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Ride Like A Girl: Rachel Griffiths Interview

When first winning female jockey Michelle Payne won the race that stops the nation, the Melbourne Cup triumph was always movie worthy. The so called sport of kings is subjective and does not always translate onto the big screen with success. Phar Lap (1983) & The Cup (2011) are two inspirational journeys with the silver screen stamp of approval.

Born in Newcastle – first time in the Director’s chair for Ride Like a Girl – supreme actress, Novocastrian Rachel Griffiths does an admirable take capturing solid performances and emotional atmosphere. Also watch for a cameo as a nun holding a TV antenna. Champion Hugh Bowman, the cinematic racing sequences he’d ever seen to actually show you what it’s like to be a jockey, fellow hoop Kerrod McEvoy backed that up, probably because he’s married to Michelle’s sister.

After an enormous four years in the process of ‘hey, this will make a good film’ to being released at your local multiplex, an Oscar nominee (Hilary and Jackie) Rachel tells me why she believes this is a story for everyone to relate or certainly be uplifted by a strong willed woman with a bigger than average family overcoming all odds, on and off the track.

Where were you when you heard your Oscar nomination?

RG – My apartment, just arrived home from London. I was alone, it was a big moment. Attending the ceremony was really stressful. Nice to be there alongside Emily (fellow nominee Emily Watson), it’s not really me getting made up like a barbie doll, now I’d just wear a tuxedo like many women do.

Was it a hard project to pitch or begin gaining interest?

RG – Easy to pitch, hard to raise finance. We didn’t have a huge commercial star like a Hemsworth but a lot of support from women in the film industry eager to produce a movie with inspirational female attributes in the racing industry rather than just fashion on the field. A year to get script together to approach confidently the best actors, it is one chance and I didn’t want to send a bad draft. Then a year to raise finance, a year ago we shot it to another year later releasing it.

How long did it take to cast Michelle?

RG – Theresa Palmer was my first choice, I don’t think she has ever been given a real arc or journey into a real role start to finish. She kind of had one in Berlin Syndrome (2017), that’s it although still rigorous.

Often she may be cast for her unflappable beauty, a beaming screen presence. Between indie pictures and her open hearted strength in Hacksaw Ridge, I knew she could cover the ground needed here.

Teresa emotes passionate strive.

RG – I knew I needed an actress that men loved…or threatened by her. Allowing them to walk in her shoes to really feel what she goes through, inner feelings.  Men adore her and women don’t want to punch her in the face, quite the rare combo (laughs). To me, it’s like men love Jennifer Lawrence, women also want to be her friend.

Did you learn from your previous directors to make your debut?

RG – Not really as I’m quite good at choreographing a scene but wish I’d taken more time to watch camera movements. Directors I’ve had were mostly people you could make them laugh or cry, they were your own audience. I hate doing a take when the director is stone faced. Working for Mel Gibson for instance, laughed a lot, encouraged and trusted all in one.

John Lee Hancock gained an extraordinary performance from you in The Rookie.

RG – That was his first film. Thing about John Lee, his cinematographer John Schwartzman runs the drive on set. He’s like General Patton (laughs) relentlessly directing the crew while John Lee works closely with all actors becoming one of my biggest inspirations doing Ride Like a Girl, particularly because I had eight actors who had yet been on screen. I’d keep close to my camera operator and continue rolling resets so not to disturb flow.

Did Stevie (Payne) have acting class tips from Sam on set, he’s natural.

RG – I think he brought the best out in Sam Neill actually, we did have an extremely good coach Greg Saunders working with Stevie and children running lines off camera, constantly developing confidence or screen skill. Greg also worked closely with Teresa vocally advising her range from 15 year old to 30 year old shifting pitch as she grew older. He became a benchmark for mannerisms in maturity.

If you could choose only one – Ride like a Girl: critical success or box office hit?

RG – It’s got to be box office, I didn’t direct this to announce myself as a filmmaker. My passion is Michelle’s story, my key stakeholder is Michelle, her extraordinary story and her response to it. Our responsibility collectively as filmmakers is to land it aplomb to the biggest possible audiences. The point is to remind Australians there are many things in life that unite us together. As cheesy as it sounds, I made this emotionally high film from audiences in remote bush outposts to girls in the city, also boys, it’s not just a so called chick-flick. It is a high spirited family story, a solid close group of children and hard working gruff father who was not seen as able to handle life moving so fast refusing assistance from others to help with younger kids. They got through stumbling blocks together, I think those scenes in particular are beautiful. I’d certainly take box office first however critically, I’m hoping they celebrate the performances which is the heartbeat and the other beautifully shot filmmaking crafts put into this and Stevie alongside some truly get up out of your seat and cheer moments.


Shane A. Bassett

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