Interview by Camden Ferrell
In anticipation of the release of James Mangold's newest film Ford v Ferrari, a racing epic about Henry Ford II and Carroll Shelby's quest to build a car fast enough to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, disappointment media got to speak with the film's stunt coordinator, Robert Nagle. In the interview, we discuss some of the film's insane stunts and Nagle's extensive career as a stunt driver. Check it out below and see Ford v Ferrari when it opens in theaters on November 14.
On Working With Iconic Classic Cars
disappointment media: With an extensive career as a stunt driver, how did it feel to work with all of the classic cars that were used in Ford v Ferrari?
Robert Nagle: I mean, they’re beautiful cars. There’s an emotional reaction to some of them, especially some of the Ferraris. That’s sorta what they’re known for.
disappointment: And were there any particular Ferrari models you loved to work with when working on this movie?
Nagle: You know, all of the ones we drove were replicas, so it’s hard to have the same reaction. We had some static Ferraris that were real cars from that era. And I think there was actually one that had won Le Mans in the early sixties, and I think it was valued at around 45 or 50 million dollars. And I think in totality, the static Ferraris that they had, this was for the scene in the Ferrari factory; I think the totality of the real Ferraris exceeded what the film’s budget was, and that was between three cars. Absolutely gorgeous cars.
On Crafting a Sense of Authenticity for the Film
disappointment: What were some of the logistical challenges of coordinating a sequence as extensive and crucial as the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
Nagle: There was a lot to that because we were in 4 or 5 different locations. Obviously, it’s a 24-hour race. You’ve got day and night, dry and wet, so you really have to keep track of where you are in the story. The basis of that for me is I wrote a story for the race to keep track of everything. I had written it from Ken Miles’ point of view, so at any given time we would know where we’re at, and that led to us creating the previz and storyboards, and kinda step by step action of what’s going on when, so we could always refer back to it as we go to location to location and being able to set the cars back in the same configuration. And by the way, the cars look different at hour 4 than at hour 16, so that has to be taken into account as well.
disappointment: Since this movie was based on true events, were there any specific techniques you used to achieve authenticity through your stunts?
Nagle: Probably the most notable is just trying to stay with some of the historic points which is more so with Le Mans than anything. Historically, there were certain things that happened, and we tried to stay true to that and then tried to blend in a little more excitement to it since it is a 24-hour race.
On the Challenges Faced While Filming (Contains Mild Spoilers)
disappointment: In the movie, there was one scene that really stood out. It was at the Shelby American warehouse when Ken’s brakes fail, and the car spins out of control and it crashes and bursts into flames. And I think it’s a really powerful scene thanks to how the stunts were done. Can you give us some insight as to how that scene was done?
Nagle: So, we had a GT-40 set up to be able to spin, meaning the stunt driver, Jeremy Fry, drove that one. We had him come around the corner and send the car into a spin, and it’s a testament to his skill level. You saw how far the car was spinning, and it landed exactly where we needed it. So, once he sent the car into a spin, you kinda belong to the ride at that point. So, it’s all about where he initiates that and how he initiates that to get the car to land where you asked him to do it. Where the impact point is, he landed exactly where he needed to be. He did an incredible job.
disappointment: That was a fantastic scene. I thought it was just done really well. Are there any scenes in the movie that look fairly simple on camera but were actually very difficult to pull off?
Nagle: Probably, the most difficult was one of the crash scenes at the beginning of the race at Le Mans right past the Dunlop bridge where there’s a car tumbling. You know, it’s going off the track on the left side, and it shoots back across to the right side of the track and then starts to tumble. And getting that all timed out was incredibly arduous because we had a camera car sitting in for where the Ken Miles car would be. We added a lot of caging to protect that driver which ultimately payed off. We did two takes, and the second take, we had this car we were actually launching 300 feet and timing it out so it would land next to the camera car and start cartwheeling. And on the second take, it cartwheeled a few times and then righted itself and just chased down the camera car and T-boned him and sent him into a concrete wall to his left and then into a tire barrier, so it was a precarious spot, and that was exactly why this happens and a testament to the effects guys to how they built this camera car. We sent them out to make sure he was okay, but ultimately, he was fine. It was a pretty hard hit.
disappointment: And onscreen, I couldn’t imagine it was as difficult as you just described it, so I guess that is a testament to the talent of everyone working to make it look so seamless.
Nagle: Yeah, and all the cars around him are real. There were no CGI cars put into that, around that camera car. I had a group of cars ahead of him and a group of cars behind him, and then timed it out so that when he’s cartwheeling, it’s pretty much just near the camera car and not the picture cars that are not quite as reinforced as the camera car was. It was quite a task, and everyone did their job well and did exactly as they needed, and it worked out great.
disappiointment: Was there a scene in particular in this movie that you enjoyed working on above all others?
