Neill Blomkamp Wants To Talk About ‘Gran Turismo,’ But Only ‘Gran Turismo‘

A couple of things I want to make clear. One, I actually really liked Gran Turismo, despite how this interview went. Second, this is not how I would have preferred this interview turned out. Even now I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I think I might have hit a nerve with Blomkamp I wasn’t really even looking for. (This is the fourth time I’ve interviewed Blomkamp, going all the way back to District 9, and nothing like this has happened before.)

Gran Turismo is based (liberally) on the real-life story of Jann Mardenborough (played by Archie Madekwe) whose talents at playing Gran Turismo leads to an invitation to a racing academy to be trained by the gruff yet all-knowing former driver Jack Salter (David Harbour). And once the actual racing in Gran Turismo starts, it’s pretty thrilling.

Though, with Blomkamp, I was curious what he thinks, now, about the success of District 9 – Blomkamp’s first movie, which wound up with four Oscar nominations including Best Picture. I was wondering if he feels his other films, fairly or unfairly, were held up against the success of District 9. And this topic of discussion was going fine, until it wasn’t. To the point Blomkamp just kind of shut down and the publicist on the line suggested we end it and, by that point, I wholeheartedly agreed that was a good idea.

One of my first interviews ever was with you for District 9, many years ago now…

Yeah. That’s awesome. I generally am always down with anything to do with Uproxx ever since it was the only good Chappie review, so I’m stoked.

Oh right, I interviewed you for Chappie, but didn’t write that review…

For sure. For sure. But I mean, yeah, I’m just undying love.

I saw Gran Turismo pretty early and didn’t realize this was based on a true story. I’m assuming that aspect was appealing to you.

That was super appealing. I mean, when Sony offered this film to me. It made no sense how you could make a film out of Gran Turismo. I mean, I basically had no interest, really. And then it was absolutely insane when I read it – that the two things that were fascinating was, one of them, was how the game was within the world of the story, that I was going to film was presented realistically. So it’s a video game inside the real world. It’s sort of Facebook in The Social Network, you’re viewing it from outside of itself.

And then the second thing was this kind of biographical angle of Mardenborough that grounded it and just made it completely real feeling. And those two things instantly changed my sort of perception of what the film was. And it was like, Oh, okay. I could definitely do something with this.

At first, I was confused about how you make a movie based on Gran Turismo. I think people are going to be surprised by what this actually is…

It needs to be as clear as possible that it really is basically like a biographical story where Gran Turismo played a role in this person’s life. And yeah, I totally agree, the more that people know that, the better.

Did you actually play this game? Did you know much about it before this came to you?

Yeah, I mean, 100 percent knew about it. I wouldn’t play it as much as, say, someone like my brother. When I say I love cars, I mean, the car itself, I’ve never really been that into racing. It’s the machinery and the artistry around cars that I love. So I knew a lot about it. Again, it just made no sense when they were like, “Hey, do you want to direct the Gran Turismo film?” It was like, “What are you talking about?”

I had the PS2 version. I thought it would be like Pole Position, let’s just start racing. And then it’s like you have to earn credits to buy a spark plug so your car will run correctly. It’s a pretty intense and difficult game.

I mean, I think one of the things that’s really awesome about Gran Turismo, and one of the reasons that I think initially Kazunori Yamauchi faced difficulty getting it financed was, and it’s what made it sell, was this idea of taking average cars that you could race on world-famous racetracks. It’s such a cool idea. I want to race my Honda Civic. I want to see how my Civic does against an Integra.

You said earlier it never occurred to you that you’d ever do a racing movie or a sports movie. Once you agree, do you go back and watch something like Days Of Thunder? Tony Scott pulled off some pretty good race scenes.

I never seemed to reference other movies when I’m making a film. So there was an homage that I did in this film that was a sort of tip of the hat to Steve McQueen’s Le Mans, just because it felt like I was making something that was a racing film and I liked being in the lineage of racing movies. And watching Le Mans – which I watched while we were filming – it had this awesome introduction with the way that he pushes in on the faces of each of the races before the beginning of the race. And I did an active homage to that. But outside of that, there are none…

Well, that’s a pretty big one. That’s not nothing.

But what I will say is that I’m obsessed with drones and radio-controlled helicopters, and I fly a lot of FPV drones myself, but I also love watching the competitive FPV stuff online, and it’s translated into a lot of real-world sports.

