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McFarland, USA follows the true story of a cross-country coach and his underdog team’s journey to success, set in one of the poorest towns in America. Jim White, the coach at the center of the film, and Kevin Costner, who plays White onscreen, sat down to discuss the film.
Though White had no previous filmmaking experiences, he was often present on set and involved in the screenwriting and production process. “I think I had a big influence as to what had been written up and what Kevin had actually read [in the final draft]. I think he told me one time that, he turned this movie down because the script didn’t portray me…like he felt like I should be portrayed. So in that way, I didn’t have a direct contact with him, per se and meeting with him and trying to say, ‘No I didn’t do that, I didn’t do that.’ I didn’t have to. He picked up, my feelings and my true love for the kids through articles, basically,” White recalled.
Costner appreciated White’s advice when approaching the role. “You can just imagine how fun that was on the sidelines, to kind of go back and forensically look at the bones…where this program started, look at them from a practical standpoint, look at them from an emotional standpoint, and actually find out where Jim’s at in his life now,” he said. “You know, if your ears are open, if you’re genuinely interested, you know, it’s a great story there.”
Many members of White’s cross-country team supported their immigrant families by working alongside their parents on farms, a backdrop directly relating to one of the most prominent issues in American politics.
“I think the things that get set in McFarland, seeing these people first hand, up close in these fields that they’re simply working there, these incredible hours through very difficult weather conditions, every day of their life for one reason and one reason only, to advance their children and to give their children a better opportunity…This is not a movie about running. It’s not about cross country. This movie is really about the American Dream and the American Dream in McFarland is alive and well. There’s nothing more American than a parent trying to make their life better for their children,” Costner said.