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"Ma Bell" in Flicka is Maria Bello

Nell is Truly a Woman of the 21st Century

Maria Bello plays the part of Nell McLaughlin, the mother of Katy in the movie Flicka, which is scheduled to debut on October 20, 2006. This is the story of how a horse (Flicka) and a 16-year-old girl (Katy) learn from each other. The impact of that relationship and their experiences together also initially creates a power struggle between Katy and her dad. However, ultimately the lessons they learn from the horse-girl union eventually unite the entire family.

“I love that this was a movie not only about a family, but about this young woman’s journey,” said Bello. “A journey to claim her own wildness … to claim her own authenticity, and to be the woman, the person she always wanted to be, and to take life.”

While Katy was taking on life, Nell was working diligently to help her husband Rob (played by Tim McGraw) understand the daughter that was a mirror of him. She often would try to reach him when they were riding. “I think that is how the relationship was built and how they bond,” explained Bello. “When he is on a horse he can hear her a little better. The horse has a calming influence on him.”

“This movie is about relationships,” continued Bello.

It was those interrelationships that are what inspired Bello to play the part of Nell. “I don’t tend to be attracted to … lighter material,” explained Bello. “When I heard this script Flicka, based on My Friend Flicka, I didn’t even think about reading it.”

Bello explained that it was because she heard that the movie was being directed by Michael Mayer that she decided to read the script. “The relationships are really written well. There is centeredness and a sense of relationship and communion amongst these people that’s really making this film work.”

THE HORSES SEAL THE DEAL

While the relationships aspect of the film was a draw for Bello it was also the horses that helped seal the deal. “I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. There was a barn up the street and so I could see horses from my backyard and I dreamed every day of being on one of these horses. There’s something about that freedom that a horse has – complete wildness to just go and be and experience life that I think anyone kind of craves.”

Bello admits to having “no horse experience. I’ve always been really attracted to horses, but also sort of afraid of them. The past couple of years I’ve been yearning for it, and that’s the biggest reason that I wanted to do this movie.”

“I always wanted to ride but never had the finances or means to do it. When the movie came up I did it because I wanted to go to cowboy camp and I wanted to do it as a challenge for myself.”

Bello talked about the curious relationship between horse and human. “I couldn’t understand that silence between control and surrender,” she explained. When Bello got on the horse for the first time she noted, “I didn’t understand what it meant to find your seat … to become one with the animal. After about the third lesson, I got it. And once you get it you don’t lose it. It’s kind of a very Zen experience for me.

“There’s this balance between control and surrender, which I look for often in my real daily life that I’m finding with the horse. I’m learning about surrender and control and the balance of those two things. It’s very, very powerful. I feel like it is such a spiritual experience to be on these animals.”

Maria worked with a horse trainer called Monty for learning how to ride and it was not all bells and whistles. “It took me a couple of days to get comfortable. I couldn’t understand how to keep my heels down. Steering wasn’t hard. It was hard to keep my heels down and find my seat. By the third day I finally found my seat. I could tell my horse what to do. She was in possession of herself and I was in possession of myself.

Maria discovered early on which gaits she preferred. “I find it easier to canter or gallop than to trot.” Fortunately in the movie there were no trotting scenes for Bello. “Every time I would go into a canter it was the most freeing experience. I felt like I was flying.”

Having a horse like her beautiful Painted mare was lucky for Bello. “Belle is probably the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen. By the end of the movie I was set to buy her but she’s owned by a 12-year-old girl. Belle has such a sweet personality but is very feisty as well.

“I don’t think any horse will ever be as comfortable as Belle. She is the first horse I learned to ride on. She gave me my stripes. I got to know her and she got to know me.”

RIDING IN THE MOVIE & THE MESSAGES THAT REMAIN

After her “cowboy camp” Bello felt ready for acting and riding. “I’ve been doing this for so many years it didn’t make any difference (whether or not she was on horseback).”

Bello was also thankful to Rusty Hendrickson, who headed up the horse training and supplied many of the horses. “I think Rusty is the best in the business. His horses are so well cared for. Their spirits are so gentle, and they just know what to do. They’re really smart horses.”

Her horse scenes were few but powerful. There were the walking and talking scenes of her and Rob with the beautiful Wyoming mountains as the backdrop. The other scene depicted her running at night in the rain in search of her daughter.

Flicka has left Bello with a lot to think back on. To begin with she recalls the many messages and the equality of the husband-wife relationship. She admires the search to find herself that Katy displayed. Yet in the end it was the connection with horses that still remains.

“I am dying for a horse. I even recently rented a horse to ride around on.”

While riding is important to her it is what she learned about the horse that she is mindful of. “They are very conscious beings. I never thought of that before. They are like dogs in that their spirits are very open and not judgmental. They are calm, really spiritual beings. It’s like being held in God’s hands somehow.”

 

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