Interview: Filmmakers Clint Bentley & Greg Kwedar on ‘Jockey’, Clifton Collins Jr. and More!

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Jockey Clint Bentley and Greg Kwedar Interview

“He asks so many questions that it gets to the point where you’re like, ‘Why are you asking this?’ And you don’t realize what he’s thinking about and exploring until a scene that you’re shooting five days later and you’re like, ‘Oh, this was the thing that he was asking for.’ – Director Clint Bentley on Clifton Collins Jr.

Jockey is easily one of the best films of the past year. It centers on an aging jockey (Clifton Collins Jr.) who is hoping win one last title for his longtime trainer (Molly Parker). But the arrival of a young rookie rider (Moises Arias), who claims to be his son, might make his title dream impossible.

The film, directed by Clint Bentley and co-written by both Bentley and Greg Kwedar, features some excellent performances, beautiful imagery and story you wont soon forget. In this interview, Bentley and Kwedar talk about the film, working with Clifton Collins Jr., and how they came up with the memorable last shot of the film. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. For the full interview, check out the video below or on YouTube.

How did you guys come up with the initial story?

Clint Bentley: My dad was a jockey, and I grew up in this world of horse racing and once I got a little older and became a filmmaker, I realized that there were quite a few horse racing movies but none of them really captured the feeling in my mind of what it felt like to be behind the barns and be in this weird little family that’s created back there. And so that’s where the initial germ came from.

You wrote this specifically for Clifton?

Greg Kwedar: Yeah. We began our friendship actually in our previous film, Transpecos, he was one of the stars and immediately we were amazed by just how interior he is as an actor. How deep he goes into every word and gesture. But then at the same time, he doesn’t sacrifice that for really being of the world he’s acting in and drawing so much from the people there. And so that made an immense impression on us.

But after shooting that film, in the years between both these projects, our friendship deepened, and we became so much aware of other qualities about him as a human being that we hadn’t seen yet on film. And we just thought, what if this movie could be a vessel for everything that we know of Clifton and admire about him.

He’s such a wonderful actor and he is terrific in this. I would imagine he doesn’t need a lot of directing.

Clint Bentley: No. Clifton does so much in his research, and he asks so many questions that it gets to the point where you’re like, “Why are you asking this?” And you don’t realize what he’s thinking about and exploring until like a scene that you’re shooting five days later and you’re like, “Oh, this was the thing that he was asking for.”

But it was really brilliant to work with him as a director because on the one hand, no, he doesn’t need much because he gets so deep into the character and so deep into the world that he knows so much. But then any little adjustments that I would give him he just takes them and runs with them and makes them better than any little note you give him.

How did you guys find Molly and Moises?

Greg Kwedar: Well, we were aware of them just because of the tremendous work they’ve been doing their whole careers. You know, Molly was someone we had in mind from the writing phase. It wasn’t sort of built with her in mind, but as soon as it was like, “Okay, who could play this?” She was without a doubt, our first choice. And it’s really just this kind of presence thing she has. It’s an energy that comes into every scene she steps through. And also, just kind of all the secrets she keeps behind her eyes, there’s so many mysteries to her.

And Moises, Clint had originally imagined the role of Gabriel as a professional real-life jockey. And if any actor could play it, it would be Moises and if he said no, we were gonna cast an actual jockey in the part. But thankful he did because he does so much in his stillness and in his restraint, there’s so much feeling behind everything he does.

The other actual jockeys in the film, they were actually jockeys?

Clint Bentley: Yeah. They were actual jockeys, they were actual trainers, actual grooms and even the veterinarian was played by the general manager of the track, Vincent Francia. And so, it was something that just brought so much authenticity with having real jockeys play jockeys and use our actors to kind of fold into their world. Just brought so much more than anything you could describe to an actor in terms of, you know, signing on these supporting parts.

That final scene in the film, that is just like the cherry on top of this great movie. Did you guys initially know that you were gonna do that whole tracking shot? Just following Clifton’s face, it goes through this whole range of emotions and it’s like a life lived in that minute.

Clint Bentley: It took a while to get to that ending. We had written, I think, five or six different endings and everyone had a different idea for an ending. I had one, Adolfo had one. And we ended up landing one where Greg came up with this very simple thing of just being on his face as we had been for the movie, and it was so perfect.

And then as soon as we kind of orchestrated it and gave Clifton what we were gonna do, Clifton did not need much instruction. He was just like, “I got it. I’ll do what I do.” And yeah, so much plays across his face, more than anything you could say or anything like that.

Greg Kwedar: Also that musical track Felicity by Hologramme was something that Clint had put together a playlist for the whole casting crew. And this track somehow became our anthem. We would listen to it every night driving home from the racetrack to the hotel. And so, for it to be the thing that closes out this film is so fitting.

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