It took me a second, but I didn’t realize at first that it was Geri Halliwell playing Jann Mardenborough’s mother. It’s the first time I’ve seen her play a role like this. And I thought she was terrific. And I’m curious how that even happened.

I know, I’m so stoked. It literally, 100000 percent, was based on her audition tape, plain and simple. For Jann’s character, there were so many young actors that I looked up, and then when I met Archie, I just knew that it was Archie immediately, but I still looked at 150 kids. And it was weirdly hard finding his mom. And I just got this tape from the costume directors and I watched it and I instantly was like, “This is his mom.” And I was happy with that from the moment onwards, working with her was awesome. Her performance was awesome. I did something in this film that suits District 9 more than this movie. And I’m not sure how many times this has happened in a major studio-release movie.

What happened?

In the scene where he’s speaking to her in FaceTime?


When he is lying on the couch?

Okay. Right after the wreck.

Yeah, so when he’s sitting there speaking to her, we hadn’t filmed her side of it yet. And I basically texted her from editorial months after we’d filmed it, and I was like, “Hey, I want to drop you into the video call. Can you just self-feed yourself with the video and just give me some versions? And I’ll choose my favorite version.” So then she gave me these recordings, and she just sent them to me on WhatsApp, and I was like, “Oh, this is pretty cool.” And then we just put them in the movie and locked the film. I don’t know if that’s really ever happened before, but it was much more of a District 9 approach. To use self-film footage of her. She was in London, probably just, “Okay, yeah. Let me just drop you some files.” It was kind of awesome. She’s very easy to work with, is my point.

So it doesn’t come up very often using some of the techniques you had to use in District 9 in your films after?

It’s not really a technique. It’s just raw. It’s a very unusual way to go about doing it in a film like this.

Speaking of District 9, can it be tough when your first movie is such a sensation? And I know, “Oh no, my movie’s a big hit” is not something that is used for sympathy. But what’s that like now, looking back, for that to happen to you at that point in your career?

Well, I think it was good. If you said to me, when I was 20, you would direct a film that has that response, I would’ve died happy. Because my goal is to just work on films that have an effect on people. And it’s difficult to make films that have that effect all the time, but you can definitely strive to try and do it. I think the originality and the unusualness of District 9 is something that stands the chance of failing as much as it stands the chance of working. And you have to be okay to experiment with stuff. I mean, Chappie‘s the same way. It’s like you have to be okay to go out and be willing to fail and throw yourself out there in order to try to do stuff that sometimes lands.

This was a few years ago, I talked to Sam Mendes, I think it was for Skyfall. His first movie was American Beauty and it won Best Picture. And this quote always stuck with me, “When it’s not successful, people still review your first picture when you make your second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth.” I’m just wondering if you feel that way.

Yeah, I guess so. But I mean, as time goes on, it’s probably less and less. But yeah, I just come back to the same thing where it’s like, I don’t see how doing the film that is influential at the time it comes out is negative in any way.

I would never think it’s negative. I just wonder if you get sick of hearing about it? I guess not. I wouldn’t get sick of hearing about it if I were you, but some people do.

It’s hard to answer. I don’t know. I need to take a second to think that through.

Okay, that’s fair.

Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess I am tired of talking about it.

Oh, okay. Which, see, that serves two purposes. It answers the question, and then that’s a kind hint to talk about something else.

Yeah. I mean, I guess District 9 is positive and had a positive effect when it came out. Now let’s move on.

Alright, I saw Walter Hill came out recently and said Disney wants to go a different direction with Alien. I enjoyed the production designs you posted on Twitter…

It’s hard to define how little I care about what happens with Alien.

Okay. Well, I think you just defined it pretty well, just with that statement.

Yeah. So I guess I don’t want to talk about that either. I want to talk about Gran Turismo or we shouldn’t talk about…

Sorry, I didn’t hear that last part you said.

Let’s just focus on Gran Turismo.

Well, I mean, yeah, we did for 12 minutes. And I had more about it, too. We’re not done yet. Are you still there?


I did want to ask you about Mardenborough doing his own driving stunts? That’s a pretty cool thing.


Okay. I mean, I don’t know. What happened here?

Well, I mean, we were talking about Gran Turismo, which was interesting.

Right. And I liked the movie.

We’ve spoken about it enough. I guess you have enough info.

Well, no…

[The publicist chimes in that it might be time to end this interview.]

All right, cool. I think so, too. See you guys. Bye.

‘Gran Turismo’ opens nationwide on August 25th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.