It begins early in the film “The Rider,” when actor Brady Jandreau turns from the camera and we see the back of his jacket: “South Dakota Junior Rodeo.”
Before cowboys leap through the flames of their Badlands campfire, before the saddle bronc footage or the late-night visits to Dakotamart, “The Rider” is telling us: This is a South Dakota movie.
It says so. On Brady’s jacket.
I asked the actor about that scene when he joined In the Moment to talk about the film. It’s a movie that tells the story of his accident and recovery (a horse stepped on his head and fractured his skull during rodeo competition), his search for meaning, his determination and grit.
Did you have a sense of what that moment means for South Dakotans, I asked ... for kids from Pine Ridge who never get to see their lives or their landscape reflected on the big screen?
Sure, Brady told me. He knows exactly what it means. He’s looking at the same screen we are. He’s seeing his story there for the first time too.
Director Chloé Zhao, who also made “Songs My Brother Taught Me,” had the good sense to cast Brady in the story of his own life. She had the artistic vision to get out of the way and let the story breathe. Another director might have cast a more seasoned actor. We are, after all, used to going to the movies and seeing the polished, the manufactured.
But when Brady pries the staples holding the bandage to his head with the tip of his knife blade, we intuitively understand he is holding his own knife and repeating the action for the camera. It’s Brady calming the wild horses of the film. There’s no stunt double standing in the wings, no costume designer powdering dust onto Brady’s Wranglers.
Another director might have hired Brady to serve as a consultant, parading another actor around the media circuit to tell the story of all he learned from the South Dakota cowboy.
Another director might have ruined everything.
It’s Brady Jandreau who nudges “The Rider” to its higher purpose, even as he seeks his own. It’s his sincerity, his willingness, his generosity. In the end, Brady isn’t risking his life training horses because it’s the “tough” thing to do. He doesn’t have anything to prove. Not to film-goers. Not to Hollywood.
“The Rider” is part western, part coming-of-age story. Characters only speak when they have something to say. They pray for their friends. They pray for their horses. They break down. They get back up.
When Brady Jandreau joined In the Moment, I had planned to ask him if, after watching the film of his life, he still identified with the title character. Does he still see himself as “The Rider?”
In the end, I didn’t ask that question.
I didn’t have to. The answer was obvious.
I hope to see more films featuring Brady Jandreau. I hope he gets meaningful offers and that no one polishes him or edits him or otherwise cleans him up. We could use a few good cowboy movies right about now. We could use a few good movies where we recognize something of the essence of South Dakota.
The following conversation has been edited for web use. To listen to the whole conversation, click here.
Lori Walsh: Welcome back to In the Moment. I'm Lori Walsh. The Rider is a movie that takes its time. Set in South Dakota, it follows a rising rodeo star whose tragic head injury during a Saddle Bronc Ride knocks him off his path and has him questioning not only his future, but his identity. The movie stars Brady Jandreau and though the story is fictionalized, The Rider largely follows Brady's life from the accident forward. It stars his real life father as his character's father and his sister plays herself as well.
Directed by Chloe Zhao, she also directed Songs My Brothers Taught Me. The Rider premieres tonight at the Century Stadium 14 in Sioux Falls. I'm sorry, Friday night, at 7:00 P.M., and Brady Jandreau is on hand for the premiere and a post-screening Q&A. It's a film about identity, but it's also a film about us. And Brady Jandreau joins us now. Thank you so much for being here, Brady.
Brady Jandreau: Thank you, Lori.
Lori Walsh: There's a moment very early in The Rider, in the film, when we sort of see your character, not for the first time, but for the first time outside of his house and you're wearing a jacket. And the jacket has a ... It's a South Dakota Junior Rodeo jacket, and you turn your back and we just see these words, South Dakota. And at that moment it occurs to me that you never see that in film. You never see a character representing Pine Ridge, representing the state of South Dakota. Did you have an awareness as you sort of made this film how much it would mean to the people from here?
Brady Jandreau: Yeah. We really felt it was important to portray our part of the world to the best of our ability.
