ON SET

Rush: Behind the Scenes

Director Ron Howard gives us a peek under the hood of his exhilarating new race car drama


It’s a classic tale: Two adversaries discover that they are much more alike than they’d imagined. Think of Javert and Jean Valjean’s cat-and-mouse hunt, Captain Ahab’s obsessive contest with that whale, or David Frost’s barbed interview with Richard Nixon. The last was a televised spectacle that became the subject of Ron Howard’s 2008 movie Frost/Nixon. The director’s bracing new thriller, Rush, is also built around an all-consuming rivalry. Penned by Frost/Nixon screenwriter Peter Morgan and based on actual events, the film follows Formula 1 drivers James Hunt, a playboy Brit, and Niki Lauda, a dour Austrian, as they battle for the title during the memorable 1976 season. “Initially, it wasn’t the racing that attracted me to the project,” explains Howard, who hadn’t been a fan of the sport until he began working on the film. “It was the rich relationship between these dynamic characters.” The charismatic Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) bedded models—including Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), to whom he was briefly married, before Miller went on to wed Richard Burton—and lived as recklessly as he drove; the brilliant but hermetic Lauda (Daniel Brühl) preferred to spend long nights in the garage. But on the racetrack, the two were so perfectly matched that the fate of that season, after a series of real-life twists so dramatic as to challenge credulity, would come down to the final, death-defying lap. For Howard, the sense of impending danger that draws fans to racing is as viscerally electrifying to stage as it is to witness live—maybe a little too much so. “On the last day of shooting, we had several high-speed spinouts,” he recalls. “I was relieved when we finished.”

On Set: Rush

“Chris Hemsworth plays the race car driver James Hunt, who was more like a rock star than a modern-day athlete. Today there’s too much money at stake; playboy types either get reined in or weeded out early on. Hunt was the last hurrah of the wild-child sports superstar. We will miss the James Hunts of the world.”

Photographs by Jaap Buitendijk

“The scenes we’re shooting here turned out to be the most dangerous of all. The pit is where people in Formula 1 racing get hurt. They can get knocked over or have their foot caught beneath a tire. And there’s just so much noise that it’s hard to step back and evaluate what’s happening. But I really wanted to put the audience into the cars, and the breakthroughs in digital-camera technology in the past five years allowed us to do that.”

Photographs by Jaap Buitendijk

“Our cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle [left, with Chris Hemsworth], who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, tucked cameras in the drivers’ helmets and places even the actors couldn’t see them.”

Photographs by Jaap Buitendijk

“Chris and Olivia Wilde as Hunt and Suzy Miller, an It couple of the British tabloids for a time. ”

Photographs by Jaap Buitendijk

“Their wedding was a major social event. To help us re-create it, Gucci and Ferragamo lent us vintage gowns from their archives.”

Photographs by Jaap Buitendijk

“Here’s Chris as Hunt at a gala for up-and-coming drivers. In the scene, Hunt shows both sides of himself: ambitious pro and party animal. Chris brought his own vibe to a character that felt half–professional surfer, half–Jim Morrison. It was the way he moved, I think.”

Photographs by Jaap Buitendijk

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Photographs by Jaap Buitendijk