Ron Howard talks to CAR about his F1 race movie: 'RUSH'

Published: 08 April 2013

Spent the weirdest day ever on set with Ron Howard as he set about shooting the opening scenes of his forthcoming F1 movie, Rush, which dramatises the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the mid '70s. Over lunch the great man (actually he’s rather short, unassuming and somewhat squeaky voiced) told CAR about the challenge of shooting a race movie.

‘I love the metaphor of sport in terms of rivalry and character,’ he says. ‘I love sport – not F1 particularly, although I’d heard of it and seen it. But George Lucas is a huge fan and he got me interested. I’m no expert, but I know more about F1 than I knew about the space programme before Apollo 13. And the same with firefighters for Backdraft. I have a genuine but casual interest.’

So Howard isn’t a race enthusiast, but does he like cars? ‘Nah, I’m not a car guy. I went to Silverstone and did one of those gentleman’s hour track days in a single-seater – I was terrible! I did have a fast car once, but I’m not saying what it was. I didn’t keep it long.'

How Ron Howard got involved in Rush, the F1 movie

‘I came to this project through screenwriter Peter Morgan. I worked with him on Frost/Nixon and he said he’d found another great story. It’s about the nature of rivalry. I think it will be very cinematic, very fresh for audiences.

‘We’ve got guys like Alastair Caldwell [James Hunt’s chief engineer] helping out and we’re asking them to flag up inaccuracies. But it’s not a literal story, we’re not making a documentary. It takes inspiration from the rivalry. It gives a broad overview of racing in the '70s, but it’s more than a racing movie. Like in Apollo 13 what I tried to do was not just give a sense of the characters and what they went through, but also to show the audience what it was like to go to the moon.

‘It’s a challenge to shoot race scenes but that’s the ying and yang – the attraction and the headache. We’ll be using every contemporary cinematic tool at our disposal to make the audience think they’re actually there. But we’re doing more in the camera – even the SFX people want as much analogue source material to work with as possible.

‘It’s a movie about relationships. But it’s a labour of love for me. I want the audience to feel what it was really like. On Apollo 13 we got permission to fly in a zero-gravity plane so I could film in actual weightless conditions. The plane flew parabolas and we were weightless for 24 seconds on each parabola – so we had 24 seconds to film each time. We flew 40 parabolas per flight but I wanted it to be real. I want this movie to be real too. We’re not shooting it as a full documentary, but it has a spontaneity to it, an under-rehearsed energy.’

But can a movie about F1, which is not a massive sport in the US, be a box-office success in America?

‘Brian Grazer [producer] has a better nose for what’s marketable than I do. But I like to do things outside the box. Before Apollo 13 there hadn’t really been a true space movie apart from The Right Stuff. People even said Splash was quite edgy, and they said about Cocoon why would you want to make a movie about old people? But this will be fascinating to watch. It’s full of edgy, warts 'n' all characters. I’m not trying to cast anyone as the villain or the hero. It’s more a sense of rivalry.’

Rush is shooting through the summer in the UK, Germany and Austria, and is due in cinemas early in 2013. Stand by for further interviews with the two leading actors, producers, stunt driver and even Alastair Caldwell himself coming soon…

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By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies