Interview – ‘Gran Turismo’ director Neill Blomkamp on blending his love of cars and filmmaking

GRAN TURISMO: BASED ON A TRUE STORY is based on the unbelievable true story of a team of unlikely underdogs – a struggling working-class gamer (Archie Madekwe), a failed former racecar driver (David Harbour) and an idealistic motorsport executive (Orlando Bloom). Together, they risk it all to take on the most elite sport in the world.

With the release of Gran Turismo hitting Australian cinemas on August 10, I had the chance to sit down with the films director, Neill Blomkamp (District 9) and chat about how he bought Jann Mardenborough’s story, and the Gran Turismo video game to life on the big screen.

Nick: It’s an absolute pleasure to meet you, Neill. How are you today?

Neill Blomkamp: Good! How’s it going? I like your shelf of films. That’s cool.

Nick: Ah, thanks man! I’m all about physical media, we gotta keep it alive! I appreciate that. I’m going to jump right in because I’m interested in the fact that we always hear about how actors learning to drive to get to know their characters better, but I want to know what it’s like from a director’s point of view. What was the experience of getting into these race cars like? And what are you focusing on getting right on screen through that experience?

Neill Blomkamp: Well, I actually have an obsession with cars. I never thought that my interest in cars would ever really crossover with filmmaking. When I read the screenplay, I was like: “oh yeah, this makes a lot of sense”, given that I absolutely love cars.

So, I didn’t actually need to get into the cars and drive them around. I mean, I’ve done that so much that I knew what the experience was. It was more about how I would capture that [feeling]. Where would I put the cameras?  What am I going for? How do we photograph it?

Then the other thing is my knowledge of racing is actually kind of limited. I’m much more into cars than I am into racing. So I had to learn the, sort of, mechanics of racing to some degree and understand that a little bit more than I did when I started the movie.

Nick: It’s interesting you mention newly coming into the world of racing specifically, because I’m intrigued by the fact that all your feature films up until Gran Turismo have also been based on original scripts you have written. What was the experience like this time around as filmmaker coming into a world with the pre-existing elements of not just Jann Mardenborough’s true story, but also working with the idea of bringing aspects of the video game to life?

Neill Blomkamp: Well, I had actually written a much darker, dystopian, science-fiction script that I sold to Sony. And they wanted to make it, but it was fairly high budget and they wanted a very specific actor that we were waiting to hear back on. And it was taking months, so I was going to start looking at doing something else while I was waiting for that film. So, they [Sony] were like: “Hey, before you go off and do something else, do you want to look at Gran Turismo?”

Which to me made no sense! How do you make a film out of a racing simulator. But then, when I read the screenplay, it had these elements that I just was instantly drawn to. Obviously, there’s the car element, but more than that was this approach to a video game film that at the time I just hadn’t seen before. Where the video game is inside the world of the film. The way that it’s inside the world that we live in today. We’re not in the narrative of the game itself.

But also, that it’s biographical. I didn’t know about Jann Mardenborough. I didn’t know about GT Academy. I didn’t know any of that stuff. So, I was very intrigued by it. And then the more I thought about it, the more I started realising that it reminded me of films like Rocky or The Karate Kid. Films that when I was an early teenager, had a big effect on me. Not in the way that made me want to be a filmmaker, but in an inspirational way. They just have this old school Hollywood, positive, inspiring idea behind them.

There was no universe in which I was ever going to have directed a movie like that! It wasn’t on my radar, you know? I wanted to contribute to that genre, I would like to do have done a movie that feels more positive that the other films that I’ve done. That’s basically what happened. I went down a road of thinking about production design that was not about world building, but about the real world that we live in.

Nick: We’re getting wrapped up now, but I just wanted to say that District 9 is one of my favourite films. When I was a teenager, that was formative to me and my movie loving experience. I really appreciate you, and your time today!

Neill Blomkamp: Thank you. Dude, your shirt is also like camo against that movie wall! You know that right? It’s like a Predator-style stealth camo for that video wall! [laughs]

Thank you to Neill for that chat and his time, and thanks to Sony Pictures for organising the interview! Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story is in Australian cinemas August 10.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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