Randall Wallace – the Oscar®-nominated creative force behind the epic storytelling of such critical and box-office hits as BRAVEHEART, WE WERE SOLDIERS and PEARL HARBOR – last Fall brought to life the inspirational excitement of SECRETARIAT, the impossible true story of the racehorse who won the Triple Crown in 1973.
Wallace’s skill with uncommon yet true tales of loyalty, courage and commitment from throughout human history has set him apart in Hollywood. His films have earned more than $1 billion dollars at the box office, but he is most sought after for something even more rare: a visual storytelling style that can make the past feel completely alive and screen characters from any time period compellingly real. He turned a forgotten Scottish warrior into a contemporary film hero in the screenplay for BRAVEHEART; adapted a classic Alexandre Dumas novel into an all-star adventure of palace intrigue with his directorial debut THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK; examined the sacrifices of American soldiers with one of the best-reviewed war movies of the last two decades, WE WERE SOLDIERS; and forged a blockbuster tale of friendship and romance against the backdrop of an America under attack in the script for PEARL HARBOR.
With SECRETARIAT, Wallace brought those skills to bear on a spectacular story for all ages. Wallace immediately had a personal vision for the film, one that honed in on themes he found irresistible and makes the action heart-pounding and immediate. Inspired by William Nack’s book, Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, he turned the tale of the ultimate long-shot horse — and a woman who refused to give up — into a powerful depiction of the American zeitgeist at a time when the country was in search of hope. “Penny and her horse captured a part of my heart, and you’ve got to bring your heart to a story to tell it right. That’s my only compass,” says Wallace.
Telling the story right was no easy task. Refusing to use mechanical horses or digital trickery, Wallace instead utilized real jockeys, dozens of unpredictable animals and re-teamed with Academy Award®-winning cinematographer Dean Semler, who used unprecedented and innovative camera techniques to put the audience right on the track with a soaring Secretariat. Faced with a 45-day schedule and a budget under $40 million, Wallace came in early and with resources to spare.
SECRETARIAT was the culmination of lessons learned throughout Wallace’s career, which has been unconventional in Hollywood, to say the least. Born in Jackson, Tennessee, he grew up in a vanishing world of country stores and potbelly stoves, where he once constructed a writing desk for himself out of pig-feed sacks. He went on to attend Duke University, where he studied Russian, religion, and literature, which he says made him acutely aware of how the past can be shockingly relevant to the present and would later influence the vibrant, dynamic way in which he would bring to life epic stories from history. After Duke, he put himself through a graduate year of seminary in a typically unusual way, by teaching martial arts (he is a black belt in Karate.)
Wallace continued down an ever-shifting path, managing an animal show at Nashville’s Opryland, signing a contract as a songwriter and writing articles for Architectural Digest (while living in a tiny, garage apartment). But it was when he moved to California in 1980 that he found what he was looking for, unexpectedly, when he read his first screenplay. Along with screenplays, he began writing novels – and today he is the author of seven books, including four original novels and three novel versions of the screenplays of his films. From the moment he read his first screenplay, he knew this was the form that would change his life.
Wallace was taken under the wing of leading television producer Stephen J. Cannell and spent several years writing for television series in the late 80s and early 90s. He struck out into features with BRAVEHEART, which was inspired by a trip to Scotland to better get to know his roots as a Scottish American. It was there he learned about the true legend of medieval Scottish patriot William Wallace — and instantly saw the sweeping cinematic potential in his story of betrayal and sacrifice.
BRAVEHEART became Wallace’s first produced screenplay when it drew the interest of director and star Mel Gibson, and ended up as the film success story of 1995, sweeping the Academy Awards® for Best Picture and Best Director and garnering Oscar® and Golden Globe nominations as well as the Writers Guild Award for Best Screenplay for Wallace.
The success of BRAVEHEART sparked Wallace’s desire to direct. Making his directorial debut with his own screenplay for THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, he drew an extraordinary cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Jeremy Irons and Gerard Depardieu.
Shortly after, he wrote the screenplay for the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster, PEARL HARBOR, directed by Michael Bay and starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale.
This was followed by Wallace’s second film as director, WE WERE SOLDIERS. Once again, Wallace spearheaded the project, after discovering the book We Were Soldiers Once , , . and Young, in an airport bookshop. Moved by its starkly honest account of a singular battle in the Vietnam War, Wallace purchased the rights himself with money he had earned from BRAVEHEART. He then re-teamed with Mel Gibson to star in a film that would be widely acclaimed for its humanity and authenticity. Wallace was so committed to understanding the motivation of his characters that he even trained with career soldiers at the notoriously grueling U.S. Army Ranger School.
SECRETARIAT would take Wallace into a completely different world, but one also full of inspired determination and people triumphing against the odds. Authenticity remained key as Wallace hand-picked the cast and literally went off to the races, immersing himself in the history and know-how of horseracing so that he could put it on-screen in a way audiences had never experienced before. He shot on location in Kentucky and Louisiana, with as many as 36 horses on the set at once.
The sense of pulsating life at the core of SECRETARIAT made it more than just a sports adventure tale for Wallace. “I love to take a great story and look for the poetics of it, look for what gives it the power of myth,” he sums up. “There’s a connection there with all of my films.”
Wallace also recently took a comic turn in front of the camera, playing himself on HBO’s hit comedy series ENTOURAGE, in an episode in which Vince, after a night of debauchery, blows his big meeting with the director.
In addition to his work as a filmmaker, Wallace is the founder of Hollywood for Habitat for Humanity and the father of two sons. In 1999, he formed his own company, Wallace Entertainment, which is focused on creating entertainment for worldwide audiences based on the classic values of love, courage and honor.