Simon Taylor )
You know that director Ron Howard's "Rush" – acclaimed as one of the best racing movies ever made - was nominated for a 2014 Golden Globe Award as Best Motion Picture. You know that it stars heart-throb Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl as Grand Prix rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda. But you may not know that one person in the cast was playing himself – indeed, was the only non-actor in the movie.
Simon Taylor is one of the world’s most renowned auto journalists, and was the voice of Formula One in 1976 as BBC Radio commentator. Taylor recreated his role – and served as a film adviser – in “Rush.” Taylor is the former editor of Autosport magazine, author of numerous books, and a competitor on the vintage racing circuit. His latest book is “Motor Sport Greats in Conversation” (Haynes Publishing, 2013). I caught up with Simon on his recent visit to Detroit.
HP: Tell me about “Rush.”
Taylor: I only got involved because Ron Howard was doing everything he could to make the motor racing footage as historically accurate as possible. Of the very large cast, there is only one person who actually plays himself – that is me, because in 1976, I was in my first year as the BBC radio motor racing commentator and I was at that famous final race in Japan. It wasn’t covered on television — so the only way that the British audiences could hear what was happening at Mount Fuji was by listening to me. When they were casting the British commentator, somebody said: “Well, I think that old fart Simon Taylor was there all those years ago, so why don’t you ask him?” So I found myself doing four days on set.
HP: You lived that ’76 season. We motor heads are particular about these things. Is the movie authentic?
Taylor: I think it is absolutely brilliant. The point one has to make is that $50 million was being spent. Ron Howard was doing this not just to appeal to a few hundred thousand motor heads, but to a worldwide audience. There was one moment in this little editing suite and I had the temerity to say, “Ron, strictly speaking, I’m not sure that that is quite accurate.” He fixed me with a beady eye and said, “Simon, this movie has to work on a wet Tuesday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa to an audience of housewives who’ve never heard of Formula One. Do I make myself clear?” I said, “You certainly do.”
HP: Some say the movie downplayed James Hunt’s drug use.
Taylor: No. I knew James pretty well, and to my knowledge, James never took drugs of any sort. He was very, very serious about his motor racing. He had this devil-may-care exterior; he loved pretty girls; he was a very charismatic. But this was a man passionate to win. (He) would be sick before getting into the car before the race.
HP: Did you meet both actors?
Taylor: I met Daniel Bruhl briefly. When Bruhl got the part of Niki Lauda, he rang Lauda up and he said: “I’ve been cast to play you in a movie.” And Niki — you know what Niki’s like — he said: “So?” Bruhl said: “Well, if you don’t mind, I’d like to come and spend some time with you so I can study you.” Niki said: “Well, if you come, you better only bring an overnight bag, because if I don’t like you, I’ll tell you to (expletive) off.” So, Bruhl went and, in fact, Niki liked him and Bruhl spent four nights in Niki’s house in Spain. He caught not only Niki’s voice, but also his very distinctive gestures. Niki is a most unusual man.
HP: Let me switch gears. You’re an Englishman who’s seen the world. What does the American car market look like today?
Taylor: I think that motor cars, all around the world, have become unromantic, sterile, dull. Because now we’re concerned with safety and pollution. The car has become as exciting as a washing machine. Having said that, there are interesting national characteristics. . . I think that American manufacturers have always understood that styling can sell a car, so American cars have always been more extroverted in their styling than perhaps a British or a French or a German car.
HP: In the States you see “statement cars” that you wouldn’t see in other continents?
Taylor: Yes, and I speak as a man who (owns) a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. I love American cars. I came to America as a teenager in the early ‘60s, and I looked at Pontiac GTOs and early Mustangs and they were in your face and they made a strong statement. An American car is a guy standing up at the bar buying everybody a drink.
Henry Payne is The News’ auto critic. Find him at email@example.com Twitter @HenryEPayne