Entertainment & Arts

Rush: Bringing one of Formula 1's greatest rivalries to the big screen

Chris Hemsworth in Rush
Image caption James Hunt - played by Chris Hemsworth on screen - led a playboy lifestyle during his F1 career

Director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan talk about bringing the intense rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda to the big screen in their latest collaboration, Rush.

"I've never avoided sexy, but I don't want to force it," says Ron Howard.

The Oscar-winning director is not particularly known for including sex in his films, which include Frost/Nixon, Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind.

But when the subject of your film is British Formula 1 racing driver James Hunt - who was known for his playboy behaviour off the track - it was necessary to inject some steamy scenes to capture his free-spirited character and some of the glamour of the 1970s.

"I said to Chris Hemsworth, 'this needs to be hot - this defines James Hunt - don't dial it back because of me'. But it was entirely appropriate and what we were going for."

Rush sees Thor actor Hemsworth star as Hunt in the movie, which tells the story of his famous rivalry with Austrian driver Niki Lauda, (played by Inglourious Basterds star Daniel Bruhl) that led to a devastating crash at the German Grand Prix in 1976.

Finding funding

Image caption The film depicts rivalry between the two drivers both on and off the track

It's an interesting choice of film for both Howard and writer Peter Morgan considering they weren't originally fans of Formula 1 before embarking on the project.

For Howard though, his growing curiosity for the sport was an asset to making the film.

"If something catches your eye and you find it engrossing, the chances are people who don't necessarily love the sport are going to likewise find it interesting," he says.

"And if you've got people with you who say what's interesting about the sport and help you not make mistakes, you can simultaneously present something that feels authentic and respects the world of sport."

However Morgan insists that having no prior interest in F1 allowed him to write a better film.

"I think it definitely helped I wasn't a fan because I was having to find a way of interesting myself," he says.

"And for me, selfishly, it's a way of exploring a rivalry between England and Austria - which is a rivalry I live on a daily basis because I'm married to an Austrian."

Thinking no-one would be interested in the story, Morgan wrote the film on spec as a character drama without any actual racing in it, assuming - if the film was ever made - it would only have a small budget.

Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass had initially signed on to the project, but later pulled out due to the financial constraints.

"If he was going to make an F1 movie he wanted all the cars, all the locations and all the toys - and he accepted that with market reality it would be impossible," Morgan says.

However once Howard was on board, the director personally pitched the independent film to buyers and distributors to secure more funding - something he'd never had to do on one of his movies before.

The "modest" $38m (£24m) budget allowed for replica cars to be built as well as visual effects for the racing scenes.

Morgan admits the finished film is more than he could have hoped for.

"I had assumed it would only play as a chalk and cheese rivalry drama - I never in my wildest dreams imagined we'd get the sort of bang for your buck in terms of the visuals and the action. I'm surprised and astonished with what they did on the driving side."

But despite Howard's personal pitch and Hunt and Lauda's rivalry being well-documented, the director found he came up against opposition from some who weren't sure about the subject - particularly as it doesn't fit into the traditional sports biopic mould.

Attracting America

"It's untypical and un-movie like in a lot of ways," Howard says. "You wouldn't have the Lauda crash at that point [in the film]. You wouldn't move away from the track to delve into their personal lives for as long as we do - it breaks a lot of rules.

Image caption Writer Peter Morgan said he was keen for a German actor to portray Lauda

"If you showed it to any Hollywood development executive, they would say it won't be powerful enough because you don't know who you're rooting for - you need a good guy and a bad guy.

"I thought all those things were assets, but I did have friends in Hollywood who read the script and that's what they said - 'It's pretty fascinating, the characters are great and Peter can write, but I'm not sure about the story'."

In the same way that baseball and American football films struggle to find a UK audience, Howard concedes Rush faces a similar battle for box office receipts in the US, where Formula 1 is not a popular sport.

"But this wasn't really a business enterprise," he insists. "It was a fantastic creative opportunity and labour of love for everyone involved."

"It's not like people [in the US] look down their noses or are confused by F1, they just don't know the people that are involved."

Morgan agrees that, in the current climate of superhero blockbusters and sequels, US audiences may not take a chance on something they are unfamiliar with.

"If you've got 10 movies at a multiplex and there's one that's a bit uncertain, you're going to give it a miss - so I think we have suitably realistic expectations," he says.

However, Howard says the response from American audiences at test screenings have so far been positive.

"We've screened the movie many times now and they respond to it as well as anywhere else in the world.

"And because they really have no sense of what the outcome is, it's even more suspenseful for them and very emotional.

"Many times that's when movies are at their best."

Rush is on general release on Friday 13 September.

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