I loved the interdependence of the characters, that each of them needs something that someone else possesses. Ferrari needs Ford for a cash infusion and Ford needs Ferrari for a cool infusion. And Carroll is a driver who can no longer drive for health reasons, while Ken is a driver who can hardly get a drive because he’s so difficult. So they have a kind of understanding that lashes them together.
How did you and Christian Bale come to understand Ken Miles? He hasn’t been written about very much.
Peter Miles, his son, helped and advised us. And Carroll Shelby was still alive when the screenwriters started work, so they spoke with him. Many people told us that one of the great regrets of Shelby’s life was asking Ken to slow down for Ford. Of course he didn’t know Ken was going to die. But it was something he wished he’d never done.
You’ve said you looked at two great racing movies, John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix and Steve McQueen’s Le Mans. As a director, which do you rate more highly?
I think Grand Prix works more as a film, and the footage is a little more exciting. There’s some great stuff in Le Mans as well, but I think it’s a little flabbier in the narrative. The race footage in both is miraculous, frankly.
Where did your race cars come from?
They had to be replicas – because we were going to be driving them hard, day in and day out. In Ferrari’s garage we had real Ferraris, because they just had to sit there, but unlike at Goodwood, no one was going to let us put a $30m Ferrari on the track. The only time we shot cars of that value, we had the owners putting velvet ropes around them between takes to keep the crew from touching them.
There’s a certain amount of dramatic invention in the film. For example, Ken Miles actually raced at Le Mans in 1965, but the film has him listening to it on the radio.
You’re right, there’s a cheat in the movie there: we skipped ’65. But when I cut it from the script I saved $8m from the budget, so you can see how expensive the racing was.
And you have Ferrari watching in ’66, but he rarely travelled.
Yes. But I couldn’t imagine the end of the film without Enzo present. Also, frankly, I carry a certain scepticism about legends. I mean, in his whole life he never once set foot at Le Mans? I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe he spent his whole life preparing for a race that he would never see. So there’s a part of me that thinks maybe he wore a hat and dark sunglasses or grew a beard. I just couldn’t conceive that he was sitting at home with the radio or the telephone.
You also achieved a tidier photo finish than Ford did in 1966.
Yes, I wanted to make sure it made sense to the audience, so I wanted Ken in front, because in the end he didn’t lose because he was behind at the finish, he lost because of his position at the start. I felt I’d confuse the audience if Ken was behind when they crossed the line. Honestly, I’m amazed audiences understand the end of the movie as it is!
This article was taken from the Winter 2019/2020 edition of the Goodwood Magazine.