HBO horse racing show ‘Luck’ a true labor of love for Milch
■ What does the sport of horse racing offer in terms of storytelling and film production?
Milch (left), with stars Dustin Hoffman (right) and Nick Nolte, sees the track as a great stage.
■ Do you think horse racing, more than any other sport, lends itself to storytelling? What about NFL football?
MILCH: To me it does. Man’s relationship with an animal is something that complicates horse racing in a way that, for example, NFL football is not complicated. Football is a beautiful exploration of human possibility, but what is added in horse racing is all of the nuance of relating to a different species and trying to understand and bring out the best.
■ Is it true that the character in “Luck,” Turo Escalante, is based on real-life horse trainer Julio Canani? Was he your trainer? How does he feel about it?
MILCH: Yes. And I think Julio feels pretty good about it. Julio is the trainer I won a Breeders’ Cup [race] with, a horse called Val Royal in 2001.
■ Are any of the other characters in the show based on real-life people?
MILCH: Not so completely as Escalante is based on Julio. There are a lot of characters who are composites of horsemen that I have known. Nick Nolte’s character mixes in some of [horse trainers] Jack Van Berg, some of Ron McAnally. But Escalante is purely Canani.
■ Do you think this show is going to help or hurt the sport?
MILCH: If it doesn’t help the sport I am going to be heartbroken. I try to tell the truth about things, and there are some heartbreaking moments in horse racing. But I also try to be very respectful and also to illuminate what is uplifting about it. I think that anyone who stays with the show for more than a few episodes, I hope, will feel the love I have for it.
■ Some people in the horse industry are very upset. For example, in the very first episode, you have a horse that breaks a foreleg and is put down. I know you have friends at Santa Anita. Have you heard from them?
MILCH: Yeah, I’ve heard some disapproval, but it is part of the story. It’s part of the game. That horse going down, in a way, is what makes it possible for these guys to win their Pick Six. And the highs and lows sort of mixed in together was what I was trying to show. I certainly wasn’t trying to sensationalize it or glory in it or trivialize it in any way.
■ What does Santa Anita provide in terms of visuals from a filmmaker’s point of view?
MILCH: It’s such a beautiful, beautiful place. Hollywood [Park racetrack] has its own appeal, but I think visually that Santa Anita is unparalleled.
■ If you would do a series or a film around another sport, what would it be?
MILCH: I would never do another sport. It’s the game I have spent an awful lot of time coming to understand, and for better or worse, it’s the one I want to write about.
■ When will you know it’s a success?
MILCH: Well, they’ve picked it up already. So, that is a good thing.
■ Why did they pick it up?
MILCH: Well, I think they were optimistic about it and they also want to get a head start on the production. Now I suppose something terrible could happen in the next week or 10 days and they could reverse themselves, but I know I’ve written three scripts for the next year.