Before being cast in Sony Pictures’ race-car drama Gran Turismo, Archie Madekwe was clear on one thing during auditions: He did not have a driver’s license. “I was so honest,” he says. “It wasn’t an, ‘I can ride a horse’ type of thing and I’ll just learn later. I really said, ‘Look, guys, just so you know, I can’t drive.’ “
In the film, Madekwe plays the real-life Jann Mardenborough, who went from playing racing-simulator video game Gran Turismo in his bedroom to becoming a medalist in the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans. It all came after Mardenborough won a season of GT Academy, a TV program funded by Nissan and Sony Interactive Entertainment to turn skilled Gran Turismo players into pro racers. The film, out Aug. 25, also stars Orlando Bloom and David Harbour.
During the audition process, Madekwe remembers that it was “starting to look like the part [was] going [his] way.” That is, until the casting team told him that he had only two and a half weeks to pass his driver’s test and would be expected to be able to drive a race car. “I’m thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Madekwe recalls. “I was working on another film, so I’m shooting in the day and, at night, taking [driving] lessons.”
He passed. But to go from not driving at all to enduring practical stunts in a race car hitting 180 miles per hour is not an easy feat. Madekwe admits the transition was far from smooth: “The racing was just the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. It really was the thing I was most excited for [when] signing on to this film. I just did not anticipate how physically taxing it was going to be.”
The very first time the actor took a lap around the racetrack at full speed, he felt sick. From that point on, Madekwe would vomit between takes of racing scenes: “I just would throw up and then get it together and then throw up.
“It’s like being on a roller coaster blindfolded,” he continues. “There is just nothing that can train your body in a really short amount of time to get used to it. You’re in the car when it’s boiling hot, when you’re claustrophobic, you’re squished into these tiny little pods and you’re going 180 miles an hour. I’ve got [director Neill Blomkamp] in one ear giving me direction; I’ve got my driving instructor in my other ear telling me how to drive properly. And then I’m trying to act at the same time.”
The English actor, whose first role was on a BBC medical drama, previously starred in Midsommar and Voyagers and on the Apple TV+ series See; he’s next set to appear in Emerald Fennell’s Prime Video feature Saltburn later this year.
Gran Turismo, though, marks the first film that put him at No. 1 on the call sheet. “People listen to you in a different way,” the actor says. “It became unbelievably collaborative. If I had an idea for a scene, if I wanted to pitch something, people really listened. And all my pitches made it into the film. It was really gratifying to be listened to, and have your ideas be taken seriously.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.