One of the best films at 2021’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was the searing intimate drama, Montana Story. Both Allison and I adored this dark story, and are individually huge fans of lead actors Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague, so we were thrilled to chat with them! Our special guests this week answer some of our spoilery questions about their new film, including keeping it light on set, their brother/sister relationship, and… horse erections.
Montana Story tells an intimate and emotional tale of two siblings, using the gorgeous mountainous backdrop of Montana state. Cal (Teague) and Erin (Richardson) have finally returned home to the secluded family farmhouse. Their father has fallen into a coma in the aftermath of a severe stroke, so Cal is home getting his dad’s affairs in order, whilst estranged Erin just wants to see her dad one final time. When Erin learns Cal is planning to have their 25-year-old horse Mr. T put down to pasture, Erin immediately cancels her flight, and commits to taking Mr. T back home with her to New York. Of course, neither scenario is convenient for each of the siblings. They face insurmountable set-backs, while at the same time struggling to accept that their father will never awaken from his coma.
Read on for our exclusive spoiler-filled interview with Haley and Owen!
First off, I just want to say congrats on your film’s TIFF debut! This film was intimate and real in a way we rarely see. Allison and I really admired the rawness to your performance. How did you get in the right headspace for such heavy material?
OWEN TEAGUE: Honestly, it was really heavy, but I think because we trust each other so much, we had a lot of fun on set was the thing. We joked around a lot. I honestly think that helped.
HALEY LU RICHARDSON: We really had each other, and could rely on each other, and connected in this very real brother/sister way immediately. Having that kind of environment, I actually had a similar experience… I did this very different movie called Five Feet Apart. It’s sad. It’s very sad. But I had so much fun making that movie, and I think it’s because Cole and I on that movie just felt really safe with each other and got along so well.
I felt like I had that safe relationship with you [Owen]. It’s weird making a heavy movie or an intense movie or a sad emotional movie. That’s the most important thing that you have: that love and that fun and that trust and that good relationship to then do all this other stuff that’s super heavy.
OWEN: If you’re just heavy the whole time, if you come to set and you’re sad, and then you do the scene and you’re sad, then you’re just going to be miserable.
HALEY: You’re gonna become a drug addict.
OWEN: There’s probably a few other steps in there.
Can you talk more about the complicated relationship of the two siblings? Do you think Cal’s silence on the matter was just as harmful to Erin as the physical abuse?
OWEN: Yeah. Yeah. For sure.
HALEY: To be let down so deeply by someone that you love and trust, I feel like would be worse than death. The thing is, Erin does love her dad, and obviously everybody wants approval and love from their parents. No matter how tumultuous the relationship, a child wants to be loved by their parents, and wants that validation and approval. The pain that he did not show her love, and showed her so far from that is horrid. Then you [Cal] did the same thing just in a different way. Not you not Owen—Owen’s great. you would never hurt me on that.
That relationship was step brother, sister, like that. He talks about it in the movie, about how much they relied on each other as kids, and how they clung to one another. To have that pure love where they’re the only people who really know what it’s like living in this household that they live in—that was so rough. Then to have that betrayal is awful.
The film leaves their relationship on a mutual “call me….soon.” Do you imagine they actually reach out to each other following the events of the film, and truly maintain a solid brother-sister relationship?
HALEY: A hundred percent. They need each other. That’s the thing is they really need each other, and they want each other, no matter how much they’re scared to get to where they get at the end of the movie. There’s definitely still hope for them and their relationship.
OWEN: For sure. I also don’t think that this is the only time they ever talk about this. I think they have these conversations about what I did many more times. Cause that’s what happens. I think we only unpack a little bit of it.
HALEY: Every time we talk about it, it gets a little bit less painful.
It was really difficult for Erin to sit with the fact that she saved her abusive father’s life while the power went out. Why do you think this affected her so much, given if it wasn’t her, someone else would have probably done it anyway?
HALEY: Well, the thing is, if it wasn’t her, he probably would have died because it was just Ace there. So she really had his life in her hands, and she saved him, and that makes me want to vomit and it made Erin want to vomit. That’s really what forces them—that extreme PTSD and triggered trauma that she’s feeling in that intense of a moment is what forces her to say all this stuff that she’s been holding onto for seven years.
OWEN: Which is what forces me to say all the stuff that I’ve been holding onto for seven years.
HALEY: Sometimes it’s such a simple, dumb thing to say for such a complex, heavy situation and movie, but what doesn’t us makes us stronger. That moment literally almost killed her because it was so hard. That pain that we felt and that she felt was so scary, hard, emotional, and sickening. Getting that out and having that truth and having that cathartic moment of release really made their relationship stronger, and in turn will make them stronger people.
On a lighter note, I think one of the most charming parts in the film is your relationship with the horse, Mr. T…. Can you tell us what it was like working with so many animals on set (including that dead chicken—was it real)?
OWEN: I’ve had some experience with horses in my life. This horse that we worked with on Montana Story, Mr. T—his real name was Crackers—was a very difficult horse. However, he’d been in the industry for a long time, his whole life. I’m talking about him like he’s an actor. He could get shot, he could fall, he knew how to do his own stunts. He was a big deal kind of—
HALEY: I thought you were gonna say ‘big penis’ because he did.
OWEN: He is a horse.
HALEY: Because he was an action horse, he was always raring to go if you know what I mean? I shouldn’t be doing interviews.
OWEN: You make them fun! He [Crackers] was really bored. Standing around playing an old horse, he didn’t have the greatest time. That meant that he was a little bit mean to everybody. He was just kind of mean.
At the end of the movie, I rode him. I got on him and I took him for a ride. It’s not in the film, but it was just kind of because well, why not? The minute I got on Crackers, I understood exactly why he’d been so difficult the entire shoot. He was trained as an action horse, and that horse listened to what I was thinking and what my body was telling him to do, unlike any other horse I’ve ever gotten on. We had a really nice time just like running across the field. It was really fun.
HALEY: I rode him and it is in the movie. It’s written that Erin is galloping around freely on the horse, but I got on him and I was terrified. I had ridden horses and I actually spent a couple weeks at a ranch outside of LA with horses, with this lady who works with horses and humans therapeutically to get them to connect. It was really cool, very special. I felt like, ‘oh my God, I’m like a real horse girl. I’ve got this in the bag!’ Then I show up, and it’s Crackers, this action horse with an erection all the time.
OWEN: It’s true, it was pretty constant.
HALEY: He’s just biting us every 10 seconds in the scene. I already had that relationship with him, and then the scene came where I actually went to ride him. He’s like an actor, he wants to run. So you get on him right away and he starts trotting! I was terrified of that because I wasn’t ready to do that. That’s another thing, you have to trust an animal for them to trust you. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to develop that with Crackers, which I was bummed out about. But you know, we made it work somehow in the editing.
OWEN: Man. They, they did an incredible job editing those scenes, because we walked out of that movie thinking that’s never gonna work. They made it work somehow. Honestly wow—that’s a testament to their skill.
Do you think Erin truly intended to bring Mr. T to New York, or was that just an effort to convince her brother to find other means to save him?
HALEY: That’s a good question. I think what was deeply going on that she was not conscious of in the moment was that she cares so much about Mr. T, but even the whole plan and wanting to save Mr. T so badly, I feel was almost this subconscious excuse to stay. That’s pretty powerful. I was talking in another interview about how these things like the universe, God, whoever it is, whatever it is, makes these things happen that we were totally unaware of. They’re sometimes so against our plan and what we’re trying to protect of ourselves and our things. I think there was a greater desire in Erin and the universal plan that they needed to reconnect and talk. I do think that deeply—it was an excuse, in a way.
I found it refreshing to tackle big moments—like the tragic death of Pepper the horse—through the use of dialogue, and without flashback. Did you find this freed you more as actors to convey the emotions through your facial expressions and body language?
OWEN: One of the first things I noticed [not so much reading it, but] seeing it was it feels like a play, and you don’t see a lot of movies with monologues. That was one thing that I noticed reading it. I’ve got three true massive monologues, which I haven’t done in a film ever. When I did theater, they’re everywhere. You do a Shakespeare play and it’s like, okay, here’s the soliloquy. You don’t get to do that in film really, and I kind of forgot how much I enjoyed that because it’s a completely different approach than scenes with two people with dialogue, at least for me. Especially because the dialogue in this movie I think is a little heightened.
