The Gran Turismo movie is both a video game adaptation and a sports movie–a combination that would work regardless of the real-life angle since Gran Turismo is a sports game as it is. Having a true story at the heart of this thing only makes it more fun–Gran Turismo is the low-key, late-summer banger you didn’t see coming.
The focus of the film is on Jann Mardenborough, an obsessive Gran Turismo player who earned a spot in the third GT Academy class–a competition that intended to turn gamers into real race-car drivers. It worked. Mardenborough has been a name in professional racing around the world for over a decade.
In the film, Jann is played by Archie Madekwe. David Harbour also stars as Jack Salter, the guy who has to teach these gamers how to drive an actual car even though he doesn’t think any of them have any shot at succeeding in the racing world.
Jack’s extreme skepticism about the whole concept is the source of a lot of laughs in the early parts of the movie–he’s the old, mean coach from a sports movie who has to whip these arrogant kids into shape–but all of his insults are tailored specifically for gamers. He yells things like “If you get in a wreck out here, you can’t hit reset,” which sounds great coming out of Harbour’s mouth. He even manages an utterly convincing “u mad bro” at one point.
Way back before SAG-AFTRA began its strike that precludes its members from promoting films, I sat down with Harbour and Madekwe to talk about Gran Turismo and their personal mentor-mentee dynamic both on screen and to some degree in real life as well. But first, I had to start by asking about Harbour’s many awesome one-liners, and in particular whether any of them were improvised.
“‘You get in a wreck out here you can’t hit reset,’ that was scripted. I think ‘u mad bro’ was maybe an extra, maybe it was scripted. I certainly know at one point I talked about Hot Pockets, that was not in the script,” Harbor said, chuckling. “I know a lot about sitting in a video gaming chair playing video games, so anything I would want to make fun of myself, I was able to incorporate into Jack’s improvs. So yeah, there were a lot of times when we played around, but the script was also pretty tight about making fun of these gamers.”
Madekwe was also in an extremely unusual position on Gran Turismo, with the real Jann Mardenborough serving as his stunt double throughout. Meaning, well, the real Jann Mardenborough was also watching his performance as Jann Mardenborough most of the time. But according to Madekwe, it wasn’t awkward at all.
“It was great. What a luxury. You’re playing somebody, and they’re there on set every day as like this pool of knowledge,” Madekwe enthused. “It couldn’t have been better, and we really campaigned to keep Jann around. I mean, how amazing that he got to be on set of the film of his life for the entire time?”
Key to that happiness, Madekwe said, was that Gran Turismo wasn’t ever trying to be stuffy awards bait. This is a fun movie, not an immensely serious one.
“We were really clear about the fact that it wasn’t a Marion Cotillard Edith Piaf like biopic [La Vie En Rose], right? Like, I’m like transforming into Jann, and we were really getting like an essence of him, it was his story, and then the character, there were things up for grabs,” Madekwe said. “And so I obviously felt pressure in terms of, I wanted to do it justice for him. I wanted him to feel proud. And I was constantly going to him to try to sense like where he wanted me to lean into. But it wasn’t necessarily like I was like, ‘Oh, God, is he gonna think I sound like him? There was none of that, and he was so generous.”
From there I asked them both how they got along–whether they had any real-world growing pains with their relationship like their characters do in the movie. What with Harbour being the old hat and Madekwe being the rising star, you could certainly draw some surface-level parallels to their characters’ dynamic in the film.
Interestingly, they gave two very different answers.
“It was funny, like starting to work on it, I could tell very early on that Archie was very talented and available and open and really wanted to do the work. And I think a lot of my personal process around acting, like having done it over the years, is that sometimes when it’s happening on screen, I sort of want to pull away a little bit from the person in real life so the interaction can happen on screen,” Harbour said.
“It came from a talk show. I remember going on my first talk show, and you’ll be talking and having this rapport, and the commercial break will happen. And there’ll be silence, and then it starts up again. And I think it’s just because you want the magic to occur on the screen. And there’s a bit of that, that I sort of had there. So I think we were always nice to each other and pleasant. But I definitely wanted to preserve what was happening between us in the work and I saw that he was so game for it, and so capable that it brought out something in me that was wonderful. And so in a sense, I kind of stayed away from him.”
Madekwe was a bit amused by Harbour’s answer.
“It’s so funny you say that because I really didn’t feel that. I didn’t feel that you were like, keeping your distance from me–we had a very lovely, pleasant time. I guess you’re just a nice person, so even your distance, I guess, was kind,” Madekwe laughed. “I just remember the very first day we met, we were doing the scene in a hotel and we just were hanging out in the green room, which is just this hotel bedroom, and there was just like an openness and a warmth that you kinda just want to lock into for a second. Even if it’s there for a second, you just want to know that it’s available in somebody. And then we started doing this the very first scene, and it was so playful and so free.
“It was from the off we had that, which is really rare. It takes a second to find that sometimes, and from the very first scene, it was really present. So I just felt very, very lucky, very privileged.”
Gran Turismo races into theaters on August 25.