McFarland, USA is the heartwarming film that chronicles the real life Coach Jim White’s journey from a down-and-out coach to a coach of a high school with multiple state championships under their belt. But the film goes beyond winning and losing, and as White learned, there is a cultural gap that needed to be addressed. There are also themes of family, faith, and and a community uniting as one to overcome some difficult odds both on the track and socially.
We had a chance to talk to the starts of the film Rafael Martinez, Ramiro Rodriguez, and Michael Aguero, as well as the real-life Coach Jim White. Hit the jump to check it out.
Rafael, tell us what it was like to portray someone like David Diaz.
Rafael Martinez: When I met David Diaz, the first thing I saw was David’s smile and how happy of a person he was, and it was just so ecstatic to meet my own counterpart that I was to play. But what I understood about David Diaz is that he was a man of God, and what he did was he held his spirituality very close. So I used that to portray David Diaz as much as possible in this movie.
Michael could you talk a little bit about working on a film of this size, and whether or not you would like to pursue any more roles after the film?
Michael Aguero: Honestly it was an exhilarating feeling to work in a film like this, especially with the cast we had. Overall, I’d like to say, that, you know, it was amazing and I do look to pursue acting.
Coach White, you know, sort of the big, obvious question is how does it feel to have a movie made about you and your – your first championship team?
Jim White: It’s very, very – uh – realistic in the way that we’re just thrilled to death that it’s happening, and who’s playing me. Couldn’t have asked for anything better. Actually, somebody asked me yesterday who would have been my first choice, and I said, “Well, probably Clint Eastwood, maybe, but he’s too old.” The only reason I said that is because a lot of the kids, during my teaching, they always called me Clint because the movies were being shown weekly, you know, and so – but it’s very inspiring for us to have this movie about us.
Ramaro, in the film, you don’t look like you’re in the best shape. But you still persevered. How did you manage to do it? Did you have to be in that shape?
Ramaro Rodriguez: I wasn’t like this until like my junior year. I had one year off of soccer because I – that’s what I do; I play soccer. After that, like I just gained weight, and ever since then, I just can’t lose it, and like no matter what I do, like I try and I try. And man, I could run like how I used to, but like I just can’t lose the wait, but. I mean I’m pretty fit for myself, I think.
Jim, the first year of coaching your first cross country team you beat all sorts of odds, and did it again for many years after, could you tell us a little bit about your philosophy on life and coaching?
White: I think my whole philosophy on everything is about attitude. I had to have a good attitude, and I had to transfer that to the kids, a good attitude. In order to achieve anything, it has to be your attitude. That is the only thing that you can control. I can’t control other feelings about me. I can’t control what happened yesterday or what’s going to maybe happen tomorrow, but the most important thing for me to transfer to these kids is the attitude of hard work can transfer into the classroom, and into your jobs, and into their real lives. So when you have problems in life, and we had problems with building the team and outfitting the team, putting shoes on the team. It’s how we let the problems affect you in life that’s the main thing, that’ll get you down.
Michael, Ramiro, and Rafael, cross country is a very tough sport, could you please tell us what you did to portray the shape and conditions of your characters before, during, and after reach competition?
Martinez: So I had run cross country for one year in my freshman year of college, and I had some understanding of what it was, right? But it was more for recreational purposes, just for me to learn what this is, just to get out and try something new. Two years later is when I got the role in McFarland. We went to training, and this was the real cross country. I mean every day, five to six, sometimes seven days a week just running.
Aguero: It was like P90X on steroids.
Martinez: It was just ridiculous. And I think we all, especially me, had a new appreciation for the sport of cross country, because it really is a difficult sport. It’s mind over body, and it’s incredible. And I admire the sport so much that I run every day, now.
Aguero: It also helps if you have a group of boys that you know push you, and don’t let you give up.
Rodriguez: It’s really funny because they had one month and a half, and I only had one week. One week. But I mean, I guess my part didn’t really have to do a lot of running, but yeah, I did. Um, but I never did cross country. I did track and soccer, of course, but after training with these guys, after training with Master College, it was amazing. And I sometimes just put on my shoes and go run, also. And like it’s really a good sport. Like I like it. I can say it’s my second favorite, now.
It looks like you all have prior athletic training, but no acting experience, so please talk to us about the learning curve in both areas?
Rodriguez: I was really intimidated, because like I mean in McFarland, we don’t have resources to act or anything, you know? And like Niki Caro and executive producer Mario, he really – they really pushed me. They really – they said, “Oh, we have your back, like anything you need,” like with the – and then like next thing you know, like two or three weeks into filming, they fired the acting coach. I’m like: what?
I was like: I thought you guys had my back? You know, like I mean it’s a great experience, and I mean I had Mr. Diaz, Danny Diaz as a counselor in high school. It was just amazing, like knowing him and like having conversations with him when I got in trouble, like really helped me to portray him and everything. It was nice.
Martinez: Well, there’s certainly some – not some – very intimidating; a lot of trepidation portraying a real person. Because it’s very scary. You never want to, you know, offend anybody, or just you always want to remain true, and uh… But like I said, like Michael was saying, as soon as I met – or we met our counterparts, it was just easy from there. It was just very scary, but as soon as we met – when we met who – we got to know who they were, and it was just so much easier to go on from there.