Why Ford V Ferrari's Director Thinks Too Much Research Can Hurt Movies Based On True Stories

Ford v Ferrari

James Mangold is no stranger to bringing true stories to the big screen. As director of Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line and Ford v Ferrari, he has shown himself to be adept at handling films that focus on real people in the midst of real events. But he recently revealed that he thinks there is a danger in getting too deep into the intricate details of these lives. And he advocates against doing too much research.

During Ford v Ferrari’s world premiere at TIFF, director James Mangold made it clear that he thinks it is important to strike a balance when making films that are based on real-life events. He has seen how focusing too much on research can actually hinder the filmmaking process, for both actors and directors:

A whole lot of research can really get in your way. There can be as many versions of Lee Iacocca as you can find books. Speaking as a director of actors, I’ve seen overly researching get majorly in the way. You aren’t playing the real person, you’re playing the character in service of the story. You can’t carry any more than they exhibited any attribute that ever had in their life in every day. When I was making Walk the Line, Joaquin Phoenix has one thing he always asked me to say. He’d come up every day and go 'say that thing, say that thing', and I’d go, 'You’re not Johnny Cash.' It was like a relief from the pressure as if he was having to do some kind of thesis, which is not the job of an actor. It’s actually much easier to try to take essences and ideas of who that person was while serving the greater story. You can figure out an awful lot about who a person is from what they do, and the script features what they do. If you play what they do, you start to become them even if you don’t know shit about them. It’s kind of basic.

Ford v Ferrari follows Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a former professional driver, as he enlists the help of a team, including Ken Miles (Christian Bale), to build the Ford GT40 in the hopes of competing against the iconic Italian automaker’s best race cars. At TIFF, Matt Damon said that neither he nor James Mangold were car enthusiasts prior to making the film.

But James Mangold admitted that he grew to understand the appeal of cars and racing during production. And it appears he followed his own advice for research: Critics have noted that though James Mangold took some liberties, including where the film’s pivotal photo finish was concerned, Ford v Ferrari is in many ways historically accurate.

Keep up with everything still headed to the big screen this year with our 2019 movie release date schedule.

Katherine Webb