Gran Turismo: The remarkable true story behind the movie
Video game films are seeing a resurgence in pop culture, but the Gran Turismo movie will prove quite different to what’s come before it because of the true story behind it.
The PlayStation racing car simulator was an inspiration for player Jann Mardenborough as a teen, so much so that, in 2011, he won a place at Nissan’s PlayStation GT Academy and used his experience with the game franchise to become a professional race car driver in his own right.
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Mardenborough’s story is being brought to life on the silver screen by Neill Blomkamp, with Stranger Things star David Harbour and The Lord of the Rings alum Orlando Bloom starring in the forthcoming film alongside newcomer Archie Madekwe, who plays Mardenborough.
Who is Jann Mardenborough?
Mardenborough was an avid gamer who took his skills as a Gran Turismo player and transferred them onto the race track when he was given the chance to join GT Academy. A bold move quickly became a genius decision as he proved to be as skilled at driving as he was with a PS3 controller.
During his time at GT Academy, Mardenborough took part in the Dubai 24 Hour race for Nissan and he placed third in his class, despite having no professional racing experience before that.
In an interview with VICE in 2013, Mardenborough reflected on his unusual start in the sport and said that he decided to put all his energy into GT Academy because he didn’t have anything else to do after dropping out of his Swansea University degree in motorsport engineering.
Watch the trailer for Gran Turismo
“I woke up one morning and decided to have a go,” he told the publication. “I'd heard about the competition before and I'd always wanted to be a racing driver as a kid, but saying it and doing it are completely different things. At that time in my life I had nothing else going on — all my friends had gone off to travel or study, while I was still at home. So I put all my attention into GT Academy.
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“Before this point I'd never been on a track, driven a sportscar, or power-slid a car. All my experience was on Gran Turismo! But I eventually won the competition and from there my life changed completely.”
Jann Mardenborough’s racing career so far
Mardenborough’s raw talent saw him become one of the most promising young drivers in the field, and he took his motorsport career to the next level. He became a driver for Nissan and started by competing in the Pro-Am class in 2012, though he was barred from competing at the British GT Championship for being too fast.
In 2013, Mardenborough competed in the Les Mans in the LMP2 class, he came in third in the group at the end of the 24-hour race. In 2014 the driver moved up to the GP3 championships where he competed for two years before moving again to the Super GT Championship in Japan in 2016, where he drove for Nissan. At the event he scored a win in the GT300 class, and he went on to come second in the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship.
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Mardenborough moved up to the GT500 class in 2017, and he raced for Nissan’s Calsonic Impul team at the Super GT Championship until 2019, at which point he joined the Kondo racing team and competed alongside Mitsunori Takaboshi until 2020.
Will Jann Mardenborough appear in the Gran Turismo film?
It is often the case that those associated with a video game have been given a cameo in the adaptation of the original, like Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s appearances in The Last of Us, or Nolan North’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the Uncharted movie starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg.
Mardenborough will be involved in the Gran Turismo film, and he will actually be taking a much more vital role in the drama than viewers might expect because he will be helping with the racing scenes themselves.
In an interview with CinemaBlend, Blomkamp revealed that Mardenborough switches places with Madekwe, his onscreen counterpart, for the stunt driving, a cameo that felt apt for the race car driver.
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The director explained the reason behind this by saying, “As you go through the process of finding a stunt double, you have to find people that feel like if you catch glimpses of them, that they look like the actor, but also that physically that they're similar and that there's a lot of things that need to happen.
“But with a racing film, the pool of stunt doubles you can pick from that are high level racers is very narrow. At the same time that we were doing that, Jann was asking if he could, just for almost like cameos sake, could he drive one of the races.
“And what ended up happening was super awesome, which is that he is Jann Mardenborough's stunt double for all driving in the entire movie. So anytime you see the car driving that is an exterior shot where you can see the whole car, [the] real Jann is driving it. And then as soon as you go in, it's Archie.”
Gran Turismo will be released in cinemas on Friday, 11 August.