Clint Black Talks New DVD 'Flicka: Country Pride'
The country singer and actor, a cowboy at heart, plays a cowboy with heart.
Photography: Joseph Lederer/Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Wind whistles across the rocky bluffs above a riding arena in Kelowna in southern British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, where actors and extras in helmets and breeches are clustered with directors and horses. Singer-songwriter Clint Black, wearing a cowboy hat and a boyish grin, is drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup. It’s the final week of filming of the Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment family drama Flicka: Country Pride, in which Black — known for songs like “Killin’ Time,” “A Better Man,” “Put Yourself in My Shoes,” and dozens of other hits — plays a cowboy, while Kelowna — known for its orchards and vineyards and
summers — stands in for Wyoming.
On the set, the country music star wears a gray hat (his trademark hat is black) and the only songs he sings come between takes (“Run for the Roses” by Dan Fogelberg and some Steely Dan), but he’s quick to admit that the cowboy in Flicka: Country Pride is completely in character with the cowboy in Clint Black. “I would love to have been a ranch foreman in another life,” he says, sipping coffee. “I’ve always been a cowboy in my heart.”
In Flicka: Country Pride Black plays Toby, a horse trainer hired by single mother Lindy, played by Lisa Hartman Black. Lindy’s husband has died; her teenage daughter, Kelly (Kacey Rohl), a champion equestrian rider, has stopped competing; and their hunter-jumper stable is struggling to stay afloat. Toby shows up with his black mustang mare, Flicka, and finds a way to help the family without getting dragged into their drama.
Flicka: Country Pride is available exclusively at Walmart.
“Toby gets it,” Black says. “He knows what’s really bad and what’s just temporary, so he handles it accordingly and in a good cowboy way with a little bit of humor.” Black, who’s been in the music business for more than two decades, says he can relate to his character. “I think I’ve been around long enough to know what to sweat and what not to sweat.”
Flicka: Country Pride is the newest in a trio of horse-themed movies adapted from the 1941 Mary O’Hara children’s classic My Friend Flicka. While the 2010 Flicka 2 was set on a ranch, Flicka: Country Pride jumps to equestrian competition. Count on more horses, more riders, and more action, says executive producer Janeen Damian, who also worked with Black on Flicka 2 and calls him “one of the most charming men I’ve met. He brings that to the screen and he’s funny and he listens.”
The new movie, Damian says, showcases three-day eventing. “It’s an amazing discipline that most people aren’t familiar with, especially the cross-country. It’s challenging and athletic and one of the most beautiful equestrian events — the ultimate trust between rider and horse.”
Trust and rebirth are underlying themes in this story of how a young girl, inspired by a horse with a mind of its own, reconnects with her family, her sport, and her life. “It’s good for families to see,” says Black, “good for kids to see that we can be in trouble and things can seem hopeless, but if you look around you may find someone there extending a helping hand — or a hoof.”
Black had the hat but didn’t have a ton of experience with horses to draw on when he first played Toby in Flicka 2. He recalls a “Huckleberry Finn” childhood in Houston. “I didn’t realize it was such a big town,” he says. “I grew up on the bayou fishing with my hands and catching snakes and building tree houses. We didn’t have a horse, but I got to ride a friend’s horse a bit.”
Flicka: Country Pride required about 30 horses a day on set. (The mustang Flicka is actually five different horses, all warmbloods, each with specific talents; two of these horses also starred in Flicka 2). To recruit horses and riders in Kelowna, producers tapped into Craigslist and Facebook and checked out tack shops and horse shows. Before filming got underway, they ran a two-week boot camp to familiarize the not-so-film-savvy local horses with cameras and lights and boom mics.
Horse boot camp for Black, who does his own riding scenes in the movie, was less formal. “I love it,” he says. “I listen to the wranglers and let them help.” Black also listened to and learned from other actors on the set. “It’s like watching Chet Atkins play guitar. It makes me want to get better.”
Having written, recorded, and released more than 100 songs, Black has music on the mind even while he’s acting: “I use music in a scene, get my own soundtrack going in the background,” he says. Slipping into his personal soundtrack was a natural way to get into the mind-set and character of a cowboy horse trainer.
For her part, Black’s costar and wife of 20 years, Lisa Hartman Black — herself an accomplished singer — admits she was initially a bit intimidated by the horses. But she got immersed in the equestrian world and was smitten. “Working with these horses and trainers and younger actors has been a wonderful experience,” she says. “I would love to ride more.”
Besides allowing the Blacks time in the saddle, filming Flicka: Country Pride provided some welcome family time. The couple’s schedules often keep them apart, so it was a rare gift to have four weeks on location together in Canada with daughter Lily, who also appears in the film. Hartman Black, who has starred in a string of television movies and miniseries since her four-year run on the CBS television drama Knots Landing, debated whether to allow Lily, who had just started fifth grade, to audition for a part in the film. “She’s wanted to act for years and Clint and I have been dragging our feet for obvious reasons — there’s plenty of time for that.” But she signed Lily up for a session with an acting coach, and the now 11-year-old “took to it like a duck to water.”
It proved a good decision, says Hartman Black: “Seeing [Clint] up so early in the morning and talking about Lily in a different way — instead of how proud we are that she did well on her math test, now we talk about how proud we are when she’s in a scene and another actor drops a line and she carries right on.”
The gift clearly runs in the family, which made wrapping the movie a melancholy occasion. “I wish we had more to do,” says Hartman Black. The last take in Kelowna left her husband similarly nostalgic. “I’m a cowboy romantic,” Black says. “Toby’s boots fit better than my own.”