I recently had the opportunity to meet and interview Kevin Costner, Coach Jim White, cast and real life heroes behind McFarland USA Movie. McFarland USA opens in theaters on February 20th. “McFarland, USA” movie is inspired by a 1987 true story, in which an inexperienced group of young Latino runners with exceptional athletic skills and determination rise to become champions under the leadership of their coach, Jim White.
Meeting the Actors Behind McFarland USA Movie
An EXCLUSIVE Interview with Kevin Costner
All of the actors connected to their characters to bring McFarland USA to life. Kevin Costner plays Jim White, the McFarland High School Coach. Although he was born in Southern California, Kevin Costner also lived in Central California areas of Visalia, California near many farming areas. It is through this experience that he was able to connect to his character and bring Coach Jim White to life.
Here is what he had to say about playing the role of Coach Jim White, how he felt about doing the role in McFarland and life wisdom that applies to all of us.
What appealed to you about the Jim White Character?
Kevin Costner: I had read the story some time ago over 10 years ago. But I had read about it in Sports Illustrated. I remember being very taken with it. I had lived in the Central Valley in Visalia and actually played McFarland in high school baseball. I was taken with the story, and then of course closed the page and moved on with my life. Then this movie came up, this shining cloud Niki Caro and said, “Would you be in this movie?” For that to match up was really a nice thing for me, and it was a beautiful thing, actually.
To play Jim, who, you know, there’s these men and women all over America who are affecting our young people. And relationships that coaches establish with young people is something that carries through their life if it’s done right. There’s not a lot of Jim Whites, but there are Jim Whites, and he represents the best, really, of the best.
It’s almost biblical; our children have a hard time listening to their parents, right? There’s a moment in time where kids really don’t want to hear anything from their parents. But a coach can take on that thing, and boy, if they are of the cloth that Jim White came from, a very graceful, very quiet man, who somehow let them know what was possible.
What was just possible; not that they were gonna get there, but this is possible for you, a goal. And Jim White, in just kind of putting the goal out in front of them, look what happened. Champions. Look – they did – the exceeded beyond their expectations, so it’s a great lesson to us, McFarland, that if we give our children, our young men, our young women goals, we let them see what’s possible, they can exceed beyond their own wildest expectations. It’s just a very good lesson, this movie. So I was proud to play the essence of Jim White. I’m not Jim White.
You know, I think we’d all like to be Jim White in some way. But it was a pleasure to be able to do that, kind of from that Sports Illustrated article make this giant circle to actually being in the movie. I mean that feels like a movie, doesn’t it?
Question: How did it feel to play this role in McFarland
Kevin Costner: I’ve grown up in Ventura, and also in Visalia. I’ve driven down these roads and I saw people working in those fields. I played and fought and had friends where their families were pickers in Saticoy, California, a little Mexican barrio school that I went to. But I didn’t invest the way I did until Niki brought me this movie. Bending down to work and seeing a field go forever, understanding that this is forever, this is every week, this is every day in all kinds of weather, I have an appreciation of who these people are, this is as American story as you can possibly have.
You think apple pie and baseball’s American? No. McFarland is way more American than any of those things. Those are pastimes. What’s American – I’m gonna get real sentimental here.
There is no American story than parents who are willing to do anything to better their children, to give their children a chance. There’s nothing more American, and it’s been playing out over the last 300 years, here. McFarland is not some weird little town. Poor McFarland? No. Number one, there’s a mythology around McFarland because their lives changed when they understood that they could be champions and repeat that idea. The simplicity of there’s nothing more noble than a father and a mother making an opportunity for their child, knowing that their life is gonna be hard. And there’s something very noble about that, to me; something incredibly heroic.
Question: You did a lot of different cameras over a lot of different genres. Do you have any character that you have not done yet that you want to do?
Kevin Costner: I’ve been able to do a lot of things in the movies. I’ve been able to run with the buffalo, I’ve been able to pitch a perfect game in Yankee Stadium, in the bathtub with Susan Sarandon.
