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Actor Clifton Collins Jr. plays an aging rider in the film 'Jockey'


For years, we have seen stories about horse racing, movies like "Seabiscuit" or "Secretariat." But we've also seen reports about how many race horses break down and never make it off the track. It's a brutal sport for the animals. A new movie shows it can be brutal for the jockeys.


CLIFTON COLLINS JR: (As Jackson Silva) You get older, you start to realize that, you know, you and your body - they just ain't the same.

PERALTA: Jockey stars Clifton Collins Jr. as a veteran rider who's forced to confront his physical and his professional decline. He joins us now to talk about it. Hey there, Clifton.

COLLINS: Hey. How you doing?

PERALTA: Good. So tell us, how would you describe the man that you're playing, Jackson Silva?

COLLINS: You know, he's a guy that's had a beautiful heyday. And he's just hoping that as life starts to creep up on him, you know, maybe he'll get one more win in the saddle, so to speak.

PERALTA: How did you prepare for this role? I understand you spent quite a bit of time with actual jockeys before and during the filming. I mean, how crucial was that experience?

COLLINS: I mean, very, very crucial. I think, you know, any opportunity to actually hang out with the people that you're representing and/or portraying is just a gift. It's an open book of research. I was in the jocks' room like every day and then coming home and going through the script.

PERALTA: And I'm guessing that that experience sort of helps you stay in character.

COLLINS: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, in addition to, I cut off almost all of my ties from home because I drove from Los Angeles to northern Phoenix. So I spoke to two mentors and my grandmother. Those are the three people I kept in touch with. So my whole world was that. And because we did have a skeleton crew, a crew of only 10 people, it allowed for a great deal of anonymity. And I was always generally in my horse jockey outfit. We did shoot on a live track, so it was very easy for me to blend in and out. I think I might've gotten recognized, like, by maybe two or three different people. And everybody else was wondering, you know, how can they put money on me because they didn't see me on the roster for jockeys that day. Like, hey, I want to put some money on you. No. And then they'd ask me when I was going to make weight, too, so insult to injury.

PERALTA: (Laughter).

COLLINS: I was like, I'm trying; I'm trying (laughter).

PERALTA: So this - I mean, look; this film also deals with aging and fear, right? It points out that the minute that the fear of injury creeps into you, your career as a jockey is over. I wonder if that's something that you've thought about in terms of your own life or your career.

COLLINS: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, that applies to so many different things. But when you make it - when it's a life or death situation, those two options become crystal clear before your eyes. You do recognize that you have had near-death experiences. You have fallen off the horses. You've broken a multitude of bones that you probably can't even keep track of. You've got all kinds of past injuries that are catching up to you now. You know, you may have healed from some things, but, you know, as you continue to race, you reinjure yourself.

All kinds of things are happening. So yeah, you know, one of the big things you do, though, is you really try to - if that horse is still racing - the one that you've fallen off of and got injured off of - is you get back on that same horse to keep your fear in check because once you catch the fear, you're not going to shake it, and it's going to hurt you with everything.

PERALTA: So let's talk about horses. I mean, you've acted with them before, you know, on other projects like the series "Westworld." But, I mean, those horses are different from thoroughbreds, right?

COLLINS: Very, very different. They're fantastic horses. But when you get into horse racing and these quarter horses, it's a whole nother thing. I mean, you're on basically the dragster of the horse world. So like dragsters, you're not making sharp lefts and sharp rights. You know, you're just kind of nudging them a little to the left, a little to the right or slowing them down a smidge or speeding them up a smidge and trying to stay on the whole time. But you're in sync with the horse. You two are one thing. My relationship with horses became much more intimate on "Jockey." Like, I can literally see the personalities and their - what they're feeling that day. It's like becoming a cat person.


PERALTA: So something I really appreciated about this movie is the representation of Latino jockeys. I mean, there's been a growth in their numbers over the past decade. And, I mean, was this something that the movie set out to represent from the very beginning?

COLLINS: It was a natural evolution. When we got there, I mean, there was all kinds of Latinos there. And also in the movie there's people talking in many of the scenes that you probably don't even know are Latino that are. They're gueros like myself - you know, light-skinned Latinos that can easily blend in Caucasian communities and you wouldn't be none the wiser. You know, it's not a Latino-centric movie, which is kind of the beauty of it, is just we just happened to be Latino, which is why the shorthand plays into, like, the opening scene where Leo's saying good morning and I'm saying - instead of saying, you know, buenos dias, you just shorthand it. You just say buenos, which is what you would do in a community that you're familiar with and with people that are familiar with yourself.

PERALTA: I wonder, how do you move on from a project like this?

COLLINS: It's very painful to move on from something like - it's traumatic. And I think it was traumatic for the jockeys as well because they knew the day was coming when we had to leave. And we'd all gotten very comfortable with each other, and we all became kind of like a family, you know? You're getting ripped out of this community that you've worked so hard to be a part of and you made this incredible thing together.

But I did - you know, I came home. I was still dieting for like a week and a half. I didn't want to audition for other things. I didn't want to read other scripts. I felt like I was cheating on my friends. Like, I'm not reading this space movie, you know? There's no horse racing in outer space, you know? It's like - it was that kind of, like - you know? - then it's like, I've got to make some money. I got to keep the electricity on and the - you know, the lights on, so to speak.

So it took a minute. You know, you get so used to living a certain way, even though we were at a, you know, like, Marriott Courtyard and, you know, what - most comfy bed. It was - you know? - but you're still with people that you care about, and that's really what matters most. It's hard to shake.

PERALTA: That's Clifton Collins Jr., who stars as Jackson Silva in the movie "Jockey." Clifton, thank you so much for being here.

COLLINS: Thank you, guys. My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.