Diane Lane is one of the lucky actresses who was able to make the leap from child stardom to a successful Hollywood career. But her love of acting is not the only childhood obsession to survive her adolescence. In her new movie “Secretariat,” Lane brings her youthful love of horses to the screen in the role of Penny Chennery, owner of the 1973 Triple Crown-winning horse, Secretariat.
“Secretariat” follows Penny, a housewife with no horseracing experience, and her trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) through their improbable race to the 1973 Triple Crown victory. Against all odds, Penny cleverly navigates the male-dominated racing world and comes out on top, proving that her horse Secretariat was one of the greatest horses of all time.
Lane herself was taken with horses from a young age, and refers to them as her “totem animal” during a time when she was a child actor working with professional adults. “I was already an adult hiding in this little 8-year-old body except for that dream of horses,” she says.
She also explains how she followed Secretariat’s races as a child, and remembers how his victory served as a symbol of hope in the otherwise pessimistic 1970s. “When Secretariat saved the day, everybody was talking about it, and everybody had smiles on their faces, and joy was around again,” she says. “I remember the cynicism just blowing away for a little while. And I mean that sincerely because I basically grew up around adults.”
Lane made her screen debut opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in George Roy Hill’s “A Little Romance” in 1979, at the age of 13. By that point, she had already been acting for many years in the theater, but the film shot her to the height of child stardom. She appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in August 1979 as one of Hollywood’s Whiz kids. But throughout her youthful career, Lane clung to horses as a powerful symbol of both her lost childhood and her career potential.
“I remember Secretariat,” she says. “It’s like Elvis, it’s just indelible in your mind. And it conjures up, for me, everything that I believed about horses, which is that they’re capable of greatness.”
Lane’s career continued through her adult life for which she has received much critical acclaim. Her performance in Adrian Lyne’s 2002 film, “Unfaithful,” even garnered Lane Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Actress.
Randall Wallace, the director of “Secretariat” is best known as the Academy Award winning writer of “Braveheart” and “Pearl Harbor.” He also won critical acclaim for “We Were Soldiers” and “The Man in the Iron Mask,” which he wrote, directed, and produced.
“My goal was to convey the eternal verities that courage matters, that hope prevails, that love works,” he said. “And that’s what I wanted this movie to say.”
Wallace, like Lane, also came into the project with a youthful fondness for horses. As a young man, Wallace had worked as a manager of animal shows, tending to barnyard animals at a theme park outside of his native Nashville. This experience, along with his extensive training in the martial arts, helps him align Secretariat’s physical achievements with the historical events he depicted in his previous films.
“I don’t think there is a division when you get down to it between what is physical and spiritual, and mental, and the wisdom of all the martial arts will tell you that,” he says. Comparing Secretariat’s performance to famed opera star Paravotti’s, Wallace says, “Like Secretariat, there’s something that goes beyond what anyone thought was possible, and that, to me, is the transcendence.”