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Ride Like a Girl (2019), Directed by Rachel Griffiths

Q & A With Rachel Griffiths: Ride Like a Girl

When Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the race that stops the nation, her Melbourne Cup triumph was always movie-worthy. Add to this Australian screen delight Rachel Griffiths who sat in the Director’s chair for the first time plus solid performances from the cast, Ride Like a Girl has seamlessly translated to the big screen. It’s been an enormous four years in the process, going from ‘hey, this’ll make a good film!’ to being released at your local cinema. I had the pleasure of chatting to Rachel about her unwavering dedication to this uplifting true story of overcoming all odds, both on and off the track:

If you could choose only one for ‘Ride Like a Girl’: critical success or box office hit, which would it be?

Rachel: 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 upon 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 for audiences in remote bush outposts to girls in the city. Also boys! It’s not just a so-called chick-flick. 

It’s a high-spirited story: a solid close group of children and hard-working, gruff father who wasn’t seen as able to handle life moving so fast and 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 (of the film) and the other beautifully shot-film-making crafts put into this. And Stevie (Payne) alongside some truly get-up-out-of-your-seat-and-cheer moments. 

Was the movie hard to pitch or gain interest?

Rachel: 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. It took a year to get a script together to confidently approach the best actors – it’s 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?

Rachel: Teresa 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 and beaming screen presence. Between indie pictures and her open-hearted strength in Hacksaw Ridge, I knew she cover the ground needed here. 

Teresa emotes passionate strive, doesn’t she?

Rachel:  I knew I needed an actress that men loved and don’t feel threatened by, 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 how men love Jennifer Lawrence, women also want to be her friend. 

Did you learn from your previous directors, making this debut?

Rachel: 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 laugh or cry. They were your own audience. I hate doing a take when the director is stone-face. Working for Mel Gibson for instance, he laughed a lot, encouraged and trusted all in one. 

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

Rachel: That was his first film. The thing about John Lee Hancock, 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 not yet been on screen. I’d keep close to my camera operator and continue rolling resets so as not to disturb the flow.

Did Stevie Payne have acting class tips from Sam (Neill) on set? He’s a natural!

Rachel:  I think he brought out the best in Sam Neill actually. We did have an extremely good coach – Greg Saunders – working with Stevie and children running lines off camera, constantly developing their confidence and screen skills. He 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. 



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