In the world of video game adaptations, few would have expected Gran Turismo to be one of the best yet, especially as a biopic, but here we are. Directed by Neill Blomkamp and featuring an all-star cast including Archie Madekwe, David Harbour and Orlando Bloom, the movie adapts the life of Jann Mardenborough, a teenage Gran Turismo enthusiast turned professional racer. With fantastic action sequences, solid performances across the board, and real heart at the core of the story, Gran Turismo has proven to be a drive worth taking.
We sat down with Archie Madekwe and David Harbour to discuss the real-life resonance of playing these roles, the authentic and, at times, the gruelling experience of filming, and the unique directorial approach that kept them on their improvisational toes. Harbour, known best for Stranger Things, and Madekwe open up about the intimate collaboration with director Neill Blomkamp.
While Harbour delves into the challenges of portraying a composite character, Madekwe shares his transformative journey—both physically and emotionally—playing a young man whose life shifts from virtual racing to real-world speedways.
Please note: David Harbour and Archie Madekwe spoke to us prior to the ongoing strike.
Just to start off quickly, were either of you a fan of the Gran Turismo series before joining this project?
David Harbour: I’m a big video game guy, but that had skipped my radar. I knew of it, but I’m not really a simulator guy. I like more RPG-type stuff where you build characters. I’ve never been a racing simulator guy, so while I knew it existed, I never really played it.
Archie Madekwe: I knew the game, but I hadn’t played it. When I was introduced to the script and the pitch, it was through the route of Yan and his story, not Gran Turismo. The title Gran Turismo wasn’t even attached to it at that point. It was just us talking about making a biopic about Yan. Later on, it became more Gran Turismo-focused, and I realized that was the overarching theme.
That’s awesome. Now, did either of you get to meet your real-life counterparts, either during or while filming Gran Turismo? And what was that like?
Archie Madekwe: I mean. Yes, Yan was my stunt driver for the entire film. He was with us on set every day, and it was amazing. It became quite emotional at times. Every now and then, I’d look around and see Yan sitting there, thinking about how it must feel to be this young 30-year-old guy with a film being made about him. It was a lovely, surreal feeling. I’ll see him later today; he just saw the film yesterday and feels incredibly proud. It was lovely to have that connection with him.
David Harbour: My character was an amalgamation of several people. He wasn’t really a real guy. I often feel that in telling real stories, my own process can get muddled by too much interaction with the real story unless you are doing something very specific. But this had its own narrative. I wanted to go on my own journey with what I felt the most powerful narrative would be. And because he was an amalgamation of a bunch of guys, it wasn’t that important that I was any.
The training montage scene early in the film was one of the more fun moments early on in the movie. Your dialogue made that section work, but did feel very off the cuff. Was that all scripted, or did you get to improv some of that?
David Harbour: Uh, no. A lot of the stuff I noticed we left in was improv. Neil has a fun way of working where we had a good script. But as is the case with a lot of these movies, I feel they don’t trust their audience enough sometimes to know what the thing is. Are people going to know what the video game is? Are they going to know what it feels like to be in a race car?
It was a bit overexplained in certain areas. And the great thing about Neil as a filmmaker is he wants to stay ahead of you. He doesn’t want to get bogged down. He would have us do takes with the scripted dialogue, and then he would have us do takes where we just went off. And a lot of the stuff where we went off was what he used. And, of course, because we know the script, it has the flavour of all of that stuff, but it just feels a little more grounded in our bodies and a little more real. Yeah, a lot of that stuff was improv.
This is a film that is very much focused on cars and car culture. Did either of you spend a lot of time in the cars as passengers or drivers, and how did that kind of work in the overall filming process?
David Harbour: Once we covered Archie in Vaseline and were able to squeeze him into it, he spent a lot of time in the cars, and he came out looking green, didn’t you?
Archie Madekwe: Yeah, it was really more time than I ever would have hoped for. It was truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. We were going at full speed the entire time. And any scene where you see me in the car, I’m in the car going, “Wow, speed.”
There is no cheating. There is no moment where it’s a green screen. There is no moment where I’m not going at that speed. And it just meant that I would vomit every single day and have to lie on the ground in the fetal position just recovering, and that was my experience. It was great and hopefully worth it.
Anything you want to wrap up with?
David Harbour: I mean, I just think it’s one of those movies, kind of like Top Gun Maverick, where it feels a bit like a throwback. It’s all real cars, real helicopters, real asphalt, rubber tires. And it’s crazy. I think it’s got a really nice feel-good, euphoric sports movie payoff to it. If you’re a fan of the video game [Gran Turismo], if you’re a fan of racing, and also if you’re a fan of that classic feel-good summer movie, this picture is the picture for you.
Thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking to you both
David Harbour: You too. Thank you.