Lori Walsh: The footage of the accident, the rodeo accident, is in the film is the real footage of your actual injury. And I'm wondering if you could walk us through how much you remember of that moment and then the days afterwards?
Brady Jandreau: Well, I was entered at Fargo PRCA Rodeo at the Fargo Dome in North Dakota and it was on April Fools Day of 2016. I drew a Mosbrucker rodeo horse by the name of Thunderbay and he was very hard to get in timing with and she got me loose right before the whistle. So I tried to stay on for the whistle and when I did come off my foot hung in the stirrups and I went underneath of her, swung underneath of her and she stepped on my head, which caused my foot to come out of the stirrup, thank God. And the initial step didn't actually knock me out, but I sustained a comminuted skull fracture that was three and a quarter inches in length, an inch and a quarter wide, and about three quarters of an inch deep into my brain cavity. Sustained very significant brain bleed.
I remember the horse bucking away from me and everything and when they got me to the hospital they started asking me questions about 11 minutes after the step I went into full body convulsion seizure and there was a brain surgeon there on staff that saved my life. I was in a coma for four days roughly, and woke up and pulled my breathing tubes out and been getting better ever since.
Lori Walsh: You kind of walk away from, you know, that injury, but there are signs at least in the film that not everything is 100% alright. So you have some decisions to make. Is the film follow that story fairly accurately?
Brady Jandreau: You know, I mean when you're rodeoing it's always a gamble. You're paying your fees, you gotta do good, your horse gotta do good, you gotta do better than other contestants, the judges got to think so. Training horses for set wage, it's like one hands worth you know, and yeah.
Lori Walsh: Is there a moment where you think is there a series of small decisions about what you'll be able to do? Because you're training horses now but you're not riding the circuit anymore, is that a series of small decisions that you have to make on a daily basis? Like "I can do this, I can't do that," or was there was one day where you had to sit down and say "This is my future"?
Brady Jandreau: Yeah it is. Even training horses, like I still make small decisions all the time. Even training horses now, I still think you know, if I get hurt I'm a lot further from the hospital than I was when I was injured initially. Chances are if I was injured ... well if I were to hit my head hard enough my plate would cause an injury. My metal plate in my head would cause an injury in my head three times the size of my first injury or even bigger and I mean I'm 50 miles from the hospital out here and I'd be dead.
So I mean I really have to think about things. I have to take things into consideration. When I'm training I have to never push the horse too hard or ask too much of him, always work with him and make sure my connection is strong so I know I'm safe.
Lori Walsh: Tell me about how the movie came about because you meet the films director before the accident and talk about this decision to sort of be in the film yourself, have your father, have your sister, have so many of the characters really play themselves in this fictionalized story.
Brady Jandreau: Before we came up with all sorts of different story lines from romance to a documentary, to all the way down the rodeo circuit to one about me horse training, one about me just working on the ranch ... stuff not going really seem to fit after my head injury and when I was hurt initially she ... everything was put on hold. She wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do any of the acting of anything. So then a month and a half after my head injury she found out I was training horses again, so they called me and she like "Brady you die. What are you doing?" I was like well I don't feel alive not training horses, you know? She's like "So you're telling me you would risk your life to keep doing what you love?" And I said yeah. And she's like "Alright I think we have a movie here."
Lori Walsh: What was it like then to sort of take on this character who is partially you, but then you have to stick the script and follow the direction and dramatization. What was that like as an experience?
Brady Jandreau: It was pretty fun. It was challenging in a lot of ways, but I mean that was part of my interest. And I guess I'm always up for a challenge. The best horses I train are always the most challenging at first, so.
Lori Walsh: Right? There's a scene where you're training horses, there's lots of footage of this, and it occurred to me at that moment that really nobody else ... I mean they couldn't have found an actor who could have done that part like you did because of the specialty of what you do.
Brady Jandreau: Yeah, and that's what the first thing that group to me she's says is that my ability work with horses ... in the way I do.
Lori Walsh: Tell me about the horses in this film.
