Viggo Mortensen’s "Hidalgo" Rides into Los Angeles

While the late 1990’s saw dueling asteroid and volcano disaster-themed films battle tooth and nail to the multiplexes, the battle for 2003 looks to be a little more quaint as two projects focusing on renowned racehorses position themselves at the gates for release. While most of the moviegoing audience has focused their attention on Universal’s “Seabiscuit,” based on Laura Hillbenbrand’s hugely popular 2001 book of the same name, the filming of Disney’s “Hildalgo” has gone relatively unnoticed.

The film is based on the true story of Frank T. Hopkins, probably the greatest long-distance endurance rider, winning more than four hundred races in the late 1800’s. Honing his horse-handling skills as a dispatch rider in the United States Army and in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows, he is approached to enter the horse in a 3,000-mile endurance race across the Arabian Desert. In a race dominated by Arab horses, the paint mustang named Hidalgo, one that Hopkins bred and favored from his own ranch in Wyoming Territory, was able to accept the challenge. In the film adaptation, Hopkins will be played by the moody Viggo Mortensen, finally attaining the star status he deserves from his participation in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise, while Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park III,” “October Sky) directs.

As written by the Midnight Breeze Ranch Paint Horse Site, “The desert endurance race was a true test of a horse’s strength and stamina. To be able to complete the course, a horse must have a healthy constitution, incredible power, a staunch spirit, strong legs, and sure steps. Beginning in Aden, in southern Arabia, the course followed the Persian Gulf and then turned inland over the barren sandy land along the borders of Arabia, Iraq, and Syria…Each day the riders started with the sun, following it until they were marching into it. Horses dropped by the way, some exhausted, some lame. At the end of the first week, the scarcity of water and the meager diet the horses were forced to exist upon in the barren country had culled the inadequate horses. The strung line of riders dwindled daily.”

Sixty-eight days and more than three thousand miles later, Hopkins and his steed completed the race, beating their nearest competitor by 33 hours. Hidalgo became the only American mustang in the thousand-plus year history of the race to win.

Filming for the picture began in August, with shooting already having taken place in Morocco, South Dakota and Montana. In February, the shoot continues in Los Angeles. While one tipster describes this as the shooting of a re-enactment of the October 1893 race where Hopkins covered approximately 1,000 miles from Kansas City, Missouri, to Chicago, becoming the only man to complete the grueling ride (which he did in twelve days, mind you), I doubt this highly and believe this is incorrect information.

According to insiders with the film, they are looking to audition two actors for two additional roles being worked into the script. The first is described as a 35 to 40ish “Bedouin rider.” To explain an adjective many are unfamiliar with, the nomadic Bedouin tribes have inhabited the Negev desert, located in the South of Israel, since the Byzantine period, relying almost exclusively on agriculture and herding for their livelihood. This role calls for the actor to fall from his injured horse mid-race, and, in this particular contest, the rules require that he must first kill the horse, then himself— which he does, using his scimitar. Another, who will be in three scenes, calls for a Middle Eastern boy (somewhere in the age bracket of 12 to 14 years old), who will be the Bedouin rider’s squire and then attempt to carry on in the race.

The puzzling aspects of these roles being auditioned is that nothing I have come across points to this rule as a part of the race, although it certainly could be. Also interesting here is that the race itself is called “Oceans of Fire,” something I was unable to find any references to among the historical sites. Given that the recent news that the studio is looking to change the name of the project, because they fear there will be confusion as audiences think it may be a biography of the Mexican revolutionary, could this be the new name of the filmr Time will ultimately tell— but, if so, we here at think it’s a good choice for a new title.

If you feel you are rightly suitable for either of these two roles, please feel free to have your agent contact either the production company or the casting directors.


The Scorecard
Director: Joe Johnston
Producer: Casey Silver
Writer: John Fusco
Casting Director: Nancy Foy
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures