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Cowboy Up: South Dakota's Brady Jandreau hits the big screen
Cowboy-turned-actor and South Dakota native Brady Jandreau is drawing raves in the feature film "The Rider," which opened Friday in Sioux Falls.
The movie, directed by Chloé Zhao, is a fictionalized telling of Jandreau's life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation following a traumatic head injury.
"The Rider" has received critical acclaim since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2017, where it won the Art Cinema Award.
For its beautiful, yet honest, portrayal of life on the reservation and the challenges of the rodeo circuit, the movie should truly resonate with South Dakotans.
Chinese-American director Chloé Zhao became intrigued by a group of Lakota cowboys when filming her debut movie "Songs My Brother Taught Me" on the reservation in 2013.
Despite the fair complexion some of the riders have, they were born and raised on the reservation and are both Oglala Lakota and genuine cowboys.
When visiting a ranch in 2015, Zhao met Jandreau, a 21-year-old Lakota cowboy and member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. The filmmaker was immediately drawn to him and started gathering ideas for a movie about the bronc rider and horse trainer.
On April 1, 2016, Jandreau was competing at a rodeo in Fargo where his budding career was cut short. The cowboy was thrown from the bucking horse and nearly had his skull caved in by a hoof.
In her movie, Zhao captures Jandreau's real-life struggle to get back on his feet after the accident and find a new purpose.
With the stark beauty of west river South Dakota as its backdrop, "The Rider" is a breath-taking look at masculinity, perseverance and a disappearing way of life.
The Argus Leader caught up with Jandreau to discuss his accident, the movie and his plans for the future.
Question: How did "The Rider" come about?
Answer: Chloé was looking into possibly making a movie about following me down the pro rodeo circuit or a movie about me training horses, working on the ranch. She even thought about a documentary or romance, and nothing seemed to fit.
About a year after I met Chloe, she came back numerous times that year and watched me at rodeos. After my head injury, she found out I was training horses again, and she called me and chewed me out.
It was only a month and a half after my head injury that I was taking in horses to break again. She said, "You could die." I told her I didn't feel alive not being able to do what I love to do. And she said, "OK, I think we have a movie here."
Q: How similar is the movie to your real story?
A: I'd say it's about 60 percent based on the true story just because there are so many fictional elements, even in the factual parts of the story. When you re-enact something, you can't ever play it back exactly how it happened.
I'm a horse trainer. I sustained this head injury. I went back to training horses. I was a saddle bronc and bull rider. My dad in the movie is my actual biological father. My little sister is my actual biological sister. The places where we live. There is a story about a horse that's named Apollo in the movie. That's all true, just re-enacted.
Q: What was it like going from being a cowboy to an actor?
A: I was still a cowboy when I was acting, so it wasn't that much out of my element. I definitely had to do the same things that all other actors do. It was a 65-page script set up with the same format as a fiction film.
It was kind of similar, though, like when I'm working with a colt and there's other things going on around me, I got to stay completely hooked up or I might get my head kicked off or I might get into a wreck. I have to have all my focus right there.
Q: Did you enjoy acting?
A: It was fun, the whole challenge of it, honestly. After my head injury, I was an emotional wreck in a lot of ways, and I had to gain a new control of my emotions. I think that actually helps me to act in some ways.
I was really recovering from a head injury while we were shooting me recovering from a head injury. There were times when I would have a horrible headache in real life, and in the movie I'd have to be happy about something, or the other way around. I just got done joking around, and I'd have to go cry in a scene. It was pretty difficult, but it was fun.
Q: What was it like working with director Chloé Zhao?
A: She's really good to work with. She likes to work with actors who have never acted just like I like to work with horses that have never been ridden. Chloé has a way with it. She's like an actor trainer, making it easy to act. She's very good at putting people at ease.
Q: Do you think the movie accurately portrays life as a cowboy in South Dakota?
A: Just like each horse is an individual, each person is an individual. I think it did portray it pretty well. Basically, the movie reflects my connection to the land. Not being so caught up in the hustle and bustle like a lot of the places we've been traveling to, like Los Angeles, New York and Paris.
Q: One of the themes in the movie is the idea of "cowboy up" and how it relates to masculinity. Did you experience that attitude after your injury?
A: Definitely. The biggest thing with the whole "cowboy up" thing that I had to suck up about was not being able to rodeo anymore. I think I was more of a man by choosing not to do so. I'm living for everyone else, not my own personal wants.
Q: Two years later, what is the status of your head injury?
A: I'm going to be straight with you. I haven't returned to the hospital at all, so I'd say I'm doing pretty good. I never went back. I just came home and then a month and a half later I went broke, so I started training horses again.
When I left the hospital, they told me not to lift over 10 pounds or jog for three months. I would need to be cleared to do those things. In a month and a half, I was riding horses again, lifting a 50-pound saddle on their back.
Q: Why did you decide to risk it all to go back to work?
A: Because I'm not the kind of person that sticks their hand out, and I knew that through my connection with animals, I could keep myself safe. I knew that if I just went slow enough, I could do it. I've been dumped a couple of times, I'm going to be straight with you, since I hurt my head, but I lucked out that I didn't land wrong.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: Continue breeding horses and continue acting. I hired a manager last summer when I was in L.A., and I've been doing auditions. I'm an opportunistic person. I feel like God has a plan for us.
My wife, Terri Dawn, and I have started a horse training program called Jandreau Performance Horses. We raise American quarterhorses registered through the AQHA. We raise them to do everything in and out of the arena from rodeo events, ranch horses, hunting, pleasure riding.
Q: What does being a Lakota cowboy from South Dakota mean to you?
A: It's a way of life that is definitely dying out. I feel like there's a lot of things that the body just needs from the land. I'm not saying necessarily by being a cowboy or Native American.
I think we all have a spiritual connection to the land that if we don't feed right, the body finds its way to something else that probably isn't as good. I love my life. I love the land. I love my horses.
If you have an event or story idea that fits into the Sioux Falls dining or entertainment theme, Alexa Giebink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @ArgusAGiebink