By Anne Smith, Special to the Greenville News
He may not be a red carpet regular, but Maverick, the Upstate's newest movie star, is getting plenty of attention in his Williamston pasture lately.
"We've had people driving by, stopping to look, making comments. There's a definite excitement around him," said Cheryl Baird, owner of Upstate Equestrian Center and Maverick's trainer.
Maverick, a 10-year-old award-winning Friesian owned by the Castellani family of Simpsonville, made his big-screen debut recently in the Clint Eastwood-led "Trouble with the Curve."
The film, centered on the fractured relationship between an aging Atlanta baseball scout (Eastwood) and his attorney daughter (Amy Adams), opens with a shot of the hulking Maverick galloping across a baseball field.
"The moment the film began, the sight of Maverick took our breath away," said owner Dr. Lisa Castellani. "You can hear him coming, his hoof beats mixed with racing heartbeats. His coat is shining, his every muscle is visible - it's unforgettable."
Baird said an Atlanta-based client mentioned to her last winter that Eastwood and his protege, director Robert Lorenz, were seeking a black horse for a movie to be filmed in Georgia.
After speaking with the movie's producers by phone, Baird created a video audition to demonstrate Maverick's abilities and grace in motion.
The Friesian's unrestrained movement and animation were a hit with the filmmakers, and Baird said she later learned that Eastwood himself had chosen Maverick for the opening scene.
Maverick's fellow Upstate Friesian Inne (INN-uh) was also chosen for shots that required a horse standing still. Inne, owned by Simpsonville resident Kim Davidson, is Maverick's half-brother.
Friesian horses originated in Holland and are known for their silky black coats, sweeping movements, docile temperaments and regal, feathered hooves. Castellani said Inne and Maverick, both with championships under their saddle straps, are standouts among their breed.
Castellani said the brothers were "naturals" for the film roles, and she was happy the Los Angeles film execs seemed to agree.
"We were told the producers got Hollywood-caliber horses in Maverick and Inne," she said. "High-dollar Friesians on an indie film's budget."
For the movie itself, Baird said she was nervous at first about her trainees' performances. Maverick was not in his familiar, enclosed space at the Upstate Equestrian Center. Instead he was asked to perform in the expanse of a grassy baseball field with a phalanx of onlookers and a set filled with expensive equipment.
Both Maverick and Inne made the trip to Dunwoody, Ga., for filming last spring. After a quick day of rehearsals, Baird said the production team felt confident in each horse's skills, most notably Maverick's ability to run at a full gallop and stop on a dime just off camera.
"It was intimidating," said Baird. "Here was Robert Lorenz, the director and a close friend of Clint Eastwood's, looking me straight in the eyes asking, 'Can he do this?' I knew we didn't have much time. I said, 'I sure hope so!'"
Maverick, who Baird stressed has not been trick trained as many animal actors are, seemed wound up and raring to go after hours of waiting on set. When given the cue, Baird said he galloped across the field and skidded straight to her feet, just as the filmmakers had hoped.
The work Maverick did in those shots, running in a diagonal line from the furthest point of the field to the cameras, is featured in the film's opening dream sequence.
"I saw the fear on these large, burly men's faces as Maverick got closer and closer to their cameras," Baird said, "but his work that night was beautiful. He stopped just as they asked him to. Every run was perfect, all five."
Once their initial scenes were filmed, the horses returned home only to have Maverick called back a week later, Baird said.
This time, rather than facing a wall of nervous faces, she noticed that the Friesian had earned the crew's respect. He was on a first-name basis with the crew, who tucked his favorite peppermints in their pockets for him, and she said his presence lifted everyone's mood.
"The crew couldn't have been nicer. The second round of filming we knew without a doubt Maverick could perform, and so did they."
There was a perk, too, for the humans on the sets. "The catering spread was amazing," Baird said, "but otherwise we were surprised by how unglamorous a movie set is in real life, with lots of waiting around. But we couldn't have asked for a better experience during filming."
Castellani and Baird said they hope to see more of the horses - as well as Upstate Equestrian Center assistant Gamaliel Mora - when the film is released on DVD. There's lots of footage of the horses for DVD extras, Castellani said, including shots of Mora walking Inne. In the theatrical release, only Mora's white cowboy boots can be seen.
"For now, we hope moviegoers get a taste of the beauty these Friesians exude," said Castellani. "That would be enough for us, and for Maverick."
"And maybe a few more peppermints," said Baird.