Last week I was able to catch up with actor Ben Rigby about his role in James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari, as the New Zealand racing icon Bruce McLaren. During our chat, we covered how he initially got the role, working with Mangold and the cast, filming the racing sequences, and his thoughts on the future of theatrical releases with the rise of streaming services.
HN: So first off I’d like to know how you got involved with Ford v Ferrari?
Ben Rigby: “I got a casting call through my managers, they usually get audition sides when you go for a role, an audition piece which is from the movie, and I actually had no idea what it was really for. I knew it was for a Fox film, but I wasn’t given the full script. Then it was for three different characters, so I went for all three, and as per every audition you kinda just walk away and don’t think much of it, because it was the first audition.”
“Maybe three weeks later I got a call from my manager asking me if I could do a New Zealand accent, and I spent a lot of time in New Zealand growing up, my dad’s a Kiwi, so I was lucky enough to go back and forth. So I said yeah of course I can, I spent a lot of time there, and there’s not too much difference between the Kiwi and Australian accent, but if you’re from New Zealand or Australia you’ll be able to tell the difference.”
“So I agreed to it and they offered me the role of Bruce McLaren, which didn’t have too much dialogue but they just said make sure it’s ready in case you need it.”
HN: What were some interesting things you found about Bruce McLaren when researching the part?
BR: “I didn’t know that he was a New Zealander, so I watched a lot of YouTube videos to kind of get his speech intonations down. As you know, in the film he doesn’t play a vital role until the very end, so I wanted to focus on what his face did, what he looked like, and how his speech patterns worked, because I didn’t have to research his character in terms of being a driver or an engineer or anything like that. I did a lot of persona work and tried to copy his face and voice as much as possible.”
HN: What was it like working with James Mangold and some of the other cast members?
BR: “It was great, I didn’t really know who James Mangold was until you get cast and realize “Oh my god, he’s done some of the best films of the past 25 years,” I mean Girl, Interrupted and Walk The Line are some of my favorite films, so to be able to speak or be in the same room as that guy was really cool. And then to learn that Christian Bale was the person I have most of my scenes with was super cool.”
“When you start out as an actor you don’t really envision, or you think of who you really want to work with or who’s career you aspire to have, so I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d get to work with Christian Bale. That was super rad, and meeting all those other actors and hanging out on set for the amount of time that I did, that was really fascinating.”
“I’ve been on big sets before, but it’s always different every time and being on set in a place that they’ve kind of transformed something to look like something else, that was a first for me.”
HN: Yeah I mean between this and Alien, you got some pretty good sets to work on.
BR: “For sure. Alien was studio, apart from when we shot outdoors in New Zealand, but yeah this one was different. They kind of fully transformed this airstrip into the grand stands that you see in the film, and that was just ballistic. I walked up on set the first day and was like “Wow, I had no idea that this grand stand was here,” and there were like “No, they’ve converted an airstrip and completely built this thing from scratch just for the film,” which is psycho.”
“It’s completely old Hollywood still alive, and I love it when directors and creators on set make something like that. Not to even mention the cars, which are replicas, but they’re still worth like hundreds of thousands of dollars each, which is nuts. Having those cars driving past and having the excitement of everything going around, it really creates that world for everybody, you don’t have to fake as much.”
“I really love it when films don’t use too much green screen, only where they really need to, and this film there weren’t many exceptions made for that either. And the stuntmen, I saw videos that they were showing me from people on set, the stuff they shot in Atlanta where cars were crashing and blowing up, those are real stuntmen doing those things and it’s crazy. I have a lot of respect for stuntmen, they really work very hard, especially on a film like that.”
HN: On this movie you have some scenes towards the end, but was there anything else that you shot that didn’t make the final cut?
BR: “There were scenes in the original script that ended up getting cut, and then there was a scene before that that got cut, but I mean that’s completely the nature of the business. You have to know that when you shoot something it might not make it into the final product, and your ego has to step aside when you watch it, and just watch it completely objectively. Nothing was taken away from the film with those scenes not being in there of course, so you can’t be bitter about that.”
HN: Were those the scenes you shared with Bale?
BR: “Yeah, but I mean the main scene is at the very end where I greet him and you know have the interaction at the end, I won’t spoil it for people. I think it makes it more of a surprise if you don’t see Bruce McLaren, and then he comes in at the very end. But it’s just cool to play someone from real life and play someone who made such an impact on the automotive industry too.”
HN: So how much, if any, racing did you do for the film? Were you in the cars at any point?
