'Ride Like A Girl': Sam Neill admits being scared of the real man he plays in new horse racing drama (exclusive)

Freda Cooper

In his new film Ride Like A Girl (out now on PVOD), Sam Neill plays legendary New Zealand horse trainer Paddy Payne, a man he admits he was quite intimidated by when he met him in real life.

Part of the Jurassic Park star’s preparation for the film – which tells the inspirational true story of Michelle Payne (Teresa Palmer), the first and only woman jockey to win Australia’s Melbourne Cup – involved spending a day with Paddy and Michelle, but that was the only time they met.

“I never saw him again. He never visited the set while I was there and I’m rather grateful for that because he’s a bit scary,” Neill tells Yahoo Movies UK in the video above.

“It’s a worry when you’re playing someone real. They might think you’re a complete goose.”

Detail from the poster for Ride Like A Girl, featuring (L-R) Sam Neill, Teresa Palmer, and Stephen Payne. (Lionsgate)

Neill is a keen rider himself but is never in the saddle during the film. “I love riding horses. I’ve ridden horses in ten different productions but I never get on a horse in the most horsey film I’ve ever done.”

Read more: Sam Neill updates on postponed Jurassic World 3 shoot

Co-star Teresa Palmer (Berlin Syndrome, Lights Out) plays Michelle Payne, who she describes as “sunshine.” 

Trainer Paddy Payne and daughter Michelle Payne at Flemington Racecourse on in Melbourne, Australia, 2018. (Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

“I could ring her at any time. I even had her come and check out my position on a horse to make sure she was happy with how I was sitting in the saddle.”

Preparing to play the role involved rigorous training. After having two sons with actor Mark Webber in quick succession, she was back in the gym “to work up some strength. Every day it was sit-ups, squats and weights. An hour and a half every day.” 

The film also saw her get back on a horse for the first time in 15 years, so she had to re-learn to ride all over again.

Teresa Palmer attends the Cartier Into The Wild Launch Event on March 05, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Sam Tabone/WireImage)

Neill likens riding a thoroughbred racehorse to “riding a 2000 cc bike, but 10 feet off the ground” and paid tribute to his co-star’s courage and what he describes as her “cojones.”

Palmer currently has season three of A Discovery Of Witches in her sights, after which she says “it’s back to Mummy Land.” She’s also keen to come back as Rebecca in a sequel to 2016 horror hit Lights Out

“I would love to do it again. There have been rumblings of a sequel for some time, but I feel like I’m always the last to know.”  

Ride Like A Girl is available now to watch / rent on key platforms including Sky Store, Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, Rakuten, Chili, BT TV, Talk Talk and Virgin.