Brady Jandreau is the central figure in Chloe Zhao’s multi-award winning feature The Rider about a rodeo rider who suffered a head injury and its aftermath. Zhao won the C.I.C.A.E. Award at Cannes and the film has gone on to tremendous success on the festival circuit. Jandreau plays a fictionalised version of himself, as do his family members and friends who live and train horses in a South Dakota Badlands Indian reservation following the life and death decisions he must make after a devastating concussion. The films is mesmerising and deeply moving, especially given Brady’s connection to horses, and his manner of connecting. I spoke with Jandreau in Toronto which marked the first time he’d left his home state.
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It is so simple and so relatable and understandable. And I think for people who might see it and not know much about it, to go to find out afterwards that you’re all playing yourselves, and that this is, in some ways, your own story, would be mind-bending. It’s just such a great film. What did you think when you saw it?
Honestly, like I had never — I didn’t know how this whole acting thing worked and stuff. So like, we would have to shoot some of the ending scenes at the beginning of the shoot and some of the beginning scenes at the ending of the shoot; especially like, with my haircut and stuff, you know, having to cut my hair. And I just didn’t know how it was all going to come together because like, we would shoot some things like, 20 times and then we shoot some things like, once and you know, I didn’t know how any of it worked because I never acted or even researched anything to do with acting really, so —
Well, I mean, I think that Chloe must have had an idea that you were perfect for it.
Well, I’ve been a performer my whole life, with the rodeo and selling horses, you know, like as a salesman and taking in outside horses from clients and stuff, you have to present yourself in a certain way, or else they’re not going to send you their horse, you know.
That’s performance, absolutely. One of the most stunning sequences I’ve seen in film in a long, long time is you on the spot training a wild horse. It just takes you no time at all. It was amazing to me. You know, I’ve known some horses, and it’s just amazing. What is it that you’re doing, if you can just explain in some sort of easy way?
Well, training horses is all based upon connection. Anything you do with a horse, they’re allowing you to do. You know what I mean? So you have to convince them to allow you to do it because there’s no way to completely control a 1200-pound, 1400-pound animal. Yeah. And like, in that scene where I’m training the horse, that horse had never been touched before, never ever been touched. And I had him leading in a very short amount of time, like, imagine training your dog to lead, now imagine training a 1200-pound dog to lead, who had never seen a person before.
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Oh wow. Put that on top of it. So you were like an alien to him and you won him.
You find a way to communicate with them. And like, as you communicate, you portray your emotions in a subtle, soft, loving way and naturally, they allow you into their bubble.
The way you were speaking to him was so gentle. It’s like you were speaking to a baby with intelligence that had intelligence. Are you known for having this special gift?
Around my area, yes. I’m a pretty good horse trainer, I think. But I’ve actually — like this buckle I’m wearing here, it says “Colt Starting Challenge USA. Champion Trainer Rapid City, South Dakota.” It was a deal where there’s like six trainers in a round corral and they each get a horse that has never been worked with. And you have a matter of hours to train them over a two-day period and then you have to ride them through an obstacle course at the end. And at the end of the deal, I ended up winning it pretty easily.
That was the only time I’ve ever done any horse training competition, but it’s a small association, so there’s not much money funding it yet or anything. It’s just kind of starting up, so that’s why I haven’t gone to any more.
Now you’re giving it some air so it’s all great. I too had a concussion. I don’t have an idea what you went through at all, but I know the fringes of it. Lately it’s come up more lawsuits in the NFL and NHL so I’m so glad that people are talking about it, and very grateful for this film. Do you see that it can make change?
You know, I really hope it does. A head injury is not like any other type of injury because it affects the whole perception of the world around you. It’s kind of sad to talk about, but a Canadian bull rider actually, Ty Pozzobon just this last year, he has had sustained many, many concussions. And he — it caused a lot of depression for him and it actually caused him to commit suicide. Ty was a very successful bull rider, one of the best. He’s from British Columbia. And he’s one of the best bull riders of this generation, definitely.
