Ford v Ferrari is filled with heart-pounding races, all leading up to the historic showdown between the auto heavyweights at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. And while the nearly 40-minute sequence was a daunting challenge, the biggest issue wasn’t the blazing fast speed or director James Mangold‘s aversion to CGI, but something much more fundamental.
“Le Mans doesn’t exist in the form it did in the ’60s,” says Mangold (Logan) of one of the world’s oldest active racetracks. “It’s been modernized to the point where you wouldn’t recognize the beautiful homespun qualities of the track in those days.” So the production team found alternatives: Over five weeks, various locations in the state of Georgia would serve as the majority of the track, while an airport in Agua Dulce, Calif., stood in for the start and finish lines.
“You watch a car race through six different locations on two different coasts, [but] it has to look like one continuous lap,” explains Mangold. “It was a continuity and organizational bear, because the level of dirt on the car, the light quality, the rain direction, and the moonlight all have to be the same.”
And then there was the actual driving. Mangold says that Oscar-winner Christian Bale, who stars as wild-card Ford racer Ken Miles, was a “really capable” driver, but that wasn’t always enough. “You can’t have an actor driving 150 miles per hour and acting at the same time,” shares Mangold. “It would be the equivalent of someone driving at 150 miles per hour and texting — it’s just not safe.” So, while Bale did some driving, a stunt driver in an apparatus attached to the vehicle handled some of the more difficult feats.
Still, Mangold knew it could all be for naught and that he needed to reach audiences who might not like racing. “When I made Walk the Line, I was very conscious that I had to make a movie that played for people who might not like country music,” he explains. “Part of what I’m trying to do is to reach the unconverted. Too often movies just preach to the audience that was built for them, and I try to make a movie that somehow has a chance of giving people a new experience that they might not have expected. This technical effort was to make the race as powerful and first-person as you could experience it, but it was all in service to the performances, which had to hold it together. [Otherwise] it’s just a lot of hot shots. You’re going to care about what happens in this race if you care about the people in the car.”
Also starring Matt Damon and Caitriona Balfe, Ford v Ferrari races into theaters on Friday.