Rush: Directed by Ron Howard

The passions, personalities and competitive extremes of these characters—not to mention his experience on his last film with Peter 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-nominated films Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon, is set in the 1970s.  He admits that 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.”

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 character moments.”

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.”

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.”