Brady Jandreau: Most of those horses were just completely wild. All the horses that ... whatever they're supposed to be is what they are, you know what I mean? Like the horse, CoolBreeze, that I'm training for Allen Reddy, that horse had literally never been touched. Those horses I was training for Frank, Frank is actually played by my father-in-law Leroy Pourier, and those horses were actually owned by Deborah and those were horses that I was already training for a living because more than a month and a half without working I was already. I was training every day from about 5:00 A.M. to noon. I would train six, seven horses, give 'em about an hour a piece and then I would ... around noon I would come inside and shower, eat some lunch and then go get ready and shoot from about 1 o'clock to magic hour or sometimes even after dark. Every day I'm training as long.
Lori Walsh: Tell me about your friend Lane, because he also appears in this movie and he'd has a very serious accident, he's a bull rider. How long have you known him?
Brady Jandreau: Me and Lane have been best friends since I was two and he was 3. We always went to school together, we wrestled together, we were in football together, we rodeo together, we work together, literally inseparable growing up. I was at my house and he was there too and visa versa. Closer than brothers. And Lane went to college in Hillsboro, Texas on a full-ride rodeo scholarship to ride bulls at Hill College, and he was in a car accident down there after a few weeks and sustained a very graphic head injury in the car accident. He was ejected from the vehicle. He landed in a pile of Texas fire ants, was almost killed by the toxins alone. The driver had to walk two miles to get help in the dark and then they identified Lane by his tattoos. The other passenger was killed and Lane was in a coma for about a year and half medically I guess.
It's a long, slow recovery but he's healing up. He went to various treatment facilities and hospitals and he's at home now. He's been doing a lot better, walking with help, saying a few words again. His memory is excellent. He was a little foggy for about a year after his injury, or a year before his injury. A year before it. But he remembers things. Small details from things that happened when we were children. I mean it's been a long slow recovery but he's going good.
Lori Walsh: What did it mean for you to sort of tell his story too along with yours, because this is not just a movie about you?
Brady Jandreau: It was really important for me to glorify Lane and put his story out there you know and just ... He was actually going to be in like a full riding reality show type thing the summer after. He was going to do it during the summer after college would get out each year. So it was pretty cool that Lane actually did get to act.
Lori Walsh: Let's talk a little bit about, now that the film has been released, some of the response to it and some of the questions you're getting asked, because now you're talking to a South Dakota audience but you've talked to people all over the country, some of whom barely know what a horse it. What it is that sort of been like for you?
Brady Jandreau: You know the most interesting thing is how people like to say they've never even touched a horse or even been around a horse, how they can feel ... still feel so connected to this movie because this movie is set on a reservation with you know, cowboys and stuff but a it's a movie about people you know? It has a very universal theme.
Lori Walsh: Has that been sort of entertaining for you to hear some of those questions or do you see it as an opportunity?
Brady Jandreau: It really means a lot to me when people who like I say have nothing to do with this part of the world, how they can feel just a strong connection and take home something from the movie.
Lori Walsh: What's next for you?
Brady Jandreau: Well since the shoot, my wife and I have started a breeding program called Jandreau Performance Horses, so we have a website and we have a Facebook page, you can go on there and 'Like' and everything. We raise American Quarter Horses registered through the AQHA to do everything in and out of the arena, from rodeo events to reining, to mounted shooting and ranch riding, pleasure riding, about anything. We've got all sorts of colors shapes and sizes. We have a daughter as well named Tawny Bay Jandreau. She's going to be ten months old here on the 16th. And I hired a manager last time I was in LA so hopefully doing some more acting.
Lori Walsh: Yeah and she's on horse back as soon as she ... right? She's already riding as a toddler, right?
Brady Jandreau: Here's some statistics. She's been on 32 different horses and 37 different airplanes.
Brady Jandreau: She's quite the little adventure baby.
Lauri Walsh: She's an adventure baby and so are you! You've got quite a story and we thank you so much for telling it with us today. The film is called The Rider.