Jason Barlow04 February 2014

How Jaguar made that Superbowl ad

TG.com meets Sir Ben Kingsley et al as some British villains head to America…

The Superbowl isn’t a sporting event so much as a gazillion pound multi-media extravaganza with a football match attached. It made a star of Janet Jackson’s right nipple, and cemented the status of ageing pop war-horses like Madonna.

But it’s also the most fiercely contested advertising battleground in global television. No wonder: Sunday’s rather lop-sided game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks had 60 per cent of America’s households tuned in, generating an audience of 150 million. That’s a lot of people waiting to be entertained.

Forget the football, then, let’s watch the car ads. You can find TG.com’s round-up of the best here, but from a British car point of view, eyes were on Jag's big-budget effort.

The new F-Type Coupe is leading the charge to establish the company as the real bad-ass in the sports car market in the US, and as we know from our early drive in the 550bhp R version, there's more than a semblance of truth to that pitch. But how do you translate that idea to 150 million Americans? By reclaiming the shadier elements of Jaguar’s past, when bank managers and bank robbers alike drove Jags, and burying the corporate tongue firmly in cheek.

Here’s the pitch: isn’t it a bit odd that British actors tend to play the bad guys in big Hollywood films?

So TG.com went to investigate and freeze its knackers off on set in Greenwich, late on a Saturday night in November. We are not alone: to make the F-type Coupe ‘villains’ film – actually called ‘Rendezvous’ – a crew of 150 has been assembled, led by Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s SpeechLes Miserables).

It also stars Mark Strong, Tom Hiddleston, and Sir Ben Kingsley. Hiddleston has rocketed to stardom recently, playing Loki in the Thor films and Avengers Assemble (and will also be taking the wheel of Top Gear’s Vauxhall Astra Techline next Sunday), while Sir Ben needs no introduction. One of the world’s finest actors, he also served up one of the great Brit villain performances of all time, Don Logan, in Sexy Beast.

The film sees Mark Strong step off a private jet and straight into the F-Type, whereupon he’s chased across London by Tom Hiddleston’s tea-drinking nemesis in a helicopter, en route to a meeting with Sir Ben’s mysterious Mr Big. The F-Type’s V8 erupts volcanically, London is given the full widescreen Hollywood treatment, and there’s no half-arsed CGI. 

‘It was interesting to do in miniature a genre I’ve not done as a major film,’ Hooper says, ‘and it’s definitely made me more curious to try the genre at greater length than two minutes.’

‘I wanted that big-picture sensibility, because the whole thing is a pastiche on Hollywood’s tendency to cast British actors as villains. There’s something about being cerebral, intellectual, and yet emotionally repressed. If you think someone’s doing this stuff and they’re in complete control, well that’s more scary than if they’re out of control.’

So what were Hooper's influences? ‘In my head [Rendezvous] felt more like the Bond films I grew up on, that combination of massive action sequences with a sense of humour. That knowingness is part of the tradition of British villains. A British villain never loses their sense of humour.’

He continues: ‘The challenge was to not let the wryness get in the way of enjoying the action. One way to do that is to shoot the action for real: the helicopter chasing the car is done for real, the car is behind the bus. That’s a real adrenalin buzz…’

And so to Sir Ben Kingsley, who, in person, is tough to separate from the terrifying Don Logan. Best to park all that, though. So, are villains really more fun, TG.com whimpers?

‘If it’s a really well written villain, he probably has more layers than his archetypal good person,’ Sir Ben says. ‘There are more contradictions, tensions or hidden wounds that make him into what we call a ‘generic’ baddie. No one chooses to be one, it’s usually a reaction to something. So if I can find that layer or uncover the thing he’s reacting to, it makes it a very thrilling journey. Shakespeare’s villains were extraordinary. Macbeth, Iago, Richard III…’

As to cars, well, Sir Ben is a fan of the classic British automobile. Does he remember when a Jag was the definitive getaway car?

‘The leaping Jaguar on the bonnet, to me, makes it look more like a hunter than something that is getting away,’ he notes with an emphasis that makes any debate on the matter an unwise course of action. 

‘I love architecture on wheels. That’s how I describe a good car. Obviously mechanically it’s got to be superb, but the look of it is what I walk towards with the keys in my hand. Richard III definitely would have had a chauffeur driven Jaguar MK X.’

He would, you know.

Now share it...

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear's code of conduct (link below) before posting.