“A door was opened and I’m going to keep going.” – Ramiro Rodriguez
Hoosiers, Rudy, Miracle on Ice. Nothing makes me happier than an inspirational sports movie where the underdogs defeat all odds, so Disney’s newest release has me super excited! Based on a true story, McFarland, USA follows the journey of a Latino high school cross country team led by Coach Jim White. This inspirational story tells the story of how a group of young men leave the farm work of Kern County to become state champions under the amazing guidance of Jim White who is played by Kevin Costner.
A few of the young men cast to portray the Cougar cross-country runners are McFarland locals and first time actors. Ramiro Rodriguez, who plays Danny Diaz, is one of those newcomers in the film. In a truly amazing act of coincidence, not only has Ramiro met the real-life Danny Diaz – but the two know each other quite well. Danny Diaz was Ramiro Rodriguez’s counselor in high school. That relationship and those many ‘life lesson’ conversations helped Ramiro honestly portray Danny Diaz.
In addition to the heart of Danny Diaz, Ramiro had to physically prepare for his role as a championship runner. With only one week to prepare, Ramiro was happy that his role in the film didn’t require as much running as the other actors. So, what was Ramiro’s favorite scene? The crossing the finish line, of course. I can only imagine how emotional filming that scene must have been. It was exhilarating to watch from our theater seats.
Ramiro and I sat down for a one-on-one interview. There was so much I wanted to hear about – did he work in the McFarland fields, what was it like to audition and what does life have in store for him next.
1. Ramiro competed with his cousin for the role of Danny Diaz. He actually stumbled into acting and had no knowledge of this movie what so ever. “My cousin called me up to say…hey, they called me back for an audition, can you take me?” says Ramiro. “It was my day off. I was working in the fields and at Pizza Hut, so I told him – yeah, you know what let’s go.” Ramiro got caught up in the process of acting and it appealed to him. Not only did he beat his cousin, but he got the role. His cousin was obviously disappointed, but excited for him.
2. Some of the challenges were more about the film making lifestyle then acting per se. He says it was a challenge trying to travel and sleep in hotels. “The Director Niki Caro and Executive Producer Iscovich pushed me. They had my back and made sure that I felt comfortable.” Ramiro shares, “But honestly? I’ve never been out of California. They would say, stay in the hotel and we’ll pay for it. But sleeping in a hotel was really, really hard for me. I had to go home.”
3. What was it like growing up in McFarland. “It’s really hard actually,” admits Ramiro. “What the movie is portraying right now, it’s actually still happening. There are still kids going into the fields.”
Ramiro was amazed when he watched the film. He lived this story and now it’s being portrayed in a major motion picture. “It’s really hard for a teenager in McFarland to not get lost in fast money. All you see is fancy shoes, fancy things. In the fields you don’t need anything, but you need to be there and work. A lot of little kids get lost in the fast money. That’s what they do. They forget about education and focus on the fast money. That’s bad.”
4. Ramiro worked in the fields. He began when he was in the 8th grade. His parents didn’t want him to work. His dad had a stable job as a supervisor for a company to support the family, and they wanted him to focus on studying. But Ramiro admits that he was the kind of kid who likes to dress nice and have good things. “I knew that my parents couldn’t give me the luxuries, the things that I wanted. But I told them, I know you don’t want me to go to work because you want me to study but I want to do it for myself, so I can buy things and learn some responsibility,” he says. That summer he saved up so much money working in the fields that he bought 6 or 7 pairs of sneakers and all kinds of clothes for the rest of the year.
5. He wore a wig in the film. “I was told no more haircuts. That really sucked because I used to love getting my haircut every week! It grew out to a point where you could do hairstyles with it. I had to grow my hair out pretty long and I did have to wear a wig.”
6. He saves the day for McFarland High School in the film and was a champion McFarland High School soccer player. “It’s really ironic. My junior year I played soccer (after taking a year off). I had gained weight, but I still had my skills. It’s just amazing that no one in McFarland had won valley champion or league for soccer. It was really cool getting both of those championships for the first time in that school. Just like the 1987 cross-country team.”
7. Working with Kevin Costner. He loved joking around with Kevin. “He was really cool. We joked around so much. You’d never think that Kevin was so cool. Every scene he would tell us a story and joke around.” Ramiro’s favorite Costner film? The Untouchables. “I love it”.
8. His parents didn’t believe that he was in the movie. Eventually they realized it was true, and then they got to see the film trailers. “That is you!” Now that they believe, hope and pray for me!
9. What now? Well, he is planning to return to community college after the movie, work and hopefully go on more auditions. “I never thought of acting in my life, being in this movie and being from McFarland – it is a dream come true. A door was opened and I’m going to keep going,” Ramiro admits with determination. Lately he has been running, trying to lose weight and reading. “I love to read, if you can’t read you can’t do anything in this business.” He wraps up our time by sharing that he is currently reading Fifty Shades of Grey!
MCFARLAND, USA is in theaters Friday, February 20 and is rated PG.