Gran Turismo Star Archie Madekwe and Subject Jann Mardenborough Discuss the Racing Movie


Note: This interview was conducter prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.Gran Turismo tells the incredible true story of how Welsh simulation gamer Jann Mardenborough became a professional race car driver after winning GT Academy in 2011. It was a competition started by Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (played by Orlando Bloom) to show that videogame players could succeed as racers on the international circuit. Archie Madekwe stars as Jann along with David Harbour, who plays Jack Salter, GT Academy’s lead trainer and pit crew boss.

Jann was “involved from the start” and remained a key part of the filming process as Archie’s stunt driver. Archie didn’t want to do “an impression of Jann,” but “capture his spirit and essence” and get “involved in his world.” The pair “spoke for hours” once Archie was attached, and kept a close relationship throughout. Jann praised Archie’s performance as “amazing.” He hopes people will “gain positivity” from his story and “pursue their passions.”

Gran Turismo’s racing scenes are absolutely spectacular. Director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) uses practical effects instead of CGI for realism. It took a toll on Madekwe, who had a tapeworm during filming and had a rough go of it any time he “had to be in the car.” He described “always getting sick” and curling up in the “fetal position” on a memorable occasion.

Jann admitted his “worst day wasn’t as bad,” but he also had some difficulties on set. He recounted driving in the darkness amidst pouring rain on a freshly painted circuit. He couldn’t see because the headlights were “covered in film” and the “car turned into a boat.” Archie Madekwe and Jann Mardenborough spoke with MovieWeb prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike and detailed their work on the film.

Teamwork Brings Jann’s Story to Life

David Harbour in Gran Turismo
Sony Pictures 

MovieWeb: How did you guys get together to create Jann’s character? So fans everywhere can believe that a simulation driver can be a race car hero.

Archie Madekwe: We were pretty clear from the outset that I wasn’t going to be doing an impression of Jann. I really wanted to capture his spirit and his essence. So from the moment I was attached to the project, I reached out, we spoke on the phone for a few hours, and then we met up at Silver Stone [Studios]. We hung out. We just kept having conversations.

Archie Maekwe: I just wanted to get as embedded and as involved in his world as possible. Jann so graciously, so kindly, was open and honest. He gave me so much context, so much information, so I could build this character that really felt like Jann’s story. And I was also trying to make this guy feel relatable, like an every man, that people really could see themselves in when they watch the story.

Archie Madekwe: I think what it all comes down to is that Jann is so kind and normal. He just is this normal young guy who realized this impossible dream. That is the incredible thing about the film. That is the message for the sim drivers when people say, “Oh, but you know, that must be so hard and it couldn’t happen.” It literally happened to Jann. We just wanted to make sure that story was told, that arc of how an incredibly approachable, normal and lovely Jann, was a young guy finding himself in this unbelievable situation. I wanted that to come across on screen, and hopefully it kind of did. We’ll see (laughs).

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MovieWeb: What about you Jann? What did you think of the final product when you finally saw your story on screen?

Jann Mardenborough: It’s an unusual situation with me, I’ve known about it for many years, and have been involved from the start. It’s still a strange situation, but we’ve got the right people involved. Archie did amazing. You know, in my career — I’m a sportsman. I’m a very selfish person. I just do me. And then this has come off the back of that, which is fantastic. I hope that people can gain positivity out of my story. Because there’s a lot of life in there. It’s not so easy. But I love what I do. Hopefully people watching this can maybe pursue something, pursue their passions, pursue what gives them purpose as well. Because the film really shows that. That’s how I’ve lived my life.

A Tapeworm, Sushi, and Rain

Gran Turismo
Sony Pictures

MovieWeb: What’s the best and worst day on the set of Gran Turismo for you guys?

Archie Madekwe: The worst day for me, I’m sorry, it was any day I had to be in the car. There was a particularly bad day. I don’t know if this maybe will really gross people out, but this was my truth, and so I’ll tell you (laughs). I was always getting sick in the car. And I had a tapeworm while we were shooting, but I was like, I don’t want to take any time off. I want to keep going, I want to be a good number one. I’m gonna keep pushing through. But it was like, a tapeworm was literally eating my nutrients. And so I was in this car going 160, 170 miles an hour, throwing up because of the car, feeling weak. And I remember getting out of the car, and everyone looked at me, and I was green.

Archie Madekwe: As soon as I stepped out, everyone gasped and said, “Please go to your trailer and lie down.” We need you to lie down. So I went, fell on the floor, in like a fetal position. Then Neill [Blomkamp] texted me, “Dude, I got to put you back in the car.” Okay, that day especially, that was a hard day to get through. Best day? Any scene we did in Tokyo, that was just unbelievable. I mean, dream come true. We got to shoot at Kobe Ginza, which is one of the best sushi restaurants in the world. The chefs were cooking us food, they were making us sushi all night, so amazing. Tapeworm, sushi — highs and lows.

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Jann Mardenborough: My worst day wasn’t as bad as yours, I guess (laughs). The worst day, the most difficult day, it wasn’t bad. It was just very difficult for us. We’re filming in the dark. The camera people obviously need headlights in the dark. It’s pitch black. There are spotlights everywhere on the circuit. It’s raining. They’ve got these rain tires. A racing car is very tight across and claustrophobic. The wipers don’t really do anything for the rain because it’s so much spray. But then production people wanted to cover the headlights with a film, so the headlights didn’t work. They also painted the circuit and the paint wasn’t bright.

Jann Mardenborough: So when we drive over this painted tarmac, we would get not only water coming onto the windscreen, which wasn’t getting cleared anyway, but the paint. You couldn’t see where you’re going because of the paint. Then you couldn’t see where to go as well because the headlights didn’t work. Yet we’re trying to film, do these choreographed scenes doing 120 miles an hour, and the car just turns into a boat because there’s still water on the circuit. That was tough.

Archie Madekwe: That’s showbiz baby (laughs).

Gran Turismo will be released theatrically on August 25th from Sony Pictures.

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