A Father, Mentor and Randy Houser’s Lyric Change: Director Jeff Celentano & Rickey Hill Talk The Hill
The Hill is the incredible and inspiriting true story about a boy, Rickey Hill, born needing braces on his legs and how major league baseball becomes a very real dream. Randy Houser not only stars but also lends a song, and agrees to change a lyric!
We talked with Director Jeff Celentano about getting the county superstar on board & we talk with the real Rickey Hill talk about his relationship with his father, and on-screen how he’s played by Dennis Quaid.
Interviewed for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: One of the things I thought was done so well and delicately, obviously two great actors with Dennis Quaid and Colin Ford playing yourself, Rickey, but was the relationship that you had with your father. Will you share a little bit about what that was like for you and how you worked through that with him on one side, protective and loving father, but on the other side, felt a little bit like trying to hinder your talent and dreams?
Rickey Hill: Well, in the beginning, yes, but he also was the most wonderful man ever … and still today, that I’ve ever known, because he did what God told him to do. He did the ultimate, he built two churches with his bare hands, and he only had a fourth grade education. He couldn’t read or write when he surrendered into the ministry, either one. And so you take someone like that, if you think about it, to have something, some miracle man that can’t read or write, how’s he going to preach? It’s not it really going to happen.
But he went on the road. We went on the road preaching. We got kicked out of every church nearly, in town. But he wound up coming back to Fort Worth, Texas when I was 12 years old and built two churches with his bare hands. And he proved a lot. He left a lot behind when he passed away. Now, he passed away right after this. He passed away five years after my signing of my baseball contract. He died with pancreas cancer.
Yeah, Florida County. You’ll see, you’ll see. It’s kind of interesting how he got to see it.
RM: Jeff, talk to me, one of the things that I love is Randy Houser’s character, that he’s so supportive, makes tremendous acts towards Rickey to make sure that he can even continue to pursue his dream. Kind of takes him under his wing. And then Randy himself actually does a song and credits. Maybe talk to me a little bit about that character and the importance of having somebody in your corner that is an encourager and then also having it actually be him in the film.
Jeff Celentano: Yeah. Well, Randy’s that way in life too for this movie. I sent the movie to him, I don’t know, a couple months ago, and he called me up and he said, “Jeff, I cried like a baby all night long. I watched that movie, I cried through the whole thing. I’m still crying.”
He’s super emotional. And when I met Randy, I just knew he was perfect for that character because Rickey had a guy in his life, Ray, who cared about him, who from the day he ever met him as a kid, he had this feeling that Rickey was special and he supported him through his whole life. I mean, he gave him his first job. And you see in the movie, Colin works for Ray in the garage as a mechanic. And Rickey worked actually in the scrap yard-mechanic kind of shop like that.
And Randy Houser just embodied to me this big lovable, teddy bear kind of guy with the biggest heart and so much humility that he was just perfect for the part. And plus, he’s got that country part of him that comes from … even though he is not from Texas, he’s from the South, it’s got that same hospitality, the same kind of personality that they have down there. So he just was perfect. And then I heard of some of his new music, and I didn’t even think of putting Randy’s music in the movie at the end. And I heard this song Rub a Little Dirt on It, and I said, “Oh my gosh, that song is perfect for this movie.” And so I called Randy up. This is a funny story, I’ve told no one yet. You’re the first person to hear this because you asked the right question.
So Randy, I called him up and I said, “Randy, I love that song, but you talk about football. You say, ‘When I played football.’ Can you change that to baseball?” And he goes, “Jeff, this song is on my new album. I don’t give it to anybody. I’m giving you the song.” I said, “I know, Randy, but the football doesn’t work for me.” And he said, “Let me get back to you.” So I thought, “Uh-oh.”
So a couple weeks went by and he called me and he said, “I’m going to give you the song and I’m going to make it baseball. I’ll rerecord it.” And then I said, “There’s another little part … “ And he goes, “Stop. You got what you got. I’m not changing one more lyric.” I said, “No problem. I love it the way it is.” So he sent it to me and I got to tell you, I just love it at the end of the movie. I mean, every time I see …
This will sound like I’m making this up, but I’ve seen the movie a hundred thousand times, and every time I have to QC it or quality control it, they ask me to look at the certain pieces. Well, I can’t. I got to watch the whole movie because it affects everything. It’s like a song. You take out certain pieces, it’s going to affect it. So I watch the whole movie. Every single time I get to the end, I’m done. The credits are starting to roll. I could turn it off, but I listen to that song every time.
It just warms my heart. And that’s what I hope people take away at the end of this movie. I mean, when you see how movies have a story at the end and tell you where the real people are, well, I was very careful how I did that. And I’ve sat in theaters with people when they see Rickey come up today, it just gets them right here, just gets them.
Look, my goal for this whole movie, and Randy’s song was part of that, was to make a movie that every family could go see today and feel uplifted and hopeful and happy. And from kids two years old on up to 90 can see this movie. There’s not a bad moment in it for anybody. It’s just nothing to me but inspiration, which is what this movie did for me in the beginning.
RM: I love that. I love that everybody that’s involved, it affects them and it encourages them and it’s inspiring for them. And I have no doubt that it will also do the same for audiences. So thank you to the two of you. Thank you for the persistence to make sure, Rickey, that your story could come to screen and that we’re all able to garner that insight and apply it to our lives so that we too can reach our dreams and continue to hope. So I can’t wait for everybody to see The Hill.