I’ve had a lot of chance to do a lot of things. I enjoy sports, but I enjoy sports so much to the point that I wouldn’t do the movie unless I thought it had a chance to be good. That’s how much I like them. I’m not dying to do a sports thing and have it just look average. There’s nothing that I covet out there. I wait for something to come a long that really is a clear sound that I can respond to, and that I can just really move to it. I’m not looking for the next sports movie at all, by any stretch. I did two sports movies back to back – Field of Dreams and Bull Durham, and no one thought that was a smart idea.
But those movies separated themselves so much. If I plan my life so much in advance, I’ll miss this. I would have missed McFarland by getting in my mind what I’m going to do in my life. I mean we all have to have our north star we kind of fix on and we go to. But life is so much about the things that bump into you. I was – it was really happy, and – you know, how this really happened. And Niki and I know the story more than anybody, but it’s one I treasure.
An Exclusive Interview with the REAL McFarland USA Coach Jim White
I also had the honor and privilege to meet the real life McFarland High School Coach Jim White. Meeting the real life hero behind the McFarland movie was a once in a lifetime event. Coach White reminds me a lot of the coaches I had in high school who are dedicated to their teams not only on the field, but off the field. They instill drive, determination and perseverance in young athletes that carry them on not only through high school, but help mold them into future leaders.
Question: What does it take from your heart to do all this? For these kids to have a better life?
Jim 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. But it’s how we let the problems affect you in life that’s the main thing, that’ll get you down. So yeah, these kids were my kids. Thank you.
Question: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how the cross country program at the high school has changed the town overall, or what impact it’s made on the fabric of the community.
Jim White: As an example right now, our town is really changing. They’re really picked up this thing with cross country so much so that we now have a new city logo. It’s not the heartbeat of agriculture or whatever they showed on the first one. I don’t even know where that first sign came from in that movie. It now has a runner, running through the field – a silhouette of a runner running through the field. They gave this to the high school for a scholarship: whoever comes up with the best city logo.
A girl developed this. Underneath it – underneath the silhouette of a runner running through the fields, you have “Tradition, unity, and excellence.” So that has really changed our whole city. Our school came up with a new logo. We have now a water tank that’s 20 by 80 feet in the town that’s completely dedicated to our state championships. And the silhouettes of runners, a big sunset, the big cougar coming out of the State of California, and their names are on the water tower; everybody’s names that were state champions there.
Question: Do you think this film will inspire kids that were in your situation when you guys were younger?
Jim White: I do. I definitely do. I think it’s such an inspiration to see that kids can come out of the fields, and kids can have some success with the right attitude and with the work ethics that you can pick up from cross country. I definitely do feel that it will inspire a lot of kids to go on and do better, I’m sure.
An Exclusive Interview with McFarland Director Niki Caro
We also interviewed McFarland USA Director Niki Caro. She write, produced and directed several films. She was drawn to this film because it tells a story about real life people in a real life community.
Question: What was it about the story that attracted you and fits with your film making sensibilities?
Niki Caro: I was inspired by Jim White, the original team, the scale of their achievement, and the legacy that they left and that goes on. I was really inspired by the people, by how hard they work, the commitment to their families, their faith and their community. It was great for me to be able to light that up. I really get a big kick out of actually working with real communities and this is a real story.
You drive to McFarland and you’ll see a bunch of people you see on screen. It’ll look like it does on screen. It’s deeply satisfying to me to go in and tell a story that is not only meaningful, but is true and real, and tell it with the real people. If that weren’t enough, to go in with the likes of these people (pointing to cast), has been a deeply, deeply satisfying experience for me and I hope it will be for the audience, too.
It’s not often you meet people that make you feel like you can anything and overcome any obstacle, but that is exactly how I felt after meeting the cast and real life heroes of McFarland. McFarland USA Movie will be in theaters on February 20th. SAVE the date and make sure to take your family and go see it.
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