The inspiration for Dreamer, screenwriter John Gatins’ directorial debut, was a real-life nightmare.
“I’m from New York, and 9/11 hit me really hard,” Gatins said in a screening interview in Los Angeles for the film, which will be released Oct. 21. “Watching all that coverage made me long for the movies of my childhood: the Black Beauties and the Old Yellers. Part of me wanted a simpler, American story.”
Dreamer tells the story of the Cranes, a Kentucky family caring for the once-promising racehorse Soñador. When the horse breaks his leg on the racetrack, trainer Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) refuses to let Soñador’s owner put him down. The bold move costs Ben his job, but caring for Soñador strengthens the Cranes’ relationships as they work toward their shared dream of seeing the horse recover.
Dakota Fanning plays Cale Crane, a spunky girl who loves horses and desperately seeks a connection with her distant father, Ben. “All the characters dream of different things,” Fanning said. “My character dreams of being around horses with her father, to see her horse, Soñador, race to victory and, most of all, to help her family.”
To prepare for her role, Fanning enlisted the help of her grandmother, another horse lover, to teach her about the animals. “My grandmother was so excited,” Fanning said. Fanning also identified with the movie’s theme of striving to turn dreams into realities. She said acting was one of her dreams. “I definitely want to do this forever.”
Fanning, who had never ridden a horse before Dreamer, said she enjoyed learning about horses for her role in the movie. Before starting work on the film, she said, she had the typical girl’s reaction to horses: “It’s the thought, ‘Oh, I want a pony.’”
That changed as she prepared to play Cale Crane. “I learned all the names [of the horses in the film], their colors, their socks and their stars and blazes. Then I learned everything I could about the different saddles, bridles and halters,” she said. “It was so much fun.” When filming ended, Russell, who has owned horses all his life, ensured that Fanning would continue learning about the animals. He gave his co-star a palomino quarter horse that Fanning named Goldie, after Russell’s girlfriend, Goldie Hawn.
“I love my horse,” Fanning said. “I mean, he’s a responsibility, but he’s really fun. And I get to say ‘I have a horse.’”
Plagued with doubts
Director and writer John Gatins, who has co-written sports stories such as Coach Carter and Varsity Blues, said he often wondered if Dreamer ever would become a reality. Although plagued with doubts about the movie’s storyline and script, Gatins continued working toward the film’s eventual production.
Gatins said he was encouraged when DreamWorks took an interest in the picture and pleased to the point of disbelief when he secured an A-list cast including Fanning, Russell and Kris Kristofferson.
“I’m the least likely guy – a failed movie actor, a blue-collar writer,” he said. “And look at the actors. Why would Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell decide to do this [movie] with me?”
It’s an unlikely sentiment from a man whose directorial debut is about pursing even the most unlikely dreams. And when Dreamer is released, Gatins’ dream of directing a major motion picture will finally, officially come true.