Last week I shared my interviews with Kevin Costner and the real inspiration behind the new Disney film McFarland USA, so today we are talking about the boys who brought the story to life on screen. That’s right – I had an opportunity to interview the 7 actors who played the inspirational runners in the movie.
What you might not know is that three of the actors in the movie are REAL Mcfarland athletes. I just think it is so awesome that they cast three real high school kids from McFarland to portray former McFarland runners. Sergio Avelar (cast as Victor Puentes), Ramiro Rodriguez (cast as Danny Diaz), and Michael Aguero (cast at Damacio Diaz) had their lives turned upside down when they were cast in a huge Disney film. That is a dream come true for these boys!
If you have already seen McFarland USA (it hit theaters last Friday), you already got to know the characters in the film, but it’s time to meet the actors behind the film in snippets of my interview with them.
Here are the boys we interviewed:
- Carlos Pratts (cast as Thomas Valles)
- Hector Duran (cast as Johnny Sameniego)
- Sergio Avelar (cast as Victor Puentes )
- Johnny Ortiz (cast as Jose Cardenas)
- Rafael Martiniez (cast as David Diaz )
- Michael Aguero (cast as Damacio Diaz)
- Ramiro Ramirez (cast as Danny Diaz )
Q: What was it like you all working with Kevin Costner?
JOHNNY: It was a great experience, I mean, working with Kevin Costner, of course, he’s a great legend, such a humble guy. We had tons of experience, I mean, showing him a lot of our life experience like there’s one moment, there’s a moment where, ah, Hector tried to correct his line [LAUGHING]. At the time, it was, ah, it was a funny moment, but he didn’t say it in anger when he said in a funny way, of course, Kevin Costner, he’s just amazing. I feel blessed.
MICHAEL: He was more stories than a library, I swear.[LAUGHING]
Q: How much time do you spend with the people you portray to get to know their character?
HECTOR: The whole period of us filming in McFarland, I got the opportunity to spend time with the real Johnny Sameniego, who is the character I play. He’s really a great guy. He invited me to dinner, gave me a tour of the city, and it just reflects the people of the community.
RAMIRO: I’ve actually encountered them throughout my whole life. Danny Diaz was actually my counselor in high school. And it was so amazing, the first time I went to go see him. So it was real, real fun getting to know him more.
SERGIO: My story is kind of like Ramiro’s because I’m actually from McFarland as well. And Thomas Valles, which Carlos plays… he was actually my running coach since I was a little kid in elementary. This guy is just so humble. He always took time off of his job and he would go travel with his runners. He would take them to Oregon, just anywhere around the nation just to go seem them run. You know, the Diaz brothers, they still live there. I mean, to see all the support- that they still have for the community is just amazing.
Q: So for the two of you [Sergio and Ramiro] because you are there and this is a story of your town, what is it like for you? And what is the reaction from the community around you?
SERGIO: It’s truly a blessing. It’s still so surreal. I mean, there’s times where it’s just like, is this for real? Like, is this really happening?
RAMIRO: I just wake up every morning and I go to the building where they put the runners, and I just look in it every morning and I say, “It’s not a dream. It’s not a dream. It’s not a dream.” The town has changed for itself for the better. There used to be a lot of crime back then, like gangsters and stuff, but like now it’s really holding down it’s spot for the national spotlight. It’s really coming together and being a community. How it should be.
Now people are actually kind of proud to say that they’re from McFarland. You know, back then it was known as, where are you from? I’m from McFarland. Where’s that at? Oh, you know, between Bakersfield and Visalia. Oh, that town that smells likes cows. [LAUGHING.] That’s what we were known for but it’s just like people are so proud.
Q: Carlos, how was this movie different from other films and TV you’ve done in the past? How was this different for you?
CARLOS: Doing a movie is so different than TV shows in the sense to where it’s so fast. TV’s very fast and you have 60 pages when you shoot a pilot, so you don’t know where your character’s gonna go. But when you do a movie, you have a beginning, middle and end. So it’s like within these 120 pages, I create my arc. So you have a lot of trust in the script, and then you get to explore. And so I think you have a little more confidence in whatever you’re doing in the film, as opposed to TV, you just have no idea.
You shoot the pilot. They tell you a little bit, and then, um, the scripts start going. And then basically chemistry and what’s happening with the actors. Your character develops or dies. [LAUGHING.]
Q : Just out of curiosity, how much running do you guys actually do for the movie, and were all the running scenes filmed at the same time or over like a week, or was it split up between various scenes?
HECTOR : We did a lot more running than you see in the film, because in reality, we had to train for the whole month. And every single day, we would run, run 5 or 6 miles as a warm up, and then we would have to go into some hardcore elliptical, riding the bikes and everything. We did a lot of training. And then when we were filming on set, the amount of takes we did and the amount of running and different angles and everything, that amounted to more than the actual 5K race that would be in the film. So I guess, we ran a lot more than you think.
Q: What’s the most influential real life lesson that you took from this movie?
JOHNNY: I think as an actor, what I take from this is the message that it’s giving. I like to pick and choose my roles because it’s very important that I choose these roles. As Latino-Hispanics we’re viewed as gangbangers. Why can’t we be the doctors? Why can’t we be the lawyers? Why can’t we be the detectives, you know?
HECTOR: I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned throughout this film, which I already knew, but it just reinforces it even more, is the idea of equality and not judging a book by its cover. As you see in the film, Kevin Costner’s character comes into this small town, and he kind of judges the book by its cover. But once you get deeper into what’s real and all the values that are there, you see that everybody’s equal. Everybody had their own opinions. The only thing that separates us is the color of our skin, so we should try to treat each other equally.
At the end of the interview all the boys were so humble and talked about how grateful they all are for the doors that this Disney movie has opened for them. Overall, the boys were amazing and did a fantastic job in the film. If you haven’t seen it yet, go see McFarland USA in theaters because I can promise that you won’t be disappointed.