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The Rider: An Interview with Brady Jandreau
September 16, 2018
The Rider is director’s Chloe Zhao’s second feature and like its predecessor its set in the depths of South Dakota, specifically at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A seminal life-changing moment in the life of Brady Blackburn, played by and based upon the real-life events of Brady Jandreau, sees a promising riding star whose almost fatal head injury sees the end to his rodeo dreams. The Rider is a masterfully understated semi-autobiographical gem, showcasing Zhao’s exceptional directorial talent which blurs the lines of fiction with documentary film-making.
Zhao uniquely depicts the beauty in failure, where disappointment is just a perception; an outcome of an ever-changing, ever evolving stream of life. The film’s languid pace and narrative aloofness take place in this big expansive Midwestern landscape is frequently occupied by grand wild horses and Jandreau calm yet striking presence. Jandreau is a first-time actor who manages with his debut performance that is so natural and instinctual, that it questions where the viewer is watching documented footage rather than an actorat play. A commendation that applies to the rest of the cast, mostly non-actors of Jandreau’s family, friends and neighbours.
We were given time with Jandreau earlier this week, who possibly gave us with the most friendly, unguarded, frank interview of the year. Unphased by the praise, there is no pretentious airs and graces to Brady. He is just this sweet and humbled individual, answering my questions in the most entertainingly roundabout way with his love of horses seeping into converstaion at any given moment.
Congratulations on your amazing performance. I’ve been watching loads of your interviews on YouTube all day. How many have you done so far?
I think it was 200 interviews with the US release. Now we are coming up to 250 for the outside of US releases; France, Canada and now finally in the UK.
And you’ve been touring around with it?
Yep we went to Paris, Toronto, Telluride Film Festival, SXSW Festival, L.A. for the theatrical release, New York…all over. My trip to Paris was the first time I left the United States. I mean it’s the all same but also different. There are building here that are older than my whole country. Thats weird!
How did you get involved with the project?
I met Chloe in 2015. She came back to the ranch to research the cowboy lifestyle. Her first film, Songs that My Brothers Taught Me was shot in my cousin’s ranch, he also plays the character Gus in this film. He introduced me to Chloe, who was revisiting to region to research the cowboy lifestyle, cause she felt like her first film, didn’t completely capture the western heritage, heartland America and wanted to possibly do another story. When she met me, she was drawn to me by my ability to work with horses. So, she started talking to me about the possibility of me being in her next film. I’ve never done anything like that before, so I initially chuckled about it. She continued about talking about different story lines and then suggested about me being the lead role.
I really didn’t know what to think, ‘Are you sure you really want me to do that?’ Ive never done anything like this in my life before. She believed in me. She came out in the ranch, rode horses, moved cattle and everything. She trusted me you know… and we had no reason not to trust her.
We played around with a few ideas. Going down the rodeo circuit, filming me training the horses. Possibly doing a documentary of me working on the ranch. Or maybe a romance story, something completely fiction. We didn’t really know what to do. Then after my head injury, everything basically got put on hold.
Was this the same injury we see in the film?
Yes, on April Fool’s Day 2016, about a year after I met Chloe, I was injured. You see the actual footage of it in the film. I was at the Fort Pierre rodeo, where a horse stepped on my head. It crushed my skull with parts of it shattered in many fragments. My injury was way worse than its portrayed in the film. The dimensions of the wound were way bigger and deeper. I received a significant amount of brain bleed. It didn’t knock me out but when I got to the hospital I got into a seizure, so they induced a coma and performed surgery, put a big metal plate in there.
Did you have the same effects with your hands that you had in the film?
That was something that I had from before, from riding bulls. We took that and we introduced them as symptoms in this film. It still does happen to me today, but much less. The biggest thing after this head injury, was with right hand. I’ll be holding a glass of water and I would just drop it. Ill reach out for a door knob and then completely miss it. My perception was way off.
When I first woke for the coma, five days later. I didn’t know who I was, I was freaking out, I was all wild, pulled all the tubes out of me, they had to strap me down on the bed. Eventually over a day or so, it all came back to me. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t really see. And every time I would take a nap, I would get better. But then the longer I would stay there I would get weaker, so I told them I need to get out of here. And they couldn’t legally hold me but I had to pass a series of tests to be discharged. As soon as I got back home, started to feel better. Two weeks later I was on a horse. They advised me not jog or lift anything over 10 pounds for three months. I was training horses again a month and half after my head injury.
So, you are riding again?
Yes and wild horses at that, ones that have never been touched. I would saddle them and ride them after my head injury. Chloe found out and she called me and was saying how crazy I was and that I was going to die. I just told her I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t able to ride. And she thought… ok we have a story here.
As a first-time actor, what direction was she giving you? As well as all your friends and family? You are all exceptionally convincing.
People always have set in their minds, that it’s one way or the other… That it’s completely fiction or its completely real. Many people think they the literally came out and filmed me when I came out of the hospital and there was a camera crew filming the whole thing. On the other side, some people are thinking the whole thing is fictional. And when they interview me are like ‘really you were injured?’ But in reality, I would say its 60% based on re-creation of true events and 40% is completely fictional. Like my mother my mum being dead was a fictional thing or me working in a grocery store is another fictional thing
Was there a script?
Yes, here was 65-page script. But some of the scenes were… 2hrs worth of shooting mind you… where it was just one line in the script ‘Brady trains horses in the ranch’. Most of Lily’s (played by Lily Jandreau, Brady’s real sister) lines were improvised, because she wouldn’t say them the way Chloe wanted her too but then all that gold footage came out of it.
There is healthy depiction of Native American people in the film, from doctors to cow ranch owners to riders.
Everyone involved I would say is/ or part Native American. I am part Native American, my whole family is.
What do you think is the intention behind the film, as the narrative is quite loose at first?
It’s about morals. To not take things for granted. And towards the end of the film, I think that narrative evolves to become about say ‘If something negative happens in your life, it doesn’t always have to have a negative outcome’. It’s all about how you react to things. Positivity is everything. Positive attitude… positive outcome.
The films ending is also very subdued, making it very realistic, in the way he eventually decided to give it all up. My initial expectations when watching was that he would go back to rodeo and then beat the odds or die?
That was my life. The character continues with training horses but not rodeo-ing. When you enter the rodeo you pay an entry fee. And then you get on a horse that’s never been trained. Your aim is to woo the crowds and woo the judges, and they give you a score. Firstly, you need to make successful ride and not fall off then impress the judges enough to give you a high score score hire and get to the top whatever, where you get prize money.
So basically, the day I was injured I came out with 125 dollars less in my pocket, no money to take home and an injury. But now when I train horses, I get a set wage. I get half at the rodeo money and half the prize money. So, it’s more one in the hand, two in the bush. Plus, I feel like I’m making that horse better, making someone’s ride easier. Like on rodeo, I mean someone’s going to watch me and its entertaining, but then it’s on to the next guy. I feel know, I’m making more of an impact.
How were the horses treated film?
We did nothing mean to them. We just treated them like we always do. We treat them very well, we give them very good feed, we groom them, we doctor them, we love our horses. They are our family. The bit you see with the horse getting hurt, its was all fake. The wire thing, where the horse supposedly injures itself is just shoe lace with wax on it.
So now after this experience, are you interested in pursuing acting further?
I am always someone who is up for a challenge. I felt like doing the movie was challenging but fun at the same time. I’ve been getting good positive feedback. I’ve done some self-tapes for auditions. Nothing set in stone at the moment. I am in talks with management the last time I was in L.A., hopefully that would help. I definitely want to act again.
The Rider is out now.
Words By Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.