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For longtime horse racing fan David Milch, his HBO drama Luck is a passion project. For others, however, the track jargon featured on the Dustin Hoffman–Nick Nolte gambling story — including “pick six,” “bug boy” and “single” — could be off-putting.
Milch (Deadwood, NYPD Blue) immerses the viewer immediately in a world that goes deep into the subculture found at the track, revolving around jockeys, owners, trainers, stable workers, track officials and gamblers. It’s clear Milch, himself a horse owner and Breeder’s Cup winner — loves the world, but will viewers be able to connect with the complex characters who populate the Santa Anita-set story?
“I did my best to try and make it accessible, to provide surrogates for the audience who weren’t familiar with the world so the audience would have a representative within the show,” Milch tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Among the characters introduced in Sunday’s season premiere, Milch says he included a group of “degenerate gamblers” to help guide the audience through the finer points of the sport. “Two of the degenerate gamblers are less experienced and ask the kind of questions that people who are not familiar with the track would ask,” he says. “That’s one reason why I introduced them.”
While “degenerates” Kevin Dunn (Marcus) and Jason Gedrick (Jerry) are skilled in the ways of the track, Ritchie Coster‘s Renzo and Ian Hart‘s Lonnie get a hard and fast lesson when they co-bankroll a “pick six” — picking winners from the day’s six races — and find out the benefit of picking a “single” in the fifth race. It’s a scene Coster says Milch had breakdown for the actor who knew little to nothing about racing coming in.
“We got the scripts and my reaction was the same as every actor across the country: ‘It’s beautiful … I don’t know what it means,’ ” Coster tells THR of the jargon-heavy pilot. For the pick six scene, “David took me aside and said, ‘For this bit, you’re the audience surrogate.’ ”
Coster, who went ahead and auditioned for the part not thinking he’d get it, says his lack of horse racing knowledge comes in handy when playing the clueless but enthusiastic character. After nabbing the role, Coster picked up a book on horse betting and wound up ditching it since the degenerates are the “entry-level character” in the series.
“David Milch wanted to call this Time at some point or another because he wants the audience to invest time with it and then know that it’s their world as well because they’ve earned entrance into it,” he says. “It worked for us as actors and I want that to happen for the audience as well. I hope it’s a communal experience.”
Check out a promo for Luck featuring the degenerates below. Luck premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.
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