Molly Parker Costars in Jockey
by Staff Editors
(March 1, 2022 – Toronto, ON) Jockey, which opens March 4 in Toronto (Bell Lightbox), Vancouver (International Village) and Montreal, is the latest offering from American filmmakers Clint Bentley and Greg Kwedar. They began their careers together in the early 2010s after graduating from college and finding they had similar interests in telling stories. They began making shorts and documentaries, always having the goal of one day making narrative features together.
“We’re both writer-director-producers,” Bentley said. “So we both write together, and then one of us directs and the other produces.”His father was a jockey. While he was born and raised in Florida, his father raced all over. “So I was raised behind the barns at horse tracks.” After his father’s passing, countless colleagues told Bentley stories of his dad’s career – how he had been kicked out of the house at age 17 and, with no money, became a jockey, living in barrack-like dorms on the backside of racetracks. Bentley himself recalled, while in college, helping his father, who by that time had become a trainer. “I remember, even then, thinking, ‘This world of horse racing is so interesting, behind these barns.’ It was fascinating – and nothing like the way I had seen it ever portrayed in movies.”
He took his creative partner, Kwedar, who knew nothing about horse racing, to a track in Houston. The two slept in a tack room, with all of the horse equipment, and spent time behind the barns. The little details began to come out – like the cheap coffee makers “full of some weird tar-like substance, that was like their homemade recipe for some way to win a race,” Kwedar laughs. And hearing the loudspeakers throughout the barns kick in as the sun rises, a morning prayer, walking to the rails on the track and hearing horses and jockeys, the whole place coming to life. “It’s just magic.”
Kwedar saw what his colleague had in mind. “In that moment, I looked to Clint and said, ‘You’re absolutely right. This is a film. We have to do this.’ And something that comes from a much deeper place than just watching races – we’ve seen that already. But it was in watching these morning exercises, with horses going in all different directions, the personalities, the people that make all this happen, that was the untapped potential.”
In the summer of 2017, the two shot a short proof-of-concept short film at a live racetrack, to figure out if their approach could work – embedding themselves in a live track environment, and doing it safely. But also, and equally important, how to make both Hollywood actors and first-time actors – real jockeys at the track – all feel real, and on the same plane of reality. “So often,” says Bentley, “you see a movie that tries to do that, and as a viewer, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, there’s a Hollywood actor talking to a real person.’ You can feel the unreality of the movie, bumping into reality.” With both talented, skilled actors, and the pair’s own experience coming from the documentary world, they indeed achieve both. The audience is embedded in real jockey life, and watching people, not actors, living in that life.
Bentley and Kwedar cast union actors in the three major roles, all of whom were excited to work in such an intimate production, away from the bureaucracy of Hollywood studio productions, even to the point of doing their own hair and makeup. “There were no cast trailers, no cast chairs,” describes Bentley. “They came to this movie completely without ego, and in complete service to the characters. They just folded themselves into the crew and into the world, as much as anybody else.”
The duo had worked with Clifton Collins Jr. on their last feature, Transpecos, and, as Bentley said, “We realized his immense talent and range, which we realized is not being utilized by other filmmakers right now.” The three became close friends, and once Bentley and Kwedar began developing Jockey, knew they had only one actor in mind for the part, even while they were writing. “We just felt we’ve got this incredible gift in Clifton that the world doesn’t know about yet, and we can really mine it for everything.”
“When they pitched me this story,” the veteran actor recalled, “the roles were actually reversed. It was more about the mentor finding this young kid, and it was really the kid’s story. It was a good, airtight script. But then they told me they had come up with the idea to make it more about Jackson, and I would then be the lead. And then they went and wrote another version.” Either way, Collins was keen to dive in head first, no matter what. “I wasn’t looking to make a film about a jockey, but this is one of those creative collaborations that any artist longs for. I trust them with so much. I go on any journey they call me for.”
The presence of a strong personal friendship between the filmmakers and the actor, as well as Collins’s penchant for reaching deeply to connect with experiences from his own life, make his Jackson immediately believable and accessible. “He’s a brilliant actor, incredibly talented and in control of his craft,” notes his director. “But he’s also a very deep individual, and has been through a lot and seen a lot.”
Co-star, Molly Parker added, “He has an old fashioned Hollywood part of him, combined with an Actor’s Studio part of him. You can see, it’s the only place he wants to be.”
Parker plays Ruth, the trainer Jackson rides for. Bentley and Kwedar had always loved her work on other series, such as Deadwood and House of Cards, and, while writing the script for Jockey, with Collins already aboard, they wrote the part of Ruth solely with her in mind. “There were no backups,” says Bentley. “We were always going to start there and hope she said ‘Yes.’”
“They sent me a really beautiful letter, explaining the kind of movie they wanted to make,” Parker recalled. “I hadn’t done a really small film in a long time,” something that had great appeal after working so often on big sets. “I talked to them on the phone, and got a sense of how they wanted to make the film, and that was really exciting to me.
In addition to the script, Parker was sent the proof-of-concept short, as well as a Look Book for her character, made up of images which represented how Bentley viewed Ruth. “The short was so subjective, from the point of view of the jockey – it was like being up there on the horse. It was so visceral – you could just feel it. And the Look Book – it just made me think, ‘These guys are the real deal. They’re artists, filmmakers, visual storytellers.’ I was excited for the first time in a very long time.”
Parker was immediately keen to find out more, even in their first conversation. “Even across the phone,” says Kwedar, “there is a presence she has. You find her joy in the work, in the process. Her curiosity is so alive. She immediately had all the questions of things she perceived about what it meant to be Ruth in this world, the contradictions at play – of pain, the beauty, the sorrow and the triumph. She perceives things that most people just can’t touch.”
“When she’s doing a scene with you, she just turns it on, and she just pulls you in. The tractor beam’s on. She’s literally magnetic,” said Collins.
Jockey opens March 4 in Toronto (Bell Lightbox), Vancouver (International Village) and Montreal and will open throughout the spring in other cities. All images courtesy of Canadian distributor Mongrel Media and Sony Pictures Classics.
Also see: Molly Parker’s filmography.
SOURCE: Mongrel Media