You’d think the two Oscar-winners would be playing the titular automobile legends in the true story of the battle for racing supremacy. But instead, Bale and Damon are down in the pit as the part of the crew of car aficionados who were at the heart of the battle between the companies. “This is David vs. Goliath vs. Goliath,” says Bale. “You’ve got the industrial Goliath with Ford and the charismatic Goliath of reputation with Ferrari, and then this true story of the triumph of the misfits.”
In the age of the superhero blockbuster, Ford v Ferrari is “an endangered species,” according to director James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line). Recalls Damon: “As we were making it, we joked that it was the last movie ever. Luckily, we had this great character drama that was inside this other story.” But the old-school approach was crucial in preserving the heart of the film. “These are real people with love and loss and fears that aren’t handled in three mini-moments between the next 100-decibel, 12-minute action sequence,” says Mangold. “And it’s an acting tour de force — Matt and Christian have never been better.”
Set against the backdrop of 1966’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, the film follows fearless British racer Ken Miles (Bale) and maverick American car designer Carroll Shelby’s (Damon) mission to build a revolutionary car that would allow Ford to challenge the dominating Ferrari brand.
“It’s these two friends figuring out how do you deal with these a–holes in suits who know nothing about racing,” says Bale, who shed his Vice weight to play “tricky bastard” Miles. “It transcends racing and becomes something that captures the spirit of people who are willing to risk everything for their love.”
With a loaded cast that also includes Caitriona Balfe (Outlander), Tracy Letts (Lady Bird), Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama), and Jon Bernthal (The Punisher), Mangold was compelled to make “Butch and Sundance in the world of racing” with Damon and Bale. “This is much more of a relationship movie and less a historical document,” he says.
But the races were still key, especially for Mangold, who carried over the lessons learned from his stripped-down take on Wolverine. “One of the main goals with Logan was that I felt the superhero genre had gotten so CGI’d, so I wanted to make it as emotionally and physically real as possible,” he says. “And that very much carried over into Ford v Ferrari. I wanted to see a racing film where the cars weren’t all digital creations [and] we were really out there on the track. And not just so we could talk about it when we’re doing press, but because it actually makes a physical difference when you see it on screen.”
It certainly made a difference to Jason Bourne veteran Damon, no stranger to filming high-speed car scenes. “To feel those cars come roaring by is why people love racing. It was really exciting to shoot because it didn’t require you to use your imagination, it was all happening around you.”
Ford v Ferrari races into theaters on Nov. 15.