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Jason Mitchell as Henry in The Mustang

There are surely many attractive things about being a professional actor, but high on the list must be the ability to have a wide variety of experiences, and acquire assorted skills. A good example of this is the role that Jason Mitchell plays in the new drama The Mustang, where he portrays an expert horse trainer – a part that required learning new abilities so that his turn would seem authentic. In this he is very successful, as you entirely believe in his character’s proficiency, but what adds a whole extra layer to the situation is the fact that Mitchell went into the production with a deep-rotted case of Equinophobia: a fear of horses.

You’d think that being afraid of a film’s titular animal would drive an actor away from a potential project, but with Jason Mitchell and The Mustang it was a case of the opposite being true. When I sat down with the actor earlier this week during the new movie’s Los Angeles press day, he explained that he actually saw his very real hesitance as a motivator to be a part of the production – hoping to both grow as a performer and a person. Said Mitchell,

When I looked at this script, of course, there's the obvious: the horses, right? I was super terrified of horses. I had a bad experience as a kid, and I was like, 'You know, maybe this will not only move the needle for me as an actor, but move the needle for me as a man.’ Like in my own life. I can get some skills that I can take home and they can't take back!

Going further, he explained that stepping away from himself to such a great degree is an important aspect of his career choices – feeling that the extra challenge pushes him to work harder. Of course, as Jason Mitchell noted, it very much helps to be surrounded by supportive co-stars and a good animal partner:

This is somebody who I'm really not, you know what I mean? A great horse trainer? Completely terrified of horses. The scale is crazy. So it was good. I had a bunch of great co-stars and I had a great horse who was a great co-star - shout out to Soldier. He was good.

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, The Mustang tells the story of Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts), a violent, anger-filled convict who enters a rehabilitation therapy program training wild mustangs. Though there is some skepticism from Myles (Bruce Dern), who runs the program, Henry (Jason Mitchell), a fellow prisoner and veteran of the program, tries to take Roman under his wing and calm his rage.

It’s a charismatic and authentic turn from Jason Mitchell, and the work he put into the production very much shines on the screen. Knowing that he was starting from behind on the movie given his fears, he told me that he did his best to work harder than anyone else on the film, and really committed even when the cameras weren’t rolling.

I had to go that extra mile because I was actually working when I found out about this project. I didn't have very much time to learn about horses or to really break that fear. So I just had to kind of grab it by the balls and just go. But I went the extra mile every day. I was that guy who was actually cleaning the horse stables, and actually holding conversation with my horse, and just really learning how to ride, and try to go that extra mile. Because I was like, 'I want this to feel real!' I don't want them to have to pull up my stunt double every time. And I think I got pretty far. Both Matthias [Schoenaerts] and I were like, you know, the first day he was like, 'Okay, this is not for me.' But then as you get into it you really gain a bond.

You can watch my full interview with Jason Mitchell by clicking play on the video below – which also includes further discussion about more skills he’d love to acquire in the future, and new mountains he’d like to climb with his project choices:

Also starring Gideon Adlon, Josh Stewart, and Connie Britton, The Mustang premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, and will be getting a limited release in theaters this Friday, March 15th.

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