Stephen Curry in a scene from the new movie The Cup.
Stephen Curry in a scene from the new movie The Cup. Contributed

Of triumph and tragedy

THE new film about the race that stops the nation, almost never got to the starting barrier because of a lack of financial backing.

The Cup, which tells the real-life story of jockey Jason Oliver's tragic death and the triumph of his brother Damien going on to win the 2002 Melbourne Cup, was nearly a victim of the global financial crisis.

"Of all the films I've ever been involved in it has certainly been the toughest ride, not so much in the production, but getting it there," said director Simon Wincer.

"We had a $20 million budget, but when our biggest corporate investor bailed on us our financial plan went out the window.

"We just had to be realistic and slash everything and make it for $15 million, which is bloody tough."

The Cup is clearly a work of love for Wincer, who doubled as both director and producer - a big ask even before the film's stressful re-budgeting.

"The last Australian film I produced was The Lighthorsemen and I vowed I would never do it again. Wearing two hats is hard, you know, but this was such a great story," he said.

"It seemed to be the only way we could get the film made so I reluctantly took on the role again."

Lead actor Stephen Curry was also clearly dedicated to the film, in which he plays Damien - Wincer's "first and only" choice for the role.

Not only did Curry learn how to ride thoroughbred racehorses and lose 15kg, but he had to lose the weight more than once when the film's original production date of 2007 was pushed back to 2010.

Starring opposite Curry are Daniel MacPherson as Jason, Jodi Gordon as Damien's girlfriend Trish Climas, Martin Sacks as Damien's manager Neil Pinner and Shaun Micaleff as Australian horse trainer Lee Freedman.

Irish actor Brendan Gleeson plays Irish horse trainer Dermot Weld and American actor Tom Burlinson plays Weld's right-hand man Dave Phillips.

Gleeson, best known for his roles in Braveheart, the Harry Potter franchise and In Bruges, was a big get for the film and because of prior commitments he shot his scenes in just 12 days.

"What's great about working with someone like that is it sort of raised the bar for everyone," said Wincer.

"He's such a good actor and came so well prepared with so many good ideas and thoughts everyone sort of rose to the occasion."

The most important person to get behind the film though was Damien himself.

"After we wrote the first draft of the screenplay I had to convince Damien and his manager Neil that I was the guy to make the film," he said.

With Damien's blessing and the main cast and crew sorted, there were the details of shooting a horse racing movie to attend to.

Fifty professional jockeys and 80 specially-trained thoroughbred horses were needed to restage the main races at the Irish St Ledger, Geelong Cup and Melbourne Cup.

"To me, the story is not about horse racing but the triumph of the human spirit," said Wincer.

"That (horse racing) is the background, if you like, but it's a fascinating background."

The Cup opens October 13.

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