The boys are back!
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May return for season 2 of The Grand Tour, which premiered Friday on Amazon. However, the road to this premiere was rather hard as all three hosts suffered medical emergencies during production on the new season, which visits Switzerland, Mozambique, Colorado, and many other locations.
Health problems and delay notwithstanding, Clarkson assures EW that the show has improved greatly from the first season because they got rid of several elements that weren’t working. For example, “Celebrity Brain Crush” has been replaced by “Celebrity Face Off,” a game in which two celebrities who are connected in some unusual way race around a track to see who’s the fastest. This year’s guests include Kiefer Sutherland, Luke Evans, Hugh Bonneville, and Dominic Cooper.
Below, Clarkson previews the new season for EW, talks about other challenges they faced during the production, and whether or not he’s already started thinking about an end date.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Going into season 2, did you make any changes to the format?
JEREMY CLARKSON: Yeah, the two elements of season 1 that didn’t really work, so we got rid of those.
The curmudgeonly American driver we hired, weirdly, was okay in the U.K., but the Americans didn’t seem to like him very much — interesting. So, we’ve replaced him. And, then Celebrity Brain Crash, which was an accident began because we hadn’t gotten the thing the celebrities were going to do. It wasn’t ready in time for show one. Then, we just kept that going and it got boring and pathetic after a while, so we got rid of that. Now, guests actually do come on and they do compete against one another. So, it’s fun. It’s a better show. There’s no question it’s a better show. Now, that the tent is staying in one place, the films are more extravagant than they ever have been. So, yeah, I’m pretty proud of it.
Why did you decide to keep the tent in one place as opposed to moving around to each location?
Pure logistics. If you’re moving the tent around the world, we realized [nothing changes] apart from the view changing out of the window, [and] we realized we could put anything we like out of the windows. You can CGI whatever you want. You can space going on if you want. So, we just thought, “Let’s just keep that there.” That gives us more time in the year to actually make better film. People, I think, would be more interested in having extravagant, wild, mad films, than having a view of wood of Helsinki out of the window. It was a no-brainer for us. We could condense the actual studio elements of the show down to two or three months, rather than four or five months, which gives more time for filming. If you spent most of the year in the hospital, as we have, we needed that time.
This year, you guys hit several bumps in the road with your pneumonia. How was it filming the show while being sick?
I was the last one. James went wrong first with an “unspecified illness” [points down at his pants], then Hammond obviously broke his leg [in a car crash], and I got pneumonia. So between us, we’ve been out of action for quite some time this year. It’s why [they’re] in a mad panic in the edit in London now trying to get all the films ready in time for the backend of the season.
How far did that set you guys behind schedule?
Well, it’s not convenient. Put it like this: The Christmas special isn’t yet filmed, and won’t be until January. That’s the only real [setback]. The season is two weeks late to air, which is remarkable. I have no idea how we managed to claw back that time, but there’s a mini-special from Mozambique, but the main special, which will be done in Colombia, we’re not filming until January, so that’ll go out as a special treat in the middle of the year.
This season you guys went to Croatia, Switzerland, Mozambique, Dubai. Which one was your favorite location?
Mozambique without a doubt. That’s a lovely country. Filming in southern Africa — Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, any of those countries — is heaven. They simply don’t understand what you mean by health and safety. You can do anything you like. Anything is possible. And, it’s beautiful, the weather is lovely, and you’re uninterrupted by any of the things that curse the Western world. I love southern Africa, so filming there is a joy. Now, fingers crossed we’ll be able to go film in Zimbabwe next year now that that’s become available.
But then, I would say Colorado was really exciting. We took our cars skiing there — actually drove down the Telluride Ski Resort from the highest point to the town, which sounds really exciting, but it was incredibly dangerous, as it turned out. Mixing trees, low friction surfaces, and gravity is a really dangerous combination. But, we all lived.
What cars did you drive down the slope?
Three old Jaguars. Not ideal and not modified in any way. They were simply three old Jaguars. Coming down a black run in a Jaguar is, you know, you really need to be paying attention. It was really a film about [how] Jaguars aren’t as unreliable as everybody says they are. With our tongues firmly in our cheek, we set off to Colorado in three old Jaguars to show you the world. Old Jaguars, the reputation they had for unreliability was entirely unfounded, and we spent most of the time mending our Jags, but it was a fun film.
Apart from the medical crises, were there any other unexpected challenges you just weren’t prepared for while you were out there?
Yeah, always. Where we’ve located our tent, for example, it’s a beautiful scene of English countryside behind it, really lovely view. We were very pleased, but we’ve put it right at the end of a runway, which means that every minute you have to stop filming while a plane takes off, which is a bit thick. Also, there’s a field of sheep outside, so as you cut for a plane to go over, the sheep move. When you come back again, anyone who watches carefully will see these sheep [and wonder] “How the hell have they gotten from there to there instantly?” So little things like that, but I quite like moving sheep in the back of the shot. It gives the show a human feel.
It turns out you can actually get bored watching Richard Hammond fall off a motorcycle. The first 30 times, it’s hilarious, but once you’ve gone past 50 times, which he honestly did in Mozambique…
Were you working with motorcycles in Mozambique?
He was. I’m not stupid. I had a pick-up truck, James had a Mercedes, and Richard had a motorcycle. We each chose what we thought was the best solution to the problem we’d given ourselves. I was watching an Anthony Bourdain documentary on Mozambique and he was telling the viewers this, that, and the other, and I thought, “That’s a good idea for us.” I won’t give the game away, but we went over there and you needed whatever you thought would be the best vehicle for the job at hand. Hammond thought it would be a motorcycle…in the wet season. Okay, each to his own.
You, Hammond, and May have been working together for years, first on Top Gear. Do you have an endpoint in mind?
You’ll know. If I came up to a corner in somebody else’s $400,000 car and thought “I can’t be bothered to slide this around the corner and shriek and yell,” then it’s time to jack it in. And, old people aren’t funny. So, there comes a point where you just can’t be bothered to be funny anymore, so jog on and get somebody else.
New episodes of The Grand Tour premiere every Friday on Amazon.