ARCADIA, Calif. -- Diane Lane is sitting at table in the Director's Room of Santa Anita Park, overlooking the race track as the sun begins to set over the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. She smiles as she gazes at the scene before her, shaking her head before shifting her attention to the person sitting in front of her.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she says.
Lane had never been to a race track before she began filming "Secretariat," which comes out in theaters Friday. In the film, Lane plays Penny Chenery, the owner and breeder of Secretariat, who in 1973 became the first U.S. Triple Crown champion in 25 years, setting race records in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes that stand to this day.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Lane and asked her about shooting the film, working with horses and the perks of sitting courtside at Lakers games.
Markazi: I was told you weren't a big sports fan, but I've seen you at a few Lakers games over the years. How would you classify yourself when it comes to sports?
Lane: Well, I'm a girl, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate greatness and the struggle of sports. My situation -- and I've always said this even in politics -- is may the best man win. I'm not team-bound. I don't feel a bond to any one team. I do with the Lakers because I've lived in Los Angeles for so long and they have so much heart and talent, it's almost an unfair situation in a good way for Lakers fans. I just enjoy going to the games, but if you're watching the Lakers play it feels good to be rooting for the Lakers. You're on the winning end of things most of the time.
Markazi: When you're at the games and sitting on the floor what are some of the things you've picked up on that you might not have on TV or if you were sitting higher, you know, like me?
Lane: [Laughs] Oh yeah, you get hit by sweat you're so close. It's so great to watch sports live. I think everyone should watch it up close once, if possible. I would like to see every sport live at least once to fully appreciate what's happening on the court or on the field or on the ice or whatever the playing surface may be. There's a sense of removal that happens when we live our lives through the screen, it's almost hard to appreciate what you're watching. I always want to go see events live if I can. I went to a hockey game last year and I saw the light. I went to a Kings-Penguins game and it was amazing. I became a hockey fan and that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't gone to see it live.
Markazi: You went to the Kentucky Derby after shooting the movie with Penny Chenery. What was that like?
Lane: Well, it was out of sequence because I would have loved to have gone before we shot the movie but that's OK. It was really neat to be there with the people in the stands and have the real thing going down instead of our recreation of it. Honestly to be on Penny Chenery's coattails and be able to be with her at the Derby, witness the race with her, meet her friends from many years gone by and to be in the parade as a grand marshal with her was very otherworldly. I was having an out-of-body experience the entire time. Thank goodness there were some pictures so I could remember some of the things that happened. Sometimes I'm so present that I don't record it and make sure to remember it. It's so Zen. It's too Zen.
Markazi: Were you a big horse racing fan growing up or was this your first introduction into the sport?
Lane: I watched it from home as a kid. I was never taken to the races. That wasn't something I was able to do as a kid, unfortunately for me, because I know I would have absolutely loved it. I wish somebody somewhere would have taken me to the ... races, because I loved horses so much. Why didn't anybody ever think of that? Here's a kid who loves horses, we should take her to the races. Let her see the ponies run. But that's OK. I've gotten over it. [Laughs] It didn't get between me and my love of horses at all. I kept that flame in my heart burning for my love of horses and the expression they are of joy incarnate. Certainly, Secretariat in his legendary third race of the Triple Crown, it was pitiless.
Markazi: You watched every race of Secretariat's Triple Crown with Penny in researching for the role and getting an understanding of what she was feeling. What was it like to relive those moments with her?
Lane: The one thing I learned is that it happens so fast that, in fact, what ends up occurring is that it lasts forever. That's the great revenge of something that only takes a brief amount of time. It defines so much more than the time it took. They always say the Kentucky Derby is "the most exciting two minutes in sports." It's over so quickly that you just want to hold it in a bottle forever.
Markazi: You have many scenes where it's just you and the horse, which plays Secretariat. What was it like running dialogue with a horse instead of a human?
Lane: [Laughs] Well, it's very daunting. I call them 1,200 pounds of right. They're right all the time. You have to let it be the horse's idea and if they don't want to do it, that's OK, because there's no choice in the matter. It's amazing how many sayings there are about horses. Hold your horses. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Horse of a different color. The dark horse in the race. We were so dependent on horses for a very long time and still measure speed by horse power. We've drifted away from the best part about these beautiful animals and the beauty of bringing your family to the track and having a day at the races. There's something really exciting, unique and joyous about watching these creatures enjoy themselves and people forget how great it is. It's not the same on television. I plan on bringing my girls to the races now.
Markazi: This is a sports movie and a film about horse racing, but there are many underlying themes as well in dealing with gender equality, overcoming adversity and never giving up. What do you hope people take away from this movie after they see it?
Lane: Well, it was unusual; it was definitely an anomaly to have a woman be in this position to drift onto the race track from her role as housewife and mother. People wanted to forget that she was born into this industry and this was her father's business and she was saving the farm, literally and metaphorically. You can run, but you can't hide and this was really Penny's destiny to fulfill the mantle. I love that she has the last laugh on all those people that wanted to belittle her or put her on the defense for being a woman in an era when women's lib was a word and this kind of thing wasn't even thought of being possible.
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.