In Disney’s “McFarland, USA,” actor Carlos Pratts plays Thomas Valles, the captain of an all-Latino high school cross country team in California who wants to prove he and his fellow runners have what it takes to compete with the best in the state. It’s an idea planted into his head by their coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), who sees a determination and strength in his runners that no one has tapped into before.
During our interview Pratts, 28, talked about the training he had to go through to get ready to play his character and what he hopes a role like this can do for the rest of his acting career.
Were you a runner before this movie?
I really wasn’t. I was an athlete though. But I had never really taken on running until this film. So, I had to get in shape. They got me a trainer for strength and nutrition. I ran with those guys every morning for five or six miles for about a month.
Did you see a major change in your stamina during that time?
Yeah, and I also started noticing that I was running everywhere. I would get out of my car to go somewhere and instead of walking I would run in.
Now that the film is over, are you keeping up with it?
I still exercise, but I definitely don’t run as much. But I play a lot of basketball. I love basketball. I play every morning.
What was audition process like for “McFarland?”
It was long. I ended up having to go through eight auditions until I eventually landed the part. I actually wasn’t in auditioning for Thomas originally. I was auditioning for the character of David Diaz. The casting director told me she didn’t think I was right for David. I almost started crying when I walked out, but then she told me I might be good for Thomas. They were really happy with my audition. Eight auditions later I got the part. I had never experienced anything like that before.
Talk about working with two-time Oscar winner Kevin Costner.
Kevin is an amazing guy. When I got on set, I really wasn’t that nervous. I was just excited to shoot. Kevin made everybody feel like we belonged. Everything was really organic. I learned a lot from watching Kevin.
What did you learn from this production that you’ll take to the next film?
Well, you always learn something about yourself as an actor. I learned I can tell a story and keep audiences engaged, which is awesome. Trust me, I have some DVDs out there that aren’t that good. I think the biggest thing I learned was that everybody on the set deserves the same amount of respect.
Do you hope landing a role like this allows you to be more selective so you don’t end up in any more of those DVD movies?
Yeah, I definitely want to be picky with what I do next. It’s all about building a career. I hope I can have longevity. I hope my next role is something that inspires me and something people want to see.
Are those inspirational roles the only ones you’re going to audition for? Do you think you’re going to try to avoid stereotypical characters?
Honestly, I want to do roles that show Latinos in the best light possible. If the heart is there and it’s a beautiful story, who knows what role I’ll take on. I just want to make sure the message is pure.