Actors Matt Damon and Christian Bale weren’t alive when Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles were in their most determined whirlwinds of pride, ego and obsession. Ferrari ruled the automotive world at the time; Ford didn’t like it.
Robert Nagle knows the story as well as anyone. He’s the stuntman, engineer and consultant who taught Damon and Bale how to drive in the pending movie Ford v Ferrari. The veteran actors, respectively play Shelby, the visionary American car designer, and Miles, the fearless British-born driver.
They’re dispatched in the film by actors playing Henry Ford II and the recently deceased Lee Iacocca to humble Ford. They’re assigned to build the Ford GT40, a new race car with the potential to defeat the perennially dominant Ferrari. Shelby and Miles also tackle corporate interference, the laws of physics and personal demons to make a revolutionary race car.
The ultimate goal is for Ford to defeat Ferrari in the 1966 edition of the 24 Hours of LeMans, held on the famous racetrack in France. The movie debuts Nov. 15 nationwide.
“To put together these race scenes and make them as exciting and realistic as possible was a huge task and undertaking,” said Nagle, who spent part of his youth in Walnut Creek before his family moved to Iran. “The teamwork and effort put in by everybody shows on the screen.”
While Nagle’s upbringing in the Bay Area only lasted a few years, it’s where his penchant for engineering began.
“I had this fascination for how things work,” said Nagle. “My mother has always told me I was always taking everything apart. But I never broke anything. I would take something apart, look at it and figure out how it worked and that led to what I do today.
“That along with once I learned how to ride a bike. I wanted to know how far I could jump it, how fast could I make it go and that went further into cars”
Nagle has acted in small parts in several movies. But he’s unheralded in Hollywood except by industry insiders who know his talents.
Name a movie with hard-to-fathom automotive scenes and Nagle was likely part of it. He has been involved in more than 60 films. His credits include Ant-Man (2015) filmed in San Francisco as well as the Fast & Furious franchise and Mission Impossible films.
With Allan Padelford, Nagle was awarded an Academy Technical Achievement Award in 2015. It was presented for the self-propelled, high-performance, drivable camera and vehicle platform dubbed “Biscuit Jr.”
The platform was named after a similarly giant rig called Biscuit. It was the platform for the mechanical horses used actors up close in the movie Sea Biscuit. The platform was also used in the movie Aviator but was destroyed in a fire.
Biscuit Jr., made a few years later, is an integral component of Ford v Ferrari. Nagle instructs Damon and Bale how to drive approximately 150 miles per hour.
Nagle has helped many actors learn performance driving. Damon began Ford v Ferrari with driving experiences from previous films. Bale spent hours with Nagle discussing driving, and practicing at Bondurant Driving School in Arizona. They also met often with the track’s founder Bob Bondurant. He was Miles’ close friend.
“If we are going the expect an actor to do some sort of ‘performance driving’ I do spend time with them in the actual vehicle training them,” Nagle said.
“I will train them well above what I would expect out of them when they are on camera. That way, when they are filming, it’s much easier for them. Christian is hand’s down the best actor I have ever trained. He really picked it up well and has an aptitude for it.”
(Listen to the full interview with Robert Nagle on Episode #105 of The Weekly Driver Podcast. It’s available HERE and all major podcast platforms.)