BR: “I was in the cars while stationary, but you know liability and what not, we weren’t in moving cars. Some people were, but that was for certain shots. The stuff that we did do where I was racing, they had full green screen technology set up in a studio just next to the airstrip, with stuff racing by on screens to make it look real. But I wasn’t in moving cars unfortunately, it would’ve been super cool, but I don’t blame them for thinking that an actor might crash one of their 200 or 300 thousand dollar cars [laughs].”
HN: So I did want to kind of get your thoughts just on the craft and racing industry in general, because watching the movie it’s so visceral how everything comes across in the racing sequences, and I wanted to know what your thoughts are on those guys that do that for a living.
BR: “I have so much respect for those guys, I think they’re crazy to go that fast and constantly get into crashes, especially with the track record that their predecessors have, and if you’ve watched the film you know that people die. So I understand when people can’t really get their kicks from anything else, I’m really fascinated by people who free diving, who hold their breath for a large amount of time and dive deep. I’d kinda like to do something like that, where those people have to do that thing, I’m not wired that way where I have to do something crazy, oh wait no I’m an actor, so I do something as crazy and stupid as that [laughs].”
“But it’s in a different way I guess, I don’t put my life on the line for something I love to do, so it’s hard to get into that mind-frame and understand that. [Ford v Ferrari] really gave me a newfound appreciation for it, I’m not a huge motor person at all. I wasn’t into car racing before this film, but now after watching the film I understand a little more about it and the psyche that goes it, and the love that people have for it. My dad’s super into it, so he’s stoked that I’m playing someone from his home country.”
HN: Was there anything that you got to snag from the set on this one?
BR: “No there wasn’t [laughs]. I’m sure I could reach out and ask for a poster or something. I took a bunch of photos, I always take my camera on set so I always have 35mm negative prints that I can get enlarged if I ever want to. I always try and take photos of the other cast members as much as I can, I got a few of the people that I was mostly hanging around, the Ferrari team. I feel like that’s my souvenir from most film sets, if any.”
HN: So what’s next for you right now? Do you have anything you’re working on or want to promote?
BR: “I just finished a film in Montana which was super fun. It’s called Two Eyes, by a guy called Travis Fine, who directed another film called Any Day Now a few years back, with Alan Cumming in it. He used to be an actor, weirdly he was in Girl, Interrupted which is James Mangold’s film, so we kinda bonded a little over that.”
“So I got to go up to Montana and play a British painter from the 1860s and it was a lovely experience. I’ve seen a cut of that and it’s great, so I think that should hopefully be on some kind of festival circuit next year. Beyond that I’ve been writing and working towards making something else soon.”
HN: I did have kind of an off question, just to get your thoughts as an actor. The rise of streaming services and the way people are viewing content now, in a way Ford v Ferrari is kind of a gamble for the studio, because it’s a smaller film but it cost a lot of money. What are your thoughts on the way the industry is shifting towards streaming?
BR: “Look I think it’s great that there’s more work to be offered, and there’s more stuff to go for. There’s a whole range of diversity that comes from that as well, which I’m all for and love. I do think that on the backend of some of these streaming services that actors don’t really get appreciated, and they don’t get any kind of residuals or follow through with pay, which is unfortunate to say the least. I hope that those legalities and those conditions change and they move with the times, the way people have moved with streaming.”
“When these things happen, there’s people that get fucked over and there’s people that make a lot of money, obviously these companies are making lots of money and paying people less and less. That’s probably the main gripe that I have with streaming, on the other hand it’s bittersweet, it’s great that people have access to so much content.”
“Personally I try to stay away because I don’t want to sit at the TV for an hour deciding what to watch, I prefer to just go to a movie. I do think that cinema will always prevail, there’s nothing more exciting than going to the cinema and having a full experience, rather than sitting on your couch and watching it on the TV, which I also fully endorse because we all need home time, but nothing beats going to the movies.”
HN: What movies or shows have you been watching recently and enjoying?
BR: “I must confess I have watched Netflix in the past week, and I’ve been watching The Crown Season 3, which is fucking epic it’s so good. The acting on that is just the best on TV, in my opinion. When I was back in Australia recently, I saw a bunch of movies. I saw Parasite, I saw the new Almodóvar film Pain and Glory which was stunning, saw Ford v Ferrari, and The Nightingale which is a great film by Jennifer Kent who did The Babadook.”‘
“I think that’s my film of the year, so scary. Really brilliantly done film. I really love films that take people to a new level of being uncomfortable, it’s kinda what I got into this business to try and do in the first place. Or at least show people a slice of life that maybe they’re not ready to watch yet. But yeah, if you get a chance to watch The Nightingale it’s brilliant.”
I’d like to thank Ben for his time and chatting about his experience on this film. If you haven’t seen it yet, Ford v Ferrari is playing in theaters everywhere and it’s a must see on the big screen.