From director James Mangold, the high-octane drama Ford v Ferrari is inspired by the true-life story of American car designer and automotive visionary Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and his British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), who overcame their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford that could challenge Ferrari at the most difficult race in all of motorsports, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Their partnership is a testament to how unconventional thinking, inventiveness, determination and will can overcome the odds to achieve something extraordinary.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Caitriona Balfe — who plays Ken Miles’ wife, Mollie — talked about what it was like meeting Mangold for the first time, what struck her most about both Bale and Damon, and what surprised her about making a movie on this scale. She also talked about hitting the Season 5 milestone on her Starz series Outlander, what she’s most excited about with the upcoming season (premiering in February 2020), and balancing what fans of the book want to see with new surprises.
Collider: Congratulations on this film! It’s just so good and, as a cast, you’re all terrific in it.
CAITRIONA BALFE: Oh, good. I’m glad that you liked it.
Did you have a feeling, when you were making this film, that it would turn out to be one of the best films of 2019? Can you tell, when you’re on set, how something will turn out, or is it only when it’s done and you get to see the finished product that you feel like you really know?
BALFE: Yeah, I don’t know that you ever really know how something’s gonna turn out because there are so many things that need to come together and need to work. But what I do know is that the feeling on set was really good. Jim [Mangold] creates this wonderful atmosphere. He’s like this fantastic conductor. There was so many moving parts and so many things for him to keep track of, with all of the racing stuff and everything. In the beginning, we shot a lot of our family stuff isolated in this house in Highland Park. Later on in the shoot, they had built some of those interiors in one of the airport hangars while he was concurrently filming a lot of the racing stuff. So, you could feel that he was really in a great groove, and that he was excited by what he was doing, and that just created this wonderful atmosphere where everyone just felt they were in really safe hands. When you have that, you hope that’s gonna translate to the screen, and luckily it feels like it has. That’s really exciting ‘cause it was really so much fun to film it.
How was meeting James Mangold, for the first time? Do you still get nervous, the night before you’re going to meet with a big director about a really cool role?
BALFE: Oh, of course, yeah. Also, Girl, Interrupted featured very heavily in my late teens/early 20s, and Walk The Line was such an amazing film, as well. I went in to read for him, actually, and he’s this jolly, bombastic personality. He takes over any room, so the minute you meet him, he’s just so gregarious and friendly, and it was really fun. We started reading the sides, and he was reading Christian [Bale]’s part, and we were really getting into it. At one point, we were so in the scene, but he made a mistake and he started hitting me with the script, and I was like, “Oh, this is a good sign!” It was quite fun. He’s just been brilliant. When you get to work with a director who’s just so on top of their game, like he is, it’s just such a treat.
One of the things that James Mangold is able to do in all of his movies is get amazing performances from all of his actors. No matter how big or small the role, every performance is excellent. Can you describe what it’s like to with him? Why do you think he’s always able to pull that off?
BALFE: You get a sense, immediately, that he really, really cares about character, and he really cares about what you’re feeling and bringing to the table. But what was also amazing was how malleable Matt [Damon] and Christian were with him. Before I went into it, I was thinking that maybe they would be really precious about what they were bringing, but they had just given up all controls because they were so confident in what he sees. That’s the thing, you really trust what Jim is looking at. If something’s not working and he sees it’s not working, then you’re like, “Okay, I’m gonna just let him tell me how to do it better. What would you like? How would you like it different?” He was just brilliant. It was just so much fun working with him.
You only have a few scenes to show the relationship between your character and Christian Bale’s character. Can you talk about filming the scene in the garage, at the beginning of the film, and what that was like to do?
BALFE: Oh, my god, that was my first day. What was great was that, before we started filming, we went and had a walk through of the garage and the house, with Noah [Jupe] and Christian. So, we all just got a really good sense of what that home is. There’s nothing worse than walking onto the set, for the first time, and having to act like you know it intimately. That was a really great thing that they gave us. Christian is such an amazing performer and just such a genuinely lovely man. He’s a family guy. When you start chatting with him, you realize, “This guy’s such an amazing father and such an amazing husband.” I guess I fed off that family man side of him and worked with that side.
