Jason Barlow 18 April 2012

On set on the newest F1 blockbuster

Jason Barlow reports back from the filming of Rush, Ron Howard’s James Hunt/Niki Lauda biopic

Rush set visit

The buzz on the James Hunt/Niki Lauda biopic is growing fast. When the Daily Mail online starts running pap shots of work-in-progress, you know something’s up. You might have seen images of Chris Hemsworth (playing Hunt) and the rather lovely Olivia Wilde (playing his other half, Suzy) shooting the marriage scenes in central London. Or these rather splendid vintage F1 cars shot at the Nurburgring that appeared on TopGear.com way back in January.

In fact, TopGear.com’s first set visit coincided with the removal of a particularly crafty paparazzi, who had managed to sneak onto the set through a hedge. Before being bundled away, he got some images of Hemsworth looking spookily like the 1976 F1 world champion, shooting on a location that was doubling not only as Fuji in mid-’70s Japan but, with a deft bit of background alteration and period set dressing (including – thankfully – absolutely the right cars), also Germany and Austria. Impressive, not least because as you can see from the picture above we’re actually standing on an old airfield in Blackbushe, now home to Britain’s biggest car auction…

Motor racing movies are a mixed bag. Even the decent ones – Grand Prix and Winning – tend to be a bit soapy, and the bad ones – Days Of Thunder and Driven, for example – are enough to put you off motor racing for life. Rush, then, has some work to do, if it’s going to win over the casual movie-going public and keep the faithful happy. If this doesn’t work, though, I don’t know what will: director Ron Howard (Backdraft, Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code amongst many others) is about as safe a pair of hands as Hollywood has, the producers between them have an awesome track record (Working Title made Senna, to name but one, Cross Creek recently produced The Ides of March), and the script is the work of Peter Morgan, who knows how to tell a tale (he wrote Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The Deal and Longford).

And what a tale it is. James Hunt, racing driver and committed swordsman, snaffling the 1976 F1 world championship against all odds, defeating surly Austrian wünderkind and Ferrari driver Niki Lauda. Lauda, of course, had the last rites read to him after his fiery crash at the Nürburgring – the track on which he set a sub-seven minute F1 lap record the year before – only to return to the fray an unbelievable six weeks later, burns still bleeding. Fast cars, girls, gladiatorial combat, triumph and tragedy in an irresistible period setting… what could go wrong? Well, lots, actually, because, as legendary film screenwriter William Goldman famously observed, ‘in Hollywood, nobody knows anything.’

Based on TopGear.com’s set visits and exclusive access, though, we can tell you this much: the signs are good. Hemsworth’s star is going to go supernova this summer, and he’ll be a household name by the time Rush is released early next year (look out for him in Snow White and the Huntsman). The script is terrific. The film is being shot by Oscar-winner Anthony Dod Mantle, who movie fans will recognise as a visual genius.

Lauda, meanwhile, is being played by a brilliant German actor called Daniel Brühl, whose portrayal of the F1 legend is sensational. (TG.com is treated to a preview of his accent, with Brühl in full post-crash make-up: it’s uncanny.) Then there are the cars and the racing, rendered by new-generation CGI to create something which, we’re reliably informed, will be more authentically gripping and cinematic than anything we’ve seen on the big screen before.

‘I didn’t know much about F1, especially this era,’ Hemsworth tells TG.com over lunch in his trailer (rather kitsch inside, those movie trailers), ‘but the rivalry between those two guys is as good or better than any fiction you could come up with. When I started reading up on James, I just got more and more fascinated. When I thought I had him pinned down as a character, I’d discover something else and think, ‘wait a second, that doesn’t add up’. He was an English public schoolboy who looked like a Californian surfer dude. There was a child-like side to him, but there was a really dark side to him too.’

We’ll bring you more on Rush as production continues, including some Top Gear exclusives… 

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