There are no cheat codes for real life…

When I was in my teens, I played so much Tony Hawks Pro Skater on my Playstation, that every time I left the house, not only would I see the world as collection of props to either pull lip tricks on, grind, or otherwise shred gnarly-ness over, I genuinely believed that I could achieve these stunts in real life. I was of course wholly, wildly and to incalculable degrees – mistaken, a fact that can be confirmed by the mercifully small audience of a London borough skate park in August 1998. But it’s this same virtual-to-real-wheel cognitive leap, fortunately onto more fertile ground, that sparked the true story behind the Gran Turismo movie (in cinemas across the UAE from August 10, book your tickets here).

It’s the miraculous real life tale of Jann Mardenborough (played by Archie Madekwe). Jann was an elite gamer, a Gran Turismo grandmaster who was recruited into a racing academy on a marketing exec’s (Danny Moore, played by Orlando Bloom) gut intuition that good gamers might make good drivers. It’s directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) and the cast list includes Madekwe, Bloom, David Harbour, Orlando, Josha Stradowski and Geri ‘Ginger Spice’ Horner. And we were lucky enough to catch up with key cast and crew whilst they were in town filming one of the movie’s key scenes. This is what happened, when What’s On met GT’s fast and famous…

Archie Madekwe (Jann Mardenborough)

Archie Madekwe stars in Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

What’s On: What aspects of the real life Jann’s character did you want to make sure were portrayed in the film?

Archie: Before this movie, I couldn’t even drive, so we had to solve that pretty quickly. But the thing that really stood out for me in conversations, was how much Jann grew through this experience. Like how introverted, shy and lost he felt before finding the GT Academy, and how ironically in these tiny, claustrophobic cockpit spaces, he really found himself. And he just grew into the person you see now, who’s extremely confident, knows what he wants, knows himself – but he was once just a young boy, from a small town who couldn’t really see anything for himself beyond his surroundings. Until life comes and bursts it open, and that’s something universal – coming of age, and growing, but the speed at which it happened, he went from being in his bedroom playing games to sitting on the podium at Le Mans in 12 months, that’s such an insane acceleration into finding out what you love and then succeeding in it. I just wanted to be able to start the film in one place and end him in another and hopefully that journey tracks.

WO: You might have seen that Dubai Police have quite a lot of fast cars in their fleet, let’s say hypothetically you pull a heist in Dubai, what’s your getaway car, and who’s driving?

AM: I’m probably contractually obliged to say a Nissan GTR, and after all this experience I’d have to be the driver.

Orlando Bloom (Danny Moore)

Orlando Bloom stars in Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

What’s On: With Gran Turismo’s connection to the gaming world, we were wondering… If we were to give you a cheat code for real life, what would it be?

Orlando: I think something around Martial Arts, because I think they’re such a skill, like The Matrix.

Josha Stradowski (Nicholas Capa, a rival driver and plot antagonist)

Racing scene from Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

What’s On: What’s been your favourite track to go around?

Josha: This one (Dubai Autodrome) because it’s such a nice location, we’ve been in the cold for such a long time and Dubai’s such an amazing place to be. The Nürburgring in Germany is a very tough one, so I’m not sure if I can say I have a favourite, they’re all just very different. This one has many many turns, but we shot the most in Hungry.

WO: Who’s the better driver, you or Archie?

JS: Well, we did some Go-Karting, and Cappa was the winner.

WO: What aspects of being a good actor lend themselves to being a good driver?

JS: Drive, and consistency, the talent, the passion, the work ethic are all super important in both. What’s different, is the competitiveness. it’s not so helpful as an actor, when you have to collaborate. Competitiveness doesn’t work in acting, it gets in the way.

WO: You mentioned that your character is built on a composite of real life people that Jann raced against, did you get to meet any of those people?

JS: Not really, I didn’t want to go there, but with the names that he dropped, I could still do my research and I also discussed with Neil (Blomkamp), real people that I had in my life that could help shape the character, but I don’t really want to name names out of respect for Jann.