You a lot of stories about how intimidating and intense he can be when he works. Was that family man side of him something you found surprising?
BALFE: I’m like everyone else: I had an idea of maybe what he was gonna be like. I walked into that film with the idea that I was gonna be very intimidated by both him and Matt [Damon]. Immediately, when you meet both of them [and] the first thing that struck me about both of them is that they’re just these great, humble family men. There was no ego or bravado. It was lovely. The very first day, It was like, “Oh, this is gonna be so sweet.” He’s such a generous actor, and he was really, really sweet with Noah and just lovely. I don’t know that it was surprising, but it was a lovely thing to find.
What was it like to also shoot the driving scene?
BALFE: It was crazy. We were down to the wire on time, that day. We had that rig, only for a certain amount of time. We were shooting up in Agua Dulce, just outside of L.A., and they had the car on top of the rig with a guy driving it. You’re speeding around these roads, and then you have these stunt cars, passing you or coming at you, and even though I wasn’t actually in control of it, you feel the responsibility of that. And obviously, it’s a big emotional scene, as well. Getting thrown around these roads, as you’re trying to get through the scene, it was quite funny. In the beginning, one of the first takes, Christian was like, “No, lean the other way, when you’re going around the corner,” and I was like, “Okay, good idea.” But, it was really fun. It was just a really cool scene, and it’s also the emotional heart of that couple. It really gave me such an insight into who Mollie was. It’s so telling of the type of relationship that the two of them have, so it was such a cool thing.
When it comes to memorable moments from filming, was there a day or two that you’ll always remember, from making this?
BALFE: That day was pretty memorable. The adrenaline was high for the entire crew and we were in crunch time, like with how long we had that rig and we had to film scenes in a certain amount of time. I was on the road and it was a big group of men, and at a certain point, everyone was running into a ditch for a pee, and I was like, “I’m the only woman here. Where am I supposed to be?” So, I ran behind a bush in the middle of the desert. I don’t think I’ve done that before. It was just all memorable. I think also the day where Matt and Christian had that big fight scene inside of the house, it was such a fun thing to watch. The two of them are so funny and so good at being terrible fighters. That was pretty memorable. I won’t forget that memory.
You’re hitting quite a milestone, with Season 5 of Outlander, which is very rare for a TV series, these days. With the coming season, what are you most excited about? How has the experience been, as the show keeps growing and changing?
BALFE: Yeah. It’s funny, we’ve all started to definitely feel that we’re in a very privileged place with the show, that it’s running this long, that it still has an audience, and that the audience seems to be growing, and they’re still invested. What we’ve really loved about filming this season is that we’ve found ways to continue to push the boundaries. For Claire, towards the end of the season, I have some really challenging material, and that’s so lovely to get, so deep into a series. As seasons go on, you plateau and you’re not doing things as interesting, but we really do still push the boundaries, and that’s great, as an actor.
The series is based on the books, but it doesn’t 100% stick to the events of it. For Season 5, does it feel like there’s a good balance of what fans of the book might want to see, with possible surprises?
BALFE: Yeah. We definitely had to do some changes, obviously. When you change little bits in earlier books, by the time the next book comes around, and then the next book comes around, then you’re dealing with bigger diversions from what’s in the actual book. But we try, as much as we can, to revert back to Diana’s plots and story. She’s even written an episode this season, which has been fantastic to film. The main storylines of Book 5 are there, and we’ve borrowed some stuff from Book 6. I think it’s a really strong season. I think fans are gonna be really pleasantly surprised and happy.
Outlander is a pretty large scale TV series, and Ford v Ferrari is a big scale movie. What surprised you about making a film of that scale?
BALFE: Obviously, everything is bigger and better on a movie set. Craft services is always the first sign. But I have to say, on Outlander, we have a pretty big budget and the production value that we put into our show is pretty amazing. Shooting in America and shooting when the sun was shining in California was very different, actually, to shooting in Scotland. The luxury of making a film is time and having the script. You have four months to film and you have the script, from day one. Whereas in TV, you’re getting scripts fast and furiously, and things are changing, all the time. You just don’t have the same luxury of time when you’re shooting seven or eight pages a day, as opposed to two. That was definitely the biggest difference.
Ford v Ferrari is now showing in theaters.