Originally published Oct. 1, 2010
As a child, Diane Lane really, really wanted a horse of her own. Really.
“I was relatively obsessed,” says the 45-year-old actress, “starting with my rocking horse at age 2 all the way through my painting and drawing phase.”
In “Secretariat” the Oscar-nominated actress (“Unfaithful”) gets up close and personal with her beloved animal as Penny Chenery, the owner of Secretariat, arguably the most notorious horse to win the Triple Crown. It also allowed Lane, a New York native currently living in L.A., to work with Chicago area-native John Malkovich. The veteran actor stars as Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Laurin, and the night before our interview at the Trump Hotel, Malkovich took Lane to renowned Gold Coast steakhouse Gibsons, where he pretended it was his birthday. “I think the restaurant was happy to oblige,” says Lane, then with a laugh: “I have a feeling he’d done that before.”
What added challenges come from working with an actor who’s not afraid to go to the bathroom in front of you?
[Laughs] Well, there is some envy there. They have a very healthy ego, these horses. And they have to do what’s asked of them. Otherwise, why bother, really? What’s in it for them, except there’s some investment on their part, pride in what they do. I never thought about it much.
Never thought why a horse would want to act?
Yeah. What’s in it for them? Carrots? I’m trying to see the upside here. But spending time with these creatures, I was really taken aback by how much personality they each have. And that they really do have an ego. It can be injured very easily. It’s hanging out there for everybody to see. They have no protection of their ego. All they can do is kick or bite or pout or be reticent to obey.
Do you think they know they’re in a movie?
No, but I do think they know when they’re on duty. Being observed. They feel the attention and it’s like polishing an apple. They perk up. Not all of them, but some more than others. Secretariat was just ridiculously endowed with every positive quality that a person would seek out in a non-human. He was very aware of his environment; he surveyed the terrain before he ran and would look people in the eye. And he had a relationship with his warm-up riders, certainly the groom and the trainers and Penny and everybody. I just have this great envy that they got to hang out with him. There were people who said to me, [Whispers] “You know, I met him.” The royal Him, capital H. [Whispers] “I met him.” I’m jealous because I can only pretend that I did.
It’s like bragging, “I have his autograph” or “He kicked me in the face!”
[Laughs] Stop! That’s really funny. Well, there you go. Some people would probably be very happy to have that story. I’m not quite that devoted, but I know what you mean.
Do you remember where you were when Secretariat was actually racing?
I remember him on the cover of all those magazines, which of course now I realize was the week prior to the race. I was in Europe traveling with a theater company at the time. I was only 8 years old, but that’s a long story. When I saw a horse on the cover of Time and Newsweek and of course Sports Illustrated, I just felt personally vindicated. I knew that horses were superior to people. I could have told them that.
How did you know?
Just instincts. I preferred them. [Laughs] When you’re a young child you pick a totem animal and you just identify with it to the point of wishing you were that animal.
When can we expect horses to rise up and take over society?
“Planet of the Horses”? I want to be in that movie. I’m kidding.
But it’s inevitable if they’re superior.
Well, I was 8 years old.
So you don’t feel that way now?
Oh, God no. No, no, no, no. I was saying with the innocence of a child I experienced Secretariat’s win. To me I didn’t really have a boundary of the adult world and what this all means. To me it was just, I knew that it would all come true that a horse was going to be properly appreciated.
You just thought, “Horses rule! Of course, there’s one on the magazine covers.”
That’s right! That’s what it was for me. I should have said it that way. That would be shorter and sweeter. I could make a bumper sticker out of that: “Horses rule.”
How would you compare these horses on the attractiveness scale to your previous co-stars?
Attractiveness level? [Laughs] Well, I’ve always been partial to horses and their beauty. It’s interesting what makes somebody beautiful in the end [depends on] what are you looking for. That’s what makes somebody beautiful I suppose.
If a movie had Diane Lane, [your frequent co-star] Richard Gere and a horse, do you think people would even be able to handle that?
[Laughs] I don’t have any comment.
A lot of people throughout your career have said nice things about your own beauty. Do you ever feel insecure? Would you call yourself beautiful?
I’m sure I have moments in certain lighting, but aside from that I try not to attach myself too much to that because inevitably there’s old age and/or death, so really I’d rather age. [Laughs]
Yeah. I’m thinking in terms of Debbie Harry. What is it? “Die young, stay pretty.” These are my heroes. What can you say? It’s so ephemeral. It’s so passing. It’s so fleeting. I mean, the fact that beauty and youth are so equated. I’m just grateful for what there is and am willing to go the rest of the way.
What goes through your head when people talk about Chicago?
Class. Architecture. ’Tude.
Yeah. You know, street smarts and attitude. It reminds me of Manhattanites or Romans. They know they hail from a tough place, and they’re tough too and not taking any crap. I just think of them as the salt of the earth, Chicagoans. You gotta be tough; look at the summers and the winters you gotta endure.
Although my Roman shield doesn’t help much with that.
[Laughs] I was thinking more of the women. Have you hung out with Roman woman ever? They make New York women look like peaches. Oh my gosh. And Chicago women are pretty straight ahead, I like that.
In the film you try to sell Secretariat’s breeding rights for $190,000. Why don’t celebrities do that? That seems like a great moneymaking opportunity.
Really? What would you do with the offspring?
To the highest bidder! How much could Brad Pitt get for that?
[Laughs] Oh my God. You know, I would love to have this conversation, but we’re being tape-recorded.
Next time you’re here we can have an off-the-record one.
That sounds like a lot more fun.
Diane Lane at a glance
On Secretariat’s heart, which was twice the size of a normal horse heart: “He cheated! He had this oxygen machine in his chest that nobody will ever have again.”
Why she didn’t keep her ’70s wardrobe: “As much as I loved it, by the time you’re done filming in a costume or a wardrobe, it’s so haunted or owned by the experience of the work that wearing it again is almost insane.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.