F1 on film - Q&A with Hollywood director Ron Howard 09 Aug 2011
Over the last six decades Formula One racing has entertained millions of fans around the world, but the sports impact on the silver screen has been surprisingly minimal. Aside from 1966 blockbuster Grand Prix and the recent Senna documentary, there have been very few serious attempts to capture the essence of F1 on celluloid for cinemagoers. But thats all about to change, thanks to a new project headed up by Hollywood director Ron Howard. Expected to tell the story of the thrilling title fight between Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the 1976 season, the film has been scripted by Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan. Speaking exclusively to Formula1.com, Howard discusses the forthcoming project
Q: Ron, how did the director of Hollywood blockbusters like Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code fall for the idea of making a movie about Formula One racing?
Ron Howard: There are two reasons. Firstly, I am a huge fan of sports - almost any kind of sport - not just motor racing. Secondly, I am always in search of a good story with great characters. Peter Morgan, who did the script for Frost/Nixon, has known Niki Lauda for quite some time and started digging for information about 1976, when Niki had his accident and then literally rose again like a phoenix to fight James Hunt for the title. Peter has written a mesmerizing script - not only for Formula One fans, but also for everybody hooked on sports and drawn to extraordinary characters.
Q: But its not going to be a documentary like the Ayrton Senna film
RH: No, its going to be a motion picture. It will be fascinating, sizzling, sexy and entertaining in the mould of Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind.
Q: Real life seems to write the best scripts
RH: Absolutely! There are stories that, if you tell them, people struggle to believe they are really real. Thats the stuff that makes incredible movies. Some will argue that is a typical Hollywood-style answer, but I know better because A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon and Apollo 13 were all real. And the 1976 Formula One championship is also real.
Q: Will American audiences flock to the cinema to watch it though?
RH: This film is going to be a European production with a really big budget. And if we do our job well, and concentrate on the story and the characters involved, it will be a motion picture fit for the whole world. The story has so many elements that everybody can be interested in. Take for example James Hunts personal environment. While he was fighting for the championship, Richard Burton pinches his wife. That made headlines in the press for weeks! And it is not true that we in the US dont understand anything about Formula One. We had two champions - Phil Hill and Mario Andretti - maybe its just that weve forgotten about it! (laughs)
Q: Do you have any actors in mind for Lauda and Hunt?
RH: No, that would be a little premature. Right now the project is in the pre-production phase. But of course when you start such a project you have some ideas about the cast.
Q: What about Tom Hanks playing Enzo Ferrari?
RH: (laughs) Lets wait and see!
Q: How many Formula One races have you attended?
RH: Some time ago I visited the Monaco Grand Prix with my good old friend George Lucas, but that was just for fun. I was at Silverstone last month for my first field study and I am planning to visit some more races over the course of this season. I really enjoy it, even if I have to work hard to boost my knowledge of Formula One. But then I had no idea about astronautics before making Apollo 13. And had only rudimentary knowledge about mathematics before shooting A Beautiful Mind. Formula One racing has made a huge leap forward since 1976 and in some ways you have to acknowledge this fact. From all I have been told it seems to me that the protagonists of the past were adventurers with a kind of carefree innocence. Today Formula One is a mega business.
Q: Have you been met with Lauda a lot?
RH: We have had some very good conversations and I really found Peter Morgans script character in the real life Niki. Hes a fascinating character who stands for what hes done in life and who is proud of what he has achieved.
Q: Are you planning to shoot at the Nordschleife?
RH: We will have to wait and see. Nowadays we do have the ability to do everything in the studio so going there is not a necessity. But, as I said, lets wait and see.
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