Racing is secondary for Peter

editorial image

Writer Peter Morgan admits that his best work has involved two protagonists in a battle of wills.

There was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in The Deal, Blair again and The Queen, Brian Clough and Don Revie in the Damned United, Frost/Nixon and now racing drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Rush.

The rivalry between the two men, utterly different in almost every respect, came to a head in the 1976 Formula 1 season and a crash that almost killed Lauda. Only weeks after the accident, in which his face was badly burned, he got back behind the wheel to fight for the championship..

It is not a sport that Morgan has much time for.

“There’s something about it that you instinctively feel this is boys and toys. It doesn’t have the poetic metaphysical grandeur of boxing where two men are just hitting each other, which seems even more moronic but somehow is more elemental,” he says.

“I was just interested in the ying and the yang of these two guys. To me, the racing is secondary. If the story doesn’t work, the racing won’t work.”

Although he adds: “I am amazed how beautifully they filmed it.”

When he came to research the story it helped that he has strong connections to Austria, having lived in Vienna with his Austrian wife, and knew Lauda.

Thus he was able to talk to him about the two men’s relationship. “Finding the voice of the people is something you have to do. I confronted it on Frost/Nixon and The Queen. Did they say this, did they say that to one another? As soon as you go off matters of record you do have to rely on the writer’s imagination.

“And an audience will reject it. They are very suspicious and finely tuned to this. I’m sure you can think of examples of films where you feel it doesn’t ring true and think, I don’t buy that, there’s too much of the writer in that.

“Niki had strong and complicated feelings for James, and they were both rivalrous and admiration. He never said that James was the only person he envied, that was something I wrote because I talked to him for so many hours that’s what I felt.

“There were things about James Hunt’s masculinity that Niki envied. Right from the beginning I thought the film was interesting that you take a person who already has not low esteem but is quite uncertain of his own attractiveness, only then to have your face burnt off. Apart from Formula 1 there were other things going on in their rivalry and competitiveness.”

He showed Lauda film clips as shooting progressed. Once he saw scenes of the accident in which he was badly hurt and the aftermath, the former Formula 1 world champion became “extremely emotional”.

“And he was tearful, very tearful when he first saw it. He was really shaken - and he’s tough to shake as you can tell from the film.”