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Carlos Pratts on 'McFarland, USA'

Photograph by Disney

Actor Carlos Pratt is an up-and-coming Latino Hollywood star known for his roles in film and television. You may remember him as Gus Ruiz on FX's “The Bridge” or from the film “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.” He’s now starring in his first leading role in a major motion picture, “McFarland, USA” opposite Kevin Costner. He helps bring to life the real story of cross-country track star Thomas Valles and his team.

The inspiring film follows the 1987 true story of novice runners from McFarland, an economically challenged town in California’s farm-rich Central Valley, as they give their all to build a cross-country team under the direction of Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner). Coach White is a newcomer to their predominantly Latino high school, and the team ultimately bonds with their new coach to build not only a championship cross-country team, but an enduring legacy as well.

We recently talked to Carlos Pratts about his role and what he hopes Latinos will take away from the film.


Q: What was the process for you to become involved with this film?

Carlos Pratts: I had the normal audition process for this film. I went in to audition for the David Diaz character and the casting director thought I was better for Thomas. After several auditions, I ended up getting the part. It didn’t end there, though. I had to also go through some training and meet the physical requirements of the role. … In this film, you can’t have a cross-country runner who can’t run.

Q. Your character is the fastest on the team in the film; how much did you have to train for this role, and did you have to train a little bit harder than your costars because of your role?

Carlos Pratts: I sure did! In the mornings, I would run with the rest of the guys five or six miles in Santa Clarita, Calif. And then at night, I would train in Redondo Beach with a trainer from 7-9 p.m. and we would focus on strength training, core training and nutrition to make sure I was eating right and doing what I was supposed to be doing. I started training on my birthday, which was a really cool gift from Disney. I trained about two-and-a-half months and continued training while we were shooting.

Q. What did you learn from Kevin Costner as you were working together?

Carlos Pratts: Working with Kevin was really awesome. You know, big stars, they understand that when you’re more of a novice and newcomer, it’s important for us to feel comfortable. So, Kevin really took that approach and went out of his way to make us feel comfortable. We were all in this together to make this film, and no one is more important than the other. We’re here to make a story and we’re going to make it beautiful. It didn’t end there—he also taught me so much, [such as] ways to find the camera and how to use my environment; things I would have never thought of.

Photograph by Disney

Q: What are you hoping Latino kids and families take away from seeing this film?

Carlos Pratts: I want Latino kids and families to know that there is a way out. If you’re working in the fields, picking, or living a hard life, with hard work and belief in yourself you can be and do anything you want. There’s always another way, and another life you can have, if you want it. Dreams can come true, but you have work for it. Anything you work for is possible.

Q: What did you learn about yourself by playing this role?

Carlos Pratts: My trainer said to me, “let’s have a race, and I want you to go as fast as you can to try to beat me and we’ll see what happens.” He’s a professional runner. We ran and I ended up beating him by a knee. If I hadn’t told myself that I could do this—constantly trained, and hadn’t eaten right—I would have never beaten him. I learned that with drive [and] perseverance you can achieve anything. So many times in life, we do things and say to ourselves, “when is it going to pay off?” If you put the work in and work hard, and don’t give up, every little bit counts and it will happen when it’s supposed to happen.

Q: What would be your dream Latino celebrity to star with in a film?

Carlos Pratts: I don’t really have a celebrity that I could name just one as there are so many great ones, but there is a director I would love to work with and that’s Alfonso Cuarón! … He’s such an amazing director and filmmaker.

Q. What is your dream role to play one day?

Carlos Pratts: This is going to sound like a child, but I grew up watching “Spider-Man,” “The Avengers,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” To play a superhero that little kids would look up to would be awesome, and that’s my dream role to play one day.

McFarland, USA opens in theaters nationwide February 20th and is rated PG.

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