At the ‘McFarland, USA’ Press Conference last weekend, I had the opportunity to interview Actor Carlos Pratts about his first leading role, as Thomas Valles in Disney's ‘McFarland, USA.'
Born in Texas, Carlos Pratts is an actor who first received critical notice for his portrayal of Gus Ruiz (Demian Bichir’s son) on Season 1 of FX’s “The Bridge.” Prior to that he appeared in such films as “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” the short film “Out of the Fire” and “Coyote.” He guest-starred on series such as “Justified,” “Southland” and “Prime Suspect.”
Carlos Pratts commands the screen in ‘McFarland, USA', as we watch his character Thomas Valles grow from a boy detached from his emotions to a young man with a huge heart for his family and team, much like the love Carlos found within his family of cast members, a bond that showed throughout the press conference.
Carlos Pratts pictured with Director Niki Caro and Hector Duran (“Johnny Sameniego”) at the McFarland USA press conference.
Like Thomas Valles, Carlos Pratts faced trials within his childhood and was able to find courage and strength to rise above those challenges with the help of his childhood ‘Jim White', a mentor that helped him become who he is today.
Carlos Pratts pictured with Actor Kevin Costner (“Jim White”) and Director Niki Caro at the McFarland USA press conference.
As I sat 1:1 with actor Carlos Pratts, we discussed the character in ‘McFarland, USA' he actually auditioned for (no, it was not Thomas), the critical scene in the film that began to break down racial barriers, and the types of films he wants to act in in the future. ‘McFarland, USA’ is rated PG opens in theaters February 20th, 2015.
Interview: Actor Carlos Pratts
Q: Great Film! I love the inspiration in the film, from the runners accomplishments, to the strength within the community, even the strength and support within the White family. Is there an inspirational moment in your life, that helped you relate to the part of Thomas?
Carlos Pratts: Yeah, it's one of those things. Thomas has a lot of hardships before he finds his Jim White, his coach. Thomas has to be the man of the house for the most part because his father has his own demons that he has to battle.
I grew up with a single mother for very much part of my life, and me being the man of the house. My mother was working three jobs, it was just me and her, and I was doing everything I could to help my mom.
My step father comes into my life at a certain point, and much like Thomas, Thomas doesn't really want to know or trust Jim White. I was the same way with my step dad, Louis Pratts. But then Jim White began breaking down those walls and making Thomas the man that he is today, and that's what my stepfather is to me, he's my Jim White, because if it wasn't for him, I would not be here and I would not be the person I am today.
Q: And congratulations on your first leading role. Was this the part you originally auditioned to play? Or did you have another part in mind?
Carlos Pratts: No, no, no. I got the audition and I was reading for David Diaz, and I was super excited to be auditioning for a movie with Kevin Costner. It was really cool. I don't ever really tell my parents what I'm auditioning for, but I told my mom.
I went in and my goal was just to get the role of David Diaz, and I remember reading the script thinking I want to meet the guy who gets Thomas because it's an amazing character.
I read for David, and the cast director told me ‘Carlos, this isn't going to work for David.', and I said ‘Alright, thank you for your time.' and started to leave. She was like no, no, no, I think you're Thomas. From then on, we went through, and here we are today.
Q: I read that Kevin Costner was a great mentor for the young actors in this film, and that you sort of pay it forward as well with your experience as an actor. How was it being the lead actor on the film, and being able to help your teammates like you did?
Carlos Pratts: It's funny, I've been asked that question a few times, and those three guys are naturals. I really didn't have to help them. If they had a questions, absolutely I was there because we are super close. I may have helped with one part, everything else they did is just the awesome people they are that shined on the screen.
Q: And you mention how close you guy are. You see it here in the halls at the press conference. The bond that you all have really shows.
Carlos Pratts: That's great! We're family!
Q: I love the connection between you and Morgan Saylor in the film, even as early as when you help her in front of the lockers, an integral part in the movie. How critical do you think that relationship was in breaking down the walls and creating a bridge between the Whites and their new neighbors?
Carlos Pratts: I think at the time we were doing it we weren't think about how critical it was, but looking back at it now I think it was very critical. I think it showed, what the message for me is, is that it doesn't matter the color or your skin, we all came in the same way and we're going to leave the same way. It was two people seeing each other for who they are.
Q: What do you hope the audience will take away from this film?
Carlos Pratts: That anything is possible. That's why we love these movies. Remember the Titans, Coach Carter, all those movies that had me as a kid saying I can do this. Those movies that made me believe I could. I hope this gives the audience another push.
Every now and then we just need another kick saying things are going to be OK, I can do this too. Regardless of color, anyone can relate to any one of us here, and I hope everyone has a Jim White in their circle.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment or scene from the movie? A memorable moment that stuck with you?
Carlos Pratts: I literally was just thinking about it. My favorite moment, my favorite part of this whole process was day one because it set the tone. It said to us this is real, which is ironic because on day one we were shooting day we were shooting page 64. We went through the training, we did everything together, and once we got on set we were like OK guys, here we go.
Kevin came up to us and said ‘Let's go. Let's take this ride together. Let's do this journey.', and that set the tone for the next three months.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the role, besides the training?
Carlos Pratts: The running was not easy. Honestly, there's a scene where I'm on the bridge where I'm going through a rough time. When you go through something like that, you have to, which is why I love acting, that no matter what in that moment we're never judged as a person. You can judge the character, but you never judge the person.
In that moment, I really had to go through the things I've gone through in my life and relive them mentally. That was challenging to keep doing, because that was like 12 hours.
Q: How much training did you do for the part of Thomas? With the team and on your own?
Carlos Pratts: Disney was kind enough to get me an amazing trainer by the name of Brian Nguyen at Brik Fitness. In the mornings we had the training with the team in Santa Clarita, then at night I would drive to Redondo Beach and train with him [Brian Nguyen] from 7PM to 9PM.
When we started filming, I still had to wake up and run a few miles, and do the work outs they gave me. If we had a 6AM call time, I was easily up by 3:30AM working out again, doing what I needed to do to go on that day.
Q: What about your future in acting. Are you looking for more films to do?
Carlos Pratts: In the future, all I want to do are the roles that make me happy, and continue to show people of any color, even Caucasian, it doesn't matter who you are, or where you came from, that we're all equal. And I want to continue to do rolls that inspire me, and inspire others. If it's a T.V. show, a T.V. movie, it's a movie, I just want to continue to send a message that we are all here as one.
About McFarland, USA
Inspired by the 1987 true story, “McFarland, USA” follows novice runners from McFarland, an economically challenged town in California’s farm-rich Central Valley, as they give their all to build a cross-country team under the direction of Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), a newcomer to their predominantly Latino high school. Coach White and the McFarland students have a lot to learn about each other but when White starts to realize the boys’ exceptional running ability, things begin to change. With grit and determination, the unlikely band of runners eventually overcomes the odds to forge not only a championship cross-country team but an enduring legacy as well. Along the way, Coach White realizes that his family finally found a place to call home and both he and his team achieve their own kind of American dream.
Check out the official McFarland, USA trailer below! McFarland, USA is rated PG opens in theaters February 20th, 2015.
Portions of the material for this event has been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios, all opinions are my own.