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Interview: Stunt Coordinator Robert Nagle Talks ‘Ford v Ferrari’

November 12, 2019Ben MK

The Fast and Furious films may have given moviegoers some of cinema's most larger-than-life racing heroes, but for fans of the real-life sport, heroes don't come much larger-than-life than Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby. Portrayed by Christian Bale and Matt Damon in James Mangold's Ford v Ferrari, Miles and Shelby may not be everyday names — however, as pioneers of the sport who helped the Ford Motor Company win its first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966, their underdog story is long overdue to be told.

I caught up with stunt coordinator Robert Nagle to chat about his work on Ford v Ferrari, and to find out more about what it took to bring this fast-paced biopic to the big screen.

Can you tell me a little about your background and how you came to work in the film industry?

Nagle: My first on-camera driving job was in 1995. I come from the racing world, and I met some fellow racers that were in the film industry already. It sounded intriguing, and some race films came along that they were working on and they hired me to come drive some of the race cars. There was a creative side to it that I really enjoyed, that I didn't realize was in me. And I think that's what really kept me in this industry — the creative side of the problem-solving and what not to make it look fun and realistic and exciting.

In terms of ensuring accuracy, what kind of research did you do to prepare for working on Ford v Ferrari?

Nagle: It was really just reaching back into my racing experience and applying that. But this was also a film similar to some other films I've done where the action needs to be exciting and needs to be on the edge, but it needs to be realistic. So those were the elements that we had to keep in mind; that everything was physically possible, but yet let's make it as exciting as possible.

You developed a camera rig called the Biscuit Jr. for previous films that you worked on. How was that used in this film?

Nagle: The Biscuit rig is set up in a manner that for most cars or car bodies — when they're mounted on it — the height of the car is not an issue. Meaning that you don't see the front section of the Biscuit rig. But for this particular film it was a bit more challenging. Because [the car that Ken Miles drove,] the GT40, in part, gets its name from its roof height, which is 40 inches. So that was pretty low and was not conducive to working with the Biscuit rig. Moreover, the GT40 itself is so small — the cockpit for the driver is so small — it's hard to get cameras in it.

So we had to modify different versions of that. In the most used version, we took the shell of a GT40 and the shell of a P3 Ferrari, and we mounted it in a manner that the rear wheels of the car were on the ground. Meaning you could be outside the vehicle and look at Christian [Bale] in the GT40. Then there was another version which was kind of a modified pod car, and it was just the front half of the GT40. They allowed us to bring the other cars up alongside of [Christian] in the middle of the race and really get in the middle of the action, and I think that really helped sell that.

Speaking of Christian Bale, what was it like working with both him and Matt Damon?

Nagle: They're great, they're fantastic to work with, I really enjoyed it. They just bring a level of professionalism that is just second to none. Just a real joy to work with. Matt Damon actually drove the car for some of the 59 Le Mans scene. He's quite handy in a car. As for Christian, even though I worked on the Batman films, I didn't work that closely with him then. But I'd become more familiar with him on Public Enemies and struck up a pretty good rapport with him on that. So when this film came along, it was great for both of us to work together this closely.

Were there any scenes that were particularly challenging or memorable to work on?

Nagle: A lot of the second unit — the action unit — pieces were really arduous. We had a really condensed schedule to get everything done. So it's a bit of a blur for me, but it was very satisfying getting some of those action pieces. The big wreck that happens at the beginning of the Le Mans, past the Dunlop bridge, was quite a thing. But just really sorting all that out — it was a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of planning with everybody. A big team effort.

Last but not least, what kind of advice would you give for someone hoping to break into the stunt driving industry?

Nagle: You really need to have a really solid background in competitive racing. Because the drivers I bring on for this sort of film — almost all the drivers that were driving for me — were professional drivers. But to speak further to that, to work as a stunt driver, a lot of times I need guys whose talent for driving exceeds the vehicle. Meaning the vehicle is the limit of expectations and not the person behind the wheel. Because we have to have a safety margin, and I need to know that they've got an extra 10-15% of talent left beyond what we're doing to keep things safe. But if they're on the ragged edge the whole time, there's no safety margin.

Ford v Ferrari is in theatres November 14th.

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