Turbo: Tale of Two Brothers

As work continued on the script (written by Soren and Darren Lemke and Robert Siegel), the filmmakers began the lengthy casting process, beginning with their titular hero. Having imbued Turbo with characteristics that encompassed being an underdog, superhero, and relatable comic figure, Soren certainly didn’t make things easy for himself. Luckily, the requisite comedic and dramatic acting chops, and bigger-than-life persona, are embodied by Ryan Reynolds, whom Soren describes as “the perfect match” for Turbo.

Before he signed on, the actor, who was finishing work on DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods, was pitched the story’s concept by company chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and director David Soren. “Jeffrey pitched the idea about this character who has an impossible dream of winning the Indy 500,” Reynolds remembers. “I asked, ‘What’s impossible about that?’ And he said, ‘Turbo’s a snail.’ And I said, ‘That’s impossible!’”

“But it all really sounded amazing, and I fell in love with its classic underdog story, which TURBO takes to a new level,” Reynolds continues. “It takes a unique if not insane perspective to bring a snail to life in this way. What I love most about Turbo is his tenacity and refusal to give up on his dream. In fact, it doesn’t even occur to him to give up. Talent is a collision between hard work and luck, and that’s what Turbo is.”

Reynolds’ take on the character was in sync with Soren’s conception of Turbo. “Turbo’s defining characteristic is that he doesn’t ever want to give up,” says the director. “His dream is ludicrous, and yet he continues to make it happen. The stroke of luck Turbo has in acquiring super-speed isn’t the solution to his problems, and it’s not what makes Turbo, Turbo. It’s his persistence. And that’s something that seems to land with audiences on a personal level.”

Bringing such a well-defined and rich character to life was a process and exploration that happened over time. Soren notes that Turbo’s brother Chet is another catalyst that helped define Turbo. “The movie is called TURBO, but it’s very much a story of two snail brothers — Turbo and Chet,” he explains. “Turbo is the dreamer, and Chet is a realist. [Another set of brothers – taco truck owners Tito and Angelo – is also central to the Turbo-Chet dynamic; more on the two-legged “Dos Bros,” later.]

Chet is Turbo’s older brother and polar opposite. Overly cautious and always practical, Chet’s number one priority is keeping his brother safe, but Turbo seems hell-bent on thwarting Chet’s caution-first ways. To protect Turbo, Chet feels he must discourage his brother from dreaming his impossible dreams. He wants him to fall in line with his snail brethren and slog away at the Tomato Plant. Chet is a respected member of the snail community, of which Turbo remains an outcast.

Again, Soren found himself creating a role for which there were no easily apparent casting solutions. “It’s a challenging part in that Chet, who thinks he has Turbo’s best interests at heart and always wants to protect his brother, is overbearing, at times to a stifling degree,” he says. “We know it would take a special kind of talent to make Chet be as much fun as the Racing Snails.”

So what else could Soren do but to turn to someone he calls, “one of the greatest actors of our generation” – Paul Giamatti. “Paul can do no wrong,” says the filmmaker, who notes that Chet is not unlike the ever-argumentative characters Giamatti essayed in the acclaimed films Sideways and Win Win. “Paul has this unique ability to be likable even as he’s trying to hold people back,” says Soren. “It’s a very rare gift.”

Giamatti’s casting was also inspired by Soren’s love of films about underdogs, like Rocky, Karate Kid, Rudy, and most of all, Breaking Away. “I’ve seen Breaking Away twenty times, and dissected it from beginning to end trying to figure out how they captured such character-based magic,” Soren admits. In that film, Paul Dooley plays the well-meaning father who disapproves of his son’s (Dennis Christopher) obsession with Italian cycling races. “That was really the inspiration for the dynamic between Turbo and Chet, and when I first met with Paul [Giamatti] I talked with him about Breaking Away and when I mentioned the character of the father, Paul immediately understood what I was talking about and ran with that.”

Reynolds and Giamatti further explored their on-screen brotherhood during a rare opportunity to record some scenes together, at a session in New York City. “It was great to get them facing off in a room together,” notes producer Lisa Stewart. “Working together, they were able to take the characters even deeper.”