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'The Rider' depicts a realistic cowboy experience rarely seen on screen

A still from Chloe Zhao's film,
A still from Chloe Zhao's film, "The Rider."
A still from Chloe Zhao's film,
Brady Jandreau in Sony Pictures Classics' "The Rider."

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In the film "The Rider," rodeo star Brady Blackburn, played by real-life rancher Brady Jandreu, is recovering from a traumatic brain injury after being thrown from a bronco.

After a doctor tells him he can’t ever ride again, he struggles to maintain his identity as a cowboy and continue to do what he loves — working with horses.

It’s Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao’s second movie set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, a place she fell in love with while shooting her 2015 film, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me.”

It’s also the second time Zhao has used non-professional actors found on location in South Dakota. She has a unique approach to filmmaking, taking stories and events from her actors’ real lives and writing them into a fictionalized script.

Zhao and Jandreu joined us recently to talk about their work on "The Rider."

Interview Highlights:

Brady on his reaction to being offered a part in 'The Rider:'

When I first met Chloe, my boss, Todd O'Brien – whose actually my older fifth cousin – he told me that she was a director and that she wanted to watch us ride horses and move cows, stuff like that, and do some research into her next movie. She came out and learned how to ride horses with us. There were a couple things I said to her that really stuck with her, and she asked me what I thought about possibly acting in it. I kind of chuckled about it at first, but the better we got to know each other, the more comfortable I became. 

Brady on the profound connection a person can have with a horse:

When you have a connection with an animal, especially a horse, it's so powerful. It's really a push-and-pull kind of thing. Very similar to raising a child or a relationship with a human being because they are such intellectuals, these animals. One of the biggest keys I've realized is to make what you want out of the animal, it also has to be something that looks appealing to them. You don't want to take too much and you don't want to give too much. You've got to be very sensitive yet firm, dominate yet be giving and loving. 

Chloe on making a more honest Western:

I'd seen two Westerns before making "The Rider." In terms of that genre, I don't really have any reference. I don't watch a lot of movies like people think filmmakers probably should. I watch the ones I really like and I follow the filmmakers that inspire me. Someone like Terrence Malick has been making films about the heartland that are set in nature for so long. And that's the kind of reference I have. It's all about how Brady is experiencing the land that he lives on. If we stick to Brady's perspective, how he feels about a storm and how he feels about a sunrise, then portray it that way, that's the only reference point I need. 

Chloe on how working on this film has changed her:

I always thought I would probably live and die in New York for the rest of my life. And now I live in a small town north of L.A. I just didn't really have a relationship with the natural environment. Because we're animals, I was feeling like something was missing. And because I'm not religious, some of the bigger questions in life are hard to talk about without any kind of spirituality. So I really get a lot of that from having a relationship with nature. 

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