Why Michelle Payne was “hesitant” to sign on to Ride Like A Girl

Teresa Palmer plays Melbourne Cup champion Michelle Payne in a film directed by Rachel Griffiths.
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The Melbourne Cup may be the race that stops the nation, but in 2015, Michelle Payne’s winning run with six-year-old gelding Prince of Penzance was the race that advanced Australia fair.

Against 100 to 1 odds, and a sport that could be hostile to women, Michelle became the first female jockey to take out the prestigious event.

Now, the athlete from central Victoria gets her own inspirational biopic, directed by Rachel Griffiths and starring Teresa Palmer as Michelle.

“Oh, I was hesitant about it, my whole family were,” Michelle, 33, tells TV WEEK about signing on to the film. “It was a bit difficult at the start, but I was so captivated by Rachel and her passion for the film.”

Teresa Palmer stars as Michelle Payne in Ride Like A Girl.

Rachel’s directorial debut marks another feat worth celebrating in a male-dominated industry.

“We do have some prominent female directors [in Australia], but if you add it up, it’s still only about 25 per cent,” Rachel, 50, tells TV WEEK.

“We want to tell female stories. Michelle’s story is so important and it celebrates so much about the barriers we face and how tenacious we have to be to reach our dreams.”

Along with triumph, the movie reveals the physical and mental hurdles Michelle faced in her life, though she is always backed by her dad Paddy (Sam Neill) and her brother Stevie Payne, her strapper.

Stevie, who has Down Syndrome, plays himself in his first acting role.

“Once he was cast, the entire family changed their tune,” Michelle says with a laugh.

“Every day, Sam would walk away and say, ‘Yep, Stevie owns that scene as well’,” Rachel adds. “But he truly makes everyone better. Michelle, Stevie and the whole family are a huge inspiration.”

Stevie Payne plays himself in the film Ride Like A Girl.

Adding to the journey’s all-star cast are Summer North, who plays a young Michelle, and Sophia Forrest, Aaron Glenane, Magda Szubanski and Genevieve Morris.

Ride Like A Girl is in cinemas September 26.

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