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‘The Rider’ Director Chloé Zhao Treats Non-Actors Like Pros: ‘Once Upon a Time, Our Greatest Actors Were Discovered’ – Podcast

Zhao said with her Bass Reeves biopic, she'll direct a more traditional cast like she did with her first-timers: "You can work with an actor in a certain way, you can create an environment like Terrence Malick has always done."

"The Rider" Score Composer Nathan Halpern

“The Rider”

Sony Pictures Classics

Chloé Zhao’s breakout second feature film, “The Rider,” is based on the real life of the film’s star Brady Jandreau – a young rodeo rider who, after suffering a massive brain injury while competing, faces an existential crisis about his place in this world. In the film, Jandreau draws on his life experiences and is surrounded by a cast of his real-life family and friends, but his quiet and introspective character (Brady Blackburn) is the polar opposite of his real-life personality.

“Brady Blackburn is very somber, Brandy Jandreau isn’t – he’s the happy kid trying to make everyone laugh,” said Zhao when she was guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast. “When I first saw him, I didn’t speak to him. I was in the basement and he walked in and I just immediately thought, what a great face and the camera was going to love his face.”

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Not only did Jandreau have a presence, he was incredibly present. In the film, Zhao captures in documentary-like fashion, how Jandreau, a talented horse trainer, is able to convert a bucking, out-of-control animal into a rideable horse. “I thought if you could do that to a horse, that’s wild, maybe you could do it to other people and the audience,” said Zhao. “To have that sharp focus and be able to communicate with [horses] to get their trust is the type of presence [I’m] looking for in professionals and non-professionals [on] set and. Give me those spontaneous moments, because they are completely present and not thinking about a script or anything.”

Zhao’s first feature, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” also utilized first-time performers – mixed with three established actresses – from the same South Dakota reservation where she met Jandreau, but she insists that too much is made of what is takes to get a big-screen performance from those who have never done it before.

Read More: ‘The Rider’ Director Chloé Zhao to Helm Biopic About Bass Reeves, the First Black U.S. Marshall, for Amazon Studios

“There’s not much difference how I look at actors and non-actors, because [the] way to discover a great actor once upon a time – it use to be someone you meet, ‘Oh, wow, maybe you should act,'” said Zhao. “Now these days a lot of people go to school for it and [so many] people are trying to get into it, but there was a time when some of our greatest actors were discovered, like Brady.”

“The Rider”

Sony Pictures Classics

Zhao has two films in development, one set 3,000 years in the future, and the other a 1800s biopic about Bass Reeves (the first black U.S. marshal) that she hopes to shoot before the end of the year. Neither project obviously allows her to cast her real-life subjects, like she did in her first two films, but even in going through a more traditional casting process, she insists she’ll work with bigger name professionals the way she did with Jandreau.

“You can work with an actor in a certain way, you can create an environment like Terrence Malick has always done, so your actors can give you a very similar thing you get from a non-actors,” said Zhao.

The theatrical release of “The Rider” expands nationally today.

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music. Previous episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

You can check out the rest IndieWire’s podcasts in iTunes.

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