WO: How big a step up was it, experientially, moving from the sims to the real cars? 

JS: A huge leap. I didn’t get to train with the simulators, I went straight into the car. So mentally I was trying to prepare for it. The only previous experience, that really relates to it, was I flew in an F16, because of that I had some appreciation of what was coming. Kind of.

Jann Mardenborough (the man whose real life story Gran Turismo follows)

A young Jann Mardenborough at Longfield, England in 2013

What’s On: There’s been a lot of effort gone into this movie to make it look as realistic as possible. Is there anything that you’ll never be able to get across in films?

Jann: Smell, that’s the major thing that won’t come across on screen. I love the smell. Gearbox oil, hot metal, brakes – not burning rubber because that usually means something’s gone wrong, and you can’t really convey that on screen. But the visual component, Neil had a lot of ex-racers in the crew. And they’ve gone to great efforts to capture that sensation of speed, using drones for example, they couldn’t have got these shots even just four or five years ago. And we’re travelling at speeds of 90 percent what they would be in a race, fitting into tiny spaces, really threading the needle. And Dubai was my first big race. Growing up, there were three places I wanted to visit – America, Japan and Dubai. And I’ve managed to race in all three.

WO: In terms of driving challenges, how tough is Le Mans?

JM:  There are harder races, but Le Mans is different because it’s the whole weekend. You arrive a week before, have a practise day, then a five day gap. The first year I did it, which is what the film replicates, I finish third – before the race I was destroyed mentally just from all the work you have to do, and also it had challenges because somebody died in that race. Allan Simonsen dies very early on in the race, on one of the early corners on the track, and that’s portrayed in the film as well. He hit the barrier and directly behind the barrier was a tree, and the blunt force trauma sadly killed the guy. And it was new to me, I’d ben racing for just under two years at that point and it happened whilst I was on my stint, I didn’t see the crash, but I saw the safety car, and I kept asking the team if everyone was OK and the team wouldn’t tell me what was going on. I knew something wasn’t right. People were just unsure of how to handle the situation.

WO: That’s the difficult part of doing a movie about your life I guess, it dredges up old trauma?

JM: Not that incident because that was beyond my control but, in my life, and it’s portrayed in the film as well. There was a moment that was difficult to revisit. When something happens that you don’t think will ever happen to you, it’s something you process for many years. And when the news was coming out that they want to make a film of my life and they want to include the Nürburgring, it brought up thoughts and emotions around what happened at the time, and my main concern was that it had to be represented properly. And it’s something that I made very clear, it has to be done right, because somebody lost their life, in that race, in a car that I was in control of. Freak circumstances but they understood that it had to be done right. And they did do it right, it was one of the few scenes that had to be CGI because they’ve remodeled the circuit in real life.

David Harbour (Jack Salter, Jann’s trainer)

David Harbour stars in Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

What’s On: I heard you were a big gamer, are there any videogames you’d like to see turned into movies or movies turned into videogames?

David: Oh yeah, you heard right. I think it’s really hard to do videogames because, this is just my peculiar taste, I think these movies make a lot of money, they’re very successful but in general, I don’t love videogame movies and I think it’s because when you play a videogame you get to do what you want with ‘the thing’, so to watch someone else control a character that you love is vastly less satisfying. The medium itself is something I want to engage in, so watching a movie you sit back and take it in, with videogames you’re invested. I think the mediums are so different it’s hard to combine them, so this is why I think this is quite brilliant – because the videogame itself is a piece of the movie, it’s not trying to tell the story of GT which is… There is no story. But there’s a narrative in this of a kid playing a videogame and that translating into life. But I think it has broader connotations of you know, this kid goes on to do great things in the world from that videogame and I think that’s a fun thing to explore. Where videogames take us, how they take us there, those are ripe questions we should be asking and this movie dives into them. It’s very much a character study rather than a guy in Gears Of War that you play and now you have to watch him on screen.

In cinemas across the UAE from August 10, book your tickets here

Images: Provided