Nagle: Well, this is gonna sound funny but the fight scene. I had a lot of fun with that to come up with a fight scene that was a little bit comedic but still serious and not cross the line into it being The Three Stooges. But the most amusing part for me is after we got the choreography down with the stunt doubles, and then when I start sitting down with the actors, showing them what we shot and how it goes about step by step, it occurs to me that I have Batman and Jason Bourne here with me about to do a fight scene, and by the way, they’re guys who don’t know how to fight. So that just added a little bit more humor to what we were about to do. I think they enjoyed it to because it wasn’t this precise choreographed fight sequence. There was a little bit of latitude to kind of play with it and have some fun with it which isn’t the norm.
disappointment: That was a hilarious scene. I know at the screening I went to, the whole audience loved that scene, and it was obvious there was a lot of fun behind the camera with that scene.
Nagle: Yeah, and the basis of it for me where I started with that was that, “Hey, this is like a sixth-grade school yard fight”. That’s really what it is because these guys, they’re really pissed off at each other, but they’re best friends, and they don’t really want to hurt each other, but there’s a lot of anger built up, so that sort of kicks it off.
disappointment: And what do you think was the most unique challenge of working on this film?
Nagle: I think the unique challenge is really selling the speed of these cars, and sometimes it’s more difficult than you think on camera. There were times we were running the cars at 180, 185 miles per hour, and it can sometimes look a lot slower than that even though, you know, we’re moving. That’s a lot of speed.
disappointment: A lot of the racing scenes involved a lot of drivers going at high speeds, making dangerous moves, and scraping up against each other. How did you keep such chaotic elements under tight control in these scenes?
Nagle: It’s sitting down with everybody and going through it step by step, where everybody needs to be at any given moment. And it is really strict choreography, and that’s the only way it can work and the only way it can be safe, but it does need to look perilous. So, having the right guys, and the right choreography, and everybody on the same page, and that’s the result you get.
On Working as a Stunt Coordinator
disappointment: How did your previous experiences as a stunt driver and stunt coordinator shape the way you approached Ford v Ferrari?
Nagle: For this, what I really enjoyed is that everything had to be grounded in reality, so all the stunts we set up and the racing sequences, everything had to be as realistic as possible. That I enjoy. So now you kinda get away from I think the hyper-realistic stuff of what you see typically on film today.
disappointment: Being a veteran stunt driver, do you have any personal connection to his historic story of Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby?
Nagle: Look, I come from the racing world, and you know, Shelby has always been a huge icon in the racing industry, so you can’t help but enjoy and smile that we’re doing this. And the GT-40 and the whole Ford program with the GT-40 was an amazing feat by Ford, and that in itself is an icon, and the engineering and styling of that car holds up today.
disappointment: Because of the nature of the film, some of the racing sequences took place during the day and some were at night. So how did the time of day affect your work as a stunt coordinator?
Nagle: Obviously at night, it’s a little cooler and the tires don’t have as much grip, and you have to take a little more time to warm things up and be aware of that and remind everybody to make surre your tires have some temperature, but at the same time, we’re trying to get things done as quickly as possible. So, trying to balance that efficiency of getting everything done along with the safety factor.
CF: How do you think working on Ford v Ferrari helped you grow as a stunt coordinator as you move forward in your career?
Nagle: It’s, you know, working with people like James Mangold. It helps me grow and look at things from another perspective because he’s not a car guy. So, when I would approach him with ideas, then he would come back at me, “Well, I don’t understand this”, and he would give me his perspective. So, it really widened my perspective and view of how to go about these things and look at them and not assume that everybody understands car jargon and car language and what a car can and can’t do. So, I walk away from every project like this, with a newfound understanding.
On What Viewers Can Expect
disappointment: Considering how long the final sequence of the film is with that race, no moment ever felt repetitive. It all felt fresh and original. So how did you prevent the stunts from feeling repetitive?
Nagle: Well, I think that’s where the story comes back to. Writing the story for the race, there were key historic moments that we wanted to keep in there, and that helps keep some of the authenticity. Then we added a few things of our own or kinda livened things up if you will. But there’s a lot that can happen in those 24 hours, and as you said, you don’t want to repeat anything. There is plenty of latitude to keep things fresh for each shot.
disappointment: And what do you think car buffs and racing fans will enjoy most about this movie?
Nagle: I think we really tried to stay as true to reality and one of the big goals was to get the audience to feel and experience what Ken Miles was going through in the sense of what a racer is. That was one of the big things, working with Mangold, I would explain things to him about racing, and his number one comment was, “How do I tell that story? How do we tell that story to the audience?”, and that became my challenge, and I loved that part of it. So, now I had to really go back and think of how to convey that on film, and I think we did it. I’ve gotten a lot of comments from people saying that they really felt like they were there and experienced what Ken Miles was going through.
Ford v Ferrari opens in theaters on November 15.