Off To The Races

After 30 years in the business, countless acclaimed films (“The Outsiders,” “Under The Tuscan Sun” and “Unfaithful” to name just a few) and plentiful awards and nominations to her name, Diane Lane is commonly considered to be one of the movie industry’s most talented and beloved actresses. These days, Lane finds herself in a different kind of winner’s circle with the upcoming release of Disney’s new family film, “Secretariat,” in which she stars as Penny Chenery, a real-life housewife turned “grand dame” of horseracing, who, in 1973, saved her family’s Virginia farm (and legacy) when she bred and cultivated a Triple Crown winner, a horse named Secretariat. Lane took the time to chat with New York Family about the film, balancing her career with motherhood, and what she misses most about New York.

Were you a horserace fan before you received the script for “Secretariat”?

I loved the horses themselves, but I wasn’t as aware and savvy of the horserace world in particular. I grew up watching them as a child in my living room with the adults all around. I was completely enchanted.

What about the character of Penny Chenery spoke to you most?

I think the fact that she really lived this life and this is her story. She did things out of her comfort zone for the honor of her father’s lifetime of work. She followed her gut that Secretariat had what it took to fulfill his destiny and save the family farm and business.

How do you approach playing a character that is not only from real life, but is also still living, as in the case of Penny Chenery, now 88 years old?

We met beforehand and it was lovely. I got to benefit from feeling as though I had her blessing. As exhilarating as it is, it must be a tad bittersweet to have such a full and rich life condensed into an hour and a half movie. I can only imagine! She is truly a grand dame and she lives up to her reputation, which has many adjectives in it, among them “regal.” She came to the set and graced us with her presence; she even has a cameo in the film.

Penny sounds both fearless and practical. Being a mother yourself, did you find similar connections?

Well there’s knowing your child and what they’re capable of and nurturing them to their fullest capacity. If you have to hire a tutor or study the books yourself to teach them, you do what you have to do. And that’s what she did by hiring Lucien Laurin as Secretariat’s trainer and by diverting all the attention away from the horse by facing the media and keeping them out of the paddocks. Secretariat became the Elvis of horses, and she had to keep the focus on the actual racing and not on the training process so they could do their work.

You mentioned the character of Lucien Laurin, Secretariat’s colorful horse trainer, played by John Malkovich. What was it like working with John?

John is a tremendous sparkling heart of creative energy. He’s one of those extremely gifted people who just has an appetite for life. I marvel at him; he’s got so much talent, humor and insight. I want to work with him again because he’s incredibly generous and smart and he brings out the best in every film he’s in.

At one point in the
film, Penny says she gave up her career to have a family, which is a
common dilemma for moms. How have you navigated career and motherhood in
your own life?

think it’s important to keep priorities in order and if there are
apologies to be made, make them. It’s wonderful to have success but it’s
more important to me to be loved. I feel very blessed to be female
because, believe it or not, we’re still the underdogs and we still have
people noticing what we choose to do. It’s a wonderful position to be in
to be a trailblazer. The standards are higher for women and I’m proud
to be one.

As a mother, why do you think this character and story are important for young women to see?

think it illuminates what it is to make sacrifices and to be willing to
be unpopular to pursue your dreams. There’s a wonderful relationship
between Penny and her oldest daughter, Kate, played by Amanda Michalka,
that brings to light that confusion teenagers have when they look at
their mother and don’t understand what her motives are. Later, the
scales fall from the kids’ eyes and they understand their mother’s
perspective. It’s a lovely experience to see that transition within a

What makes this movie a great flick for families?

covers every family relationship, and the dynamic of people learning to
open up their hearts through adversity and doing it with dignity. I
think that’s what families are best at—sharing the burden and
empowering each other.

Many of our readers might not know you’re originally from New York City. What do you miss most about your former hometown?

miss that I can walk wherever and whenever I want in the city and
pretty much find what I’m looking for at any hour of the day or night on
foot. I love the independence that I felt growing up in the city and
knowing for a fact that if you could make it there you could make it

When you visit New York City, what are your must-see spots or things to do?

gravitate towards the rivers when I come into the city. I can smell the
iron in the water—I love that metallic smell. Recently I was craving
our street hot dogs—there are things about New York that are
quintessential and I do miss them.

Photo by John Bramley, (c) Disney Enterprises.

“Secretariat” opens October 8 and is rated PG.