In McFarland, USA, out this month, the track team at the titular California town’s high school goes from barely there to legendary. It’s a true story; the school’s team went on to attend the state championships for the next 24 years. And while the big-screen version features some Hollywood concessions, like Kevin Costner as a high-school track coach, star Carlos Pratts says the training he endured was most definitely real.
“I’ve always been pretty athletic, but I have never run like that,” Pratts, who worked with Mark Wahlberg’s longtime trainer Brian Nguyen for his role, says. “Honestly, I always thought running was an easy sport, but it’s the most mentally tough sport of them all.”
And it’s no walk in the park physically, either. Since Pratts character, Thomas Valles, is the most gifted runner on his team, the actor’s workout was more intense than that of any of his co-stars.
“My routine was a bit different from the rest of the guys, and my diet was ridiculous,” he says. “Once we started filming, we had a 5 A.M. call time, so I was up by 3 every day to run three miles and then hit the gym before I even got to set.”
Not that he didn’t give himself a break now and again. He says, “I’m not going to lie and tell you that every now and I didn’t go to Chipotle. I am human.”
But what Pratts walked away from the film with was more than just physical conditioning.
“There’s a race in the film where I really had to beat the guy I was racing,” he says. “We rehearsed and rehearsed it, but when it came time to film I just had to give 100 percent and see what happened. It was a real race, and I beat him. But the only reason I was able to beat him was because of the way I was training: When I didn’t want to do that one extra rep, I still did it. And that reiterated to me how much every little bit counts. You never know when it’s going to pay off, but it will.”