Neon introduced the Michael Mann-directed Ferrari with a panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film Los Angeles on Saturday that featured a discussion with Mann and stars Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz and Shailene Woodley.
The drama is not just about fast cars; it’s just as much about grief. Both from the danger of racing them in the treacherous Mille Miglia, flying through 1,000 miles of Italian streets at 130 mph through all weather, in death-trap cars that often left drivers with a short shelf life.
Enzo Ferrari (Driver), his company hanging by a thread because he’s more interested in speed than production of cars for the masses, struggles with two woman in his life. Cruz plays Laura, the wife who cannot get past the death of their son, partners in the company and living her life blaming her philandering husband for learning the hard way that the human body – in this case a youth suffering from muscular dystrophy – cannot be repaired the way a performance racing engine can. On the other side is Lina (Woodley), Ferrari’s longtime mistress and mother of another son who stands to inherit Ferrari, only Laura doesn’t want to allow it.
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The quartet discussed the dual tracks this drama plays on. In explaining the appeal of this crazy form of racing, which in 1957 culminated in a horrific accident that change the race forever, Mann described it like this:
“Pedestrians would crowd to the road. If I ask myself what I am trying to impact to the audience, it was not to observe pretty cars through long lenses,” he said. “It was to take you, the audience, and immerse you into this experience. Everything in the racing, and the crashes, is very accurate and was meticulously researched. We strived to make it as authentic as possible. The race car mentality, that addiction to that terrible joy and dangerous passion, is at the core of Enzo. He’s not a businessman, he’s a former race driver grown older who ran a race team for Alfa Romeo. Now what he cares about is the business he built with Laura. Without asking him, she pawned a wedding gift he gave her to build the first car because the 10 percent deposit, they didn’t have the money to buy the components.”
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There is a moment in the film when Laura confronts Enzo upon finding out about the other woman and child. Driver said it’s the seminal moment where there’s a collision of personal and business for a couple that cannot survive together.
“Both he and Laura haven’t addressed their grief, and that manifests itself here,” he said. “His son with Lina wants to be confirmed, his wife finds out about his lover, and the factory where his priority is racing and not selling commercial vehicles, the metrics don’t work anymore. He has the mentality of a racer; in spite of all the pitfalls, and this potential crash, he is myopically focused on what’s ahead of him and can’t succumb to emotion and weakness. You feel the pain bubbling to the surface.”
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Cruz’s performance in particular is a tour de force.
“Nobody knew much about this woman Laura, but Michael and I spent time in Modena, visiting real places where they spent time, from the factory to the apartment. I started to take it personal, that we tell the story honestly of this woman who represents the story of so many woman in history,” Cruz said. “She could have done a lot more in that company, but she was just a survivor of that pain of losing a child. She felt like a failure, same that Enzo felt that they were not able to save him. She was like a ghost, walking around and just trying to get through the day. She was meticulous and obsessive, and they had this connection. She was called a crazy very complicated woman who scared everybody. After Michael and I did the research, we liked this woman. I took it personally when they could not see all she did for this company.”
Woodley’s Lina Lardi was the opposite, and it was not surprising Enzo would seek refuge with her. “Lina’s whole world was her son, and protecting her son,” Woodley said. “This was very different from Penélope’s challenge.”
Mann has tried close to two decades to make the Ferrari story. Why did it take so long?
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“There was nothing less commercial than car racing movies and this became characterized as that sub-genre, until Ford Vs Ferrari did okay,” he said. “Grand Prix and Le Mans didn’t do well and this became really difficult to get mounted. I wouldn’t make it as a lower-budgeted movie. It needed to be big, and this is a large-budget, totally independently financed movie.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.
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