Knights Ride Again: RUSH Is Developed
British screenwriter/playwright Peter Morgan
believed that the Lauda-Hunt rivalry and their accompanying thrilling battles during the 1976 Formula
1 season was a story that transcended the sports pages.
Morgan has earned a reputation as a master of
modern-history movie scripts. He captured the
intrigue behind Uganda's brutal dictator Idi Amin
(The Last King of Scotland), Queen Elizabeth II's
struggles following the death of Princess Diana (The
Queen), the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding
David Frost's 1977 interview with former U.S.
President Richard Nixon (Frost/Nixon) and British
Prime Minister Tony Blair's relationships with both
his successor, Gordon Brown (The Deal), and former
U.S. President Bill Clinton (The Special Relationship).
For his work, Morgan earned Academy Award
nominations for Best Screenplay for both The Queen
and Frost/Nixon. "I grew up in England knowing
all about James Hunt," Morgan recalls, "but I never
knew Niki's side of the story.'"
The screenwriter, who lives in Austria, approached
Lauda with an idea to write a script that dramatized the
tumultuous 1976 racing season. Lauda consented and
provided Morgan with invaluable input during the draft
stages. "We had a lot of discussions about the Hollywood
movie and the reality," Lauda says. "I always brought
him back to the reality. They were very
Morgan grew more and more taken
by the incredible tale as he put pen
to paper. He explains: "I wrote it on
spec. I found it interesting but I was
an Englishman married to an Austrian,
living in Vienna. I didn't know who
else might be interested. Once it
was finished and I started showing it
around, I found other people who also
found it interesting."
One of the first people to whom
Morgan showed the script was director
Michael Winterbottom's longtime
producer Andrew Eaton, with whom
Morgan had been working on the Fernando Meirelles
drama 360. "I was aware of the project because I was
working on another film with Peter," Eaton relays. "He
gave me the script to read, which I loved straightaway."
Eaton, a co-founder of Revolution Films, recognized
that while the movie is set amid the glamour and
excitement of F1 racing, at its heart is a story about two
quite contrasting personalities. "It's a character story
with two characters: one Austrian, one English," Eaton
says. "It's mainly about these two men, their different
styles and their different lifestyles. But it also happens
to have this amazing backdrop of motor racing and
Formula 1, making it a character piece with action."
The themes and the period in which Rush is set
attracted the attention of Eric Fellner who, with his
partner Tim Bevan, owns and operates Working Title
Films. They had recently co-produced Asif Kapadia's
award-winning Senna, based on the life of the great F1
champion Aryton Senna, and grew even more transfixed
with the sport.
Fellner explains that his fascination with racing
began as a boy: "The mid-'70s was the period that
brought me into the excitement of Formula 1 racing.
It was the Hunt-Hesketh days. I was just a teenager at school, and Formula 1 was an epic piece of the
sporting calendar on a weekly basis. These guys were
gladiators -- incredibly sexy and incredibly exciting
because they rolled the dice with death every weekend.
They were rock stars, and no one personified that better
than James Hunt."
From beloved projects such as Four Weddings and
a Funeral and Love Actually to 2012's blockbuster Les
Miserables, the London-based Working Title has made
a global imprint with its movies. For the production
partners, story has always trumped spectacle. "I started
making films back in the '80s and had always wanted
to make a movie about Lord Hesketh's brief, but glam-
orous involvement with the sport of auto racing," states
Fellner. "We were never able to pull that off, but years
later I was approached to do a documentary on the
life of Aryton Senna. I saw that a documentary was
a good low-budget way of approaching the subject. I
always thought a Formula 1 feature, especially a period
feature, would be prohibitively expensive. Then Peter
Morgan and Andrew Eaton came to me with this script,
which they said could be made for a reasonable price. I
couldn't resist, and I said I was in."
Brian Oliver, president of Cross Creek Pictures,
which has produced critically and popularly acclaimed
fare such as Black Swan,
The Ides of March and
The Woman in Black -- the
latter two co-produced
with Exclusive Media --
recognized that the setting
and dramatic elements
could make Rush a viable
project. Oliver agreed
to work on the financing
structure and immediately
called executive producers
Nigel Sinclair and Guy
East, who head Exclusive
Media -- a mini-studio
whose film credits include the upcoming production
Parkland, the critically acclaimed End of Watch,
Snitch and through its documentary label, Spitfire
Pictures, the Academy Award-winning documentary
Undefeated. "I read the script and immediately thought,
'Wow, we've got to do this,'" recalls Oliver. "It was
one of those screenplays that transcends that sport and
becomes fully about the characters."
Sinclair concurs: "As a Formula 1 fan, I immediately
saw the potential of the wider appeal for this gladiator
East and Sinclair, along with Exclusive's head of
production, Tobin Armbrust, quickly agreed to fully co-
finance the budget with Cross Creek and also to look
after the international distribution and marketing of the
movie. East comments: "With Ron Howard so dedicated
to the process of making Rush as an independently
financed film, we knew our international partners were
going to be very supportive."