I’m just strictly training horses now. I’m making more money just — well, I’m riding, but not at rodeos. In a lot of ways, that’s even more dangerous at a rodeo, there is an ambulance there and there’s pickup man in the arena. When I’m training a horse that has never been worked with, anything can happen.
I remember they told me to rest and I said, “I can’t rest. I’ve got work to do.” I never rested. And it might have gone away a lot earlier had I rested. So you’re dealing with that?
Yes. Well, it was only a month and a half after the injury when I started training horses that had never been worked with again. And two weeks after the injury, it was only a week out of the hospital. I was actually — I rode Gus again. Two weeks. I had to just go back to training horses. It’s who I am.
How did you connect with Chloe Zhao?
Chloe shot part of her last film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, on a friend’s ranch. So she was back researching cowboy lifestyle because she wanted to make a movie about cowboys in the heartland of America; Indian cowboys and stuff, and that was where she met me. We actually took Chloe out riding with us and she helped us gather the cows and stuff and she learned how to ride and she learned about it. And throughout this, she got to know me better and started asking me about my life and stuff. I trusted her pretty well because like, working with her and stuff and hanging out with her a lot. Me and Chloe have always had pretty good connection, you know.
So it was accidental. You were just nearby.
I was just at my job. Chloe was there doing research. There was actually a thing, we took the saddle off the horse and she was like, “What’s that?” Like the kind of the bump where the horse’s neck meets their shoulders. And I said that’s the withers. They call it the withers. That’s something that God put in there to keep the saddle on. She stopped and like wrote it down and just like, “I’m going to put you in a movie.” But she didn’t really have a story until after my head injury.
What a story. Can you ever imagine that a film about you, that would win a big prize at Cannes?
I never thought that I would even — you know, I never even really thought about acting before this, but like I said, Chloe was willing to learn how to ride horses, I was willing to at least try to act for her, you know.
I think something that you have really going for you was your attitude and your will and your strength of character; very positive stuff. And I think, according to the film, that you are a religious person.
Well, I think everything in this life, no matter what religion you choose, I mean, everything is still based on faith. Whether it’s faith in yourself, faith in your friends, your family, the people around you, the world around you. I get my faith from Jesus Christ, and I mean, I’m not saying that anybody should change. I believe that you got to have faith in something though or else you’ll never going to get anywhere in this world.
Those scenes with you and your real life cowboy friends sitting around the campfire, praying for another friend who’s ill, killer stuff. So what was it like for Chloe just being there with all these guys, all the cowboys?
Well, honestly, Chloe is pretty tough. She doesn’t come off as that, but there was times when she had to holler us, get us lined out, kind of grab us by the ear, but Chloe has a lot of like motherly instincts on set. She’s very disciplined.
Your relationship with your father, played by your father, in the film is difficult. He doesn’t want you riding at rodeo again, but you want to. He trained you didn’t he?
Yup, yup. I learned everything I know from my mom and my dad. My mom is much more about the connection on the ground and my dad is much more about looking down their ears, so to speak, riding them. And so I learned a lot from both of them. Every horse is so different. I have lots of horses. I take in a lot of horses from outside clients. We buy and sell horses. Say horses go into the kill, so to speak, like they run them loose. They’re probably going to get sold to somebody who is in turn going to take them up here because the slaughter of horses is not legal in the United States. So a lot of times, I go into those pens of loose horses that I’ve never seen before and I will catch them. I’ll see if they’re willing to connect, so to speak. And I will buy them and then train them and resell them to a good home and stuff. That’s one thing we’re really big on. But I also raise horses, registered court horses. I have a page on Facebook and stuff. We have a little breeding program called Jandreau Performance Horses.
How are you feeling these days in terms of your concussion?
Well, there was a lot of mental, emotional struggles following my head injury. There was depression, anger, anxiety. There is a lot — basically finding myself again. There is a lot. Like, the perception type things of the world around me was very negative at first, but I’m married now and I have a daughter who is eight weeks old, and I guess everything happens for a reason and God has a plan and got to keep your faith.
That is so good. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much, ma’am.
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by @annebrodie, BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI