While Australians are familiar with jockey Michelle Payne’s historic 2015 Melbourne Cup win, many will be unaware of the barriers the young sportswoman faced on the way to achieving her childhood dream.
Now at age 34, Michelle’s trials and tribulations - from horrific injuries to blatant sexism and tragic family events - along with her incredible triumphs, are set to hit the big screen in the Rachel Griffiths-directed biopic, Ride Like A Girl.
A woman in a man’s world
Both Michelle and Rachel sat down for a chat with Yahoo Lifestyle about the film, which hones in on the isolating and at times confronting world of horse racing.
In one scene, a young Michelle - played by Teresa Palmer - arrives for one of her first races only to be excluded from the male-only jockey’s change room. Instead, she’s directed to a kitchen storeroom.
Later in the film, we witness an uncomfortable interaction with a male trainer.
“Will you give me a ride?” she asks in the scene, to which he replies, “If you give me one”.
“I just brushed it off really,” Michelle tells us, adding that those type of situations don’t happen so much “in this day and age”.
“We’re in a man’s world and some of them aren’t so nice,” she says.
But Rachel is adamant that Ride Like A Girl isn’t a damning attack on the male-dominated sport.
“The thing is, it’s not a ‘Me Too’ film, it’s more a ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ film,” she explains.
Adding, “often women are afraid to take risks if they don’t know they can pull it off. We’re so hard on ourselves when we fail”.
In horse racing, one of the biggest risks is ‘taking the gap’ - finding the opening in a race and going for it - but as one of Michelle’s sisters explains in the film, it’s made more complicated as a female jockey.
Failing to take the gap is seen as cowardliness while taking the gap and then losing is reckless.
For Michelle, it’s never been a choice.
“I’ve never not taken the gap because I’m too competitive not to,” she says with a grin.
First-time director Rachel admits that taking on this project was, in a sense, her way of ‘taking the gap’.
“I felt that this was my one chance in a lot of ways, and it was risky and it was tight and the stakes were really high, really really high,” she says.
Letting Rachel take the reigns
Unlike many other biopics, the key figure in the film, Michelle, chose not to be involved in the production.
“Mainly because it was too overwhelming for myself to take on mentally to think that, you know, there’s a film being made about yourself,” she explains.
But she knew she was in safe hands with Rachel and her team.
“That’s their area, they know what they’re doing, they don’t need me interfering,” she says.
There was one law that she did lay down, though, and that was to leave her romantic life alone, much to the dismay of potential backers.
“You know, when you’re over in America and you’re trying to raise foreign money and they’re like [puts on American accent] ‘well, is there a love interest?’” Rachel says.
“And we’re like, ‘no, and there isn’t going to be! Or there is, and his name is Stevie’,” she continued, referring to Michelle’s brother and strapper, Stevie Payne.
“Ultimately, there can only be one prince in this film, and he’s got four legs,” she joked.
Michelle has recently stepped out with a new man, fellow trainer David Eustace. The couple made their red carpet debut at the film’s world premiere in Melbourne on Sunday.
“We’ll see what happens,” she says of the fledgling relationship.
As for retirement plans, Michelle doesn’t have any - for the near future, anyway.
“I feel I probably have one year left in me ’til the next spring carnival,” she reveals.
“We have some really nice horses at home that I have been preparing for a few years. That’s the beauty of racing, you can dream, and who knows,” she adds.
Ride Like A Girl hits cinemas on September 26.
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