The passions, personalities and competitive
extremes of these characters -- not to mention his
experience on his last film with Morgan -- convinced
two-time Oscar winner Ron Howard to direct Rush. "I
had the pleasure of working with Peter on Frost/Nixon
and when he told me about the remarkable conflict between these two amazing characters, I found the
story completely irresistible," Howard explains. "The
characters are so rich. The rivalry between James Hunt
and Niki Lauda was dramatic. It was violent, sexy and,
ultimately, it was very emotional and triumphant --
the makings of a great screen drama. During the 1976
season, everything intensified. Everyone, even people
who didn't necessarily follow the sport, was talking
about it. Everyone was writing about it because they
were such opposites. It not only makes for great drama,
it's a dichotomy that creates a lot of humor. And given
the world in which they exist, it was a fresh story with
totally unique characters.
"What Peter is great at is looking at characters,"
continues the director. "When he deals with true
stories, he's fantastic at discerning what it is that makes
them tick, what is that thing that gets under their skin
in positive or negative ways and how to build scenes
around that. Some of the scenes are purely factual,
some are dramatic illustrations but they're all meant
to serve these ideas he's developed. So, the results are
always very honest, if not 1,000-percent authentic."
It's no coincidence that Howard's latest project,
along with his Oscar-caliber films Apollo 13 and
Frost/Nixon, is set in the '70s. The filmmaker admits
he's long been captivated by the era.
"It's a very sexy, fascinating period in
global history and popular culture,"
he explains. "I believe that by using
today's cinematic technology, with
a classic look at a remarkable time,
we've made something that cuts
through to the audience and feels
fresh, rewarding and exciting."
What also sparked Howard
was that this era was the same as
his transition from performer to
filmmaker. "When this story was
taking place, Happy Days was
becoming a No. 1 show around the
world," Howard says. "So, I recognized the cultural
differences of that period. It was the tail end of the
sexual revolution, where there was nothing to fear and
everything to celebrate...when sex was safe and driving
was dangerous. The drive to express yourself, take
chances and stand for something unique and particular
was depoliticized coming out of the '60s, but it was
still there on a cultural level. When I hear wild stories
about Formula 1, I realize people don't quite do those
things today but they are not entirely alien to my own
understanding of what the world of celebrity was like
in the '70s."
Their wish list of directors had been a short one,
and the producers agreed they had the top name on the
list. "Ron is one of the great American film directors,"
Oliver says. "Having him involved in a European racing
project is a huge plus for the success of the film. It
wasn't a big stretch to believe that the man who brought
us into the world of astronauts and firefighters could
make a great movie about race drivers."
Eaton appreciated the indefatigable energy the crew
would find in its leader. He commends: "When we were
looking around for directors, Peter had breakfast with
Ron in Los Angeles and Ron told him how much he
wanted to do the film. He's a huge sports fan and even though he wasn't really familiar with Formula 1, he
appreciates the drama inherent in sports competition.
Ron also has the same energy and drive as the two lead
characters. It's inspiring to work with him because of
his attention to detail and his raw energy. He was the
perfect person to direct this movie."
The producers knew that Howard could find the
humanity in real characters from recent history better
than most. "From the mathematician in A Beautiful Mind
to the astronauts in Apollo 13, he excels at capturing
an environment in which real people operate," says
Fellner. "It's a plus that he came in knowing little
about the sport. It's been my experience that if you
have a director who comes to a film without knowing
everything there is to know about the subject material,
you often get a more interesting point of view. Ron's
take on this world brings us to places no other director
could have taken us."
"One of the most exciting aspects of the film
was Ron Howard's involvement," says executive
producer Tobin Armbrust. "Watching him work first-
hand, I was inspired by his ability to move smoothly
between heart-pounding race sequences and intimate
Joining the production team on Rush was
Howard's longtime partner at Imagine Entertainment,
Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer, who found
himself as intrigued by Morgan's script as he was by
the writer's last screenplay for Imagine. "Ron and I
worked with Peter on Frost/Nixon," Grazer relays,
"and Peter has this ability to study somebody and at
the same time get so microscopic that he can see the
pores in their skin."
Grazer found that Morgan's latest examination
of the machinations of men was just as laser focused
and explains where this project sits in the canon of
films that he's produced with Howard. He notes: "The
continuity that Rush shares with the other films from
Ron and me is that it's about the characters' identities,
about how their psyche works. Rush is also about two
men who have giant flaws who are competing with
each other. Oddly enough, this film isn't about winning
the race, it's about how these men overcome their flaws
through a competition and become more complete.
Their victories lie within. Ultimately, James and Niki
not only improved themselves through the racing, they
improved each other's self-worth."
With Imagine as one of the final pieces of the puzzle,
the financing in place and Howard in the director's chair,
Rush moved quickly into production.
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