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As depicted in James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari, auto designer Carroll Shelby and racer Ken Miles were two eccentric individuals with a lot of personality and character – which is why it makes all the sense in the world that the production would hire Matt Damon and Christian Bale to play the parts. They are not only unquestionably two of the most talented performers working today, but also previously had the experience of portraying real people before.
Given the material and talent levels involved, you may be curious how the two stars approached both the physicality and personalities of their roles. I certainly was, which is why I asked them about it at the Ford v Ferrari Los Angeles press day early last week:
Discussing the subject of where they started with their performances, Christian Bale and Matt Damon offered up two different perspectives on the matter, the former accentuating the bits and pieces one picks up while working on a portrayal, and the latter focusing more on the research side of things.
According to Christian Bale, his process doesn’t so much involve honing in on a particular detail and then building from there. Instead, he likened it to a spiral – suggesting that he to a certain degree does circles around the character while selecting certain elements to emphasize, with it all coming together as a total performance in the end. Said Bale,
Watching Ford v Ferrari, it’s clearly a method that serves him well, as his turn as Ken Miles is one of the best parts of the film. Miles is a strange character who is never hesitant to speak his opinion on a subject – but that also has a habit of getting him in hot water, and fails to earn him the trust of the important executives that decide whether or not he stays in the driver’s seat.
As for Matt Damon, he explained that he actually enjoys the process involved with portraying a real person, and found a particular advantage playing Carroll Shelby in that there was a lot of material that he could use as reference while building his authentic performance. That’s not always the case, as he explained by comparing his preparation time making Ford v Ferrari with his time getting ready to play Edward Wilson, Sr. in Robert De Niro’s 2006 spy drama The Good Shepherd. Said Damon,