hopes for your production company, Willhouse Entertainment?

Wallace: I want to build a brand name in which my name means something to people, in which they know that if they are seeing something that is ours, it's going to represent, it's going to inspire, it’s going to give them and the people they love a positive experience. I didn't do it to teach lessons to people. I'm doing it, because I want people to live more fully, to really live in the words that you pray for. It's the way that I really live. You hear a story, and this certainly comes out of my Christian tradition, and it inspires you; in fact, it changes your life. It makes you a different person. You want to participate in the telling, in the sharing, in the community that comes from this sharing of stories like that. That is what my company is about.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Entertainment and Family producer for For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.

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