When the monologues come in, it reads a bit like poetry. People don’t really talk the way that they do in this movie, but I think that that’s right. Stuff like that is so poetic. It feels like a play. I think that was one of the things I loved about it, was you don’t see movies where people have that sort of heightened dialogue. You really get to play with language and how you say the words and where the emphasis is with scenes like that, which is fun.
The scenery here was obviously breathtaking. What was your favorite part about filming on location in Montana?
HALEY: Fresh air?
OWEN: Yeah. Just the nature. I live in LA, and I live in the most polluted zip code. There’s trees and stuff. It’s green. It’s not like wasteland. But it’s kind of crushing sometimes to be in the city.
HALEY: And then during the pandemic, being in the city being stuck inside.
OWEN: I wasn’t actually in LA, during the pandemic, but I was with my parents in Florida, so there was a lot of nature there of a different sort. I loved the expanse of Montana.
Do you think Cal idealized his father prior to Erin’s return? Why do you think Cal finally changed his perception now, after all these years, enough to switch off that fatal plug?
OWEN: The first part of the question, do I think that he idolizes his father up until Erin comes back? I think that, yes and no. I think that he has a very complicated and difficult relationship with Wade. He does look up to his father, but in that same idolization and respect there’s fear. I don’t think Cal ever felt like he was meeting his father’s expectations or wants.
At the same time, as I say, my mom was an afterthought. I think I was also an afterthought. I think he had me sort of by accident. Maybe it wasn’t an accident, but I think he treated me like I was sort of plan B. If all had gone well, Cal would not have been born basically.
HALEY: That’s pretty dark.
OWEN: I mean, you would still be alive, you would be the daughter. And that would be that. Because Libby died, my mom was hired to take care of her, and then I was born. That’s why I exist is because Libby died, which is this thing that has had this profound effect on my dad supposedly according to him. It has made him into this shell of himself. I respect him and look up to him a huge amount, because he has built all this stuff. At the same time, I think I resent that our relationship was never really what it might’ve been had he just had me as someone that he wanted, as opposed to a result of something that he really didn’t want.
I think Erin kind of forces him open. She forces him into action. He spends the whole movie in this somewhat Hamlet-like state where he’s just paralyzed. He doesn’t really know what to do. He’s doing what’s expected of him and what he believes has to do, which is just deal with it. In Cal’s way of dealing with it, he’s not dealing with it because prolonging things. He’s selling the farm, but he’s keeping the people who work on the farm on. He’s keeping Valentina and he’s keeping Ace to take care of his dad. He’s making sure that in this finishing of the ranch and of his father, it is prolonged as much as possible subconsciously. He’s not aware of this, but that’s what he’s doing.
When Erin comes home and when we finally go there, it shifts something in Cal; something like, ‘okay, I need to act now, I need to do something.’ The thing that I can do now what is essentially an act of mercy for both Erin and dad in a way.
HALEY: Kill dad, kill that bastard!
OWEN: That is the way to get closure for both of them is to kill your dad.
Allison loved your work in Edge of Seventeen, and I’m obsessed with Five Feet Apart! It’s actually one of the last movies I watched with my mom during the pandemic in 2020. Owen, I loved It & The Stand! Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to plug?
HALEY: I want to say that I would want to tell people to look out for love in life. Learn how to accept love, and learn how to love yourself and to watch the film Inside Out because it’s the best movie in the whole entire world. Favorite movie period, Pixar or no Pixar.
I would like to plug that film right now, Montana Story… I would also love to plug Inside Out from 2018. I’m not in it, no affiliation, but I just love it. Be kind to people. You never know what people are going through. Also don’t suppress things because it leads to more pain than the pain that you’re suppressing, which makes you feel bad.
OWEN: That’s good. That’s good advice.
HALEY: Also if you ever need someone to crack your thumbs, I’m around. I am your girl.
OWEN: She does a good job!
Thanks again to Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague for diving deep on both of their characters! Don’t miss the full video interview, where we all go hilariously off-topic to talk Pokemon, Harry Potter, and amusement parks! Montana Story screened as part of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Keep an eye out for distribution details and forthcoming ways you can view this beautiful film.
Read our full review here.