Interview: Patrick Dempsey heralds Ferrari as “the best motorsports movie ever made”

Patrick Dempsey as Piero Taruffi in Ferrari. Courtesy of NEON/Lorenzo Sisti

Ferrari, the much-anticipated biopic by director Michael Mann, which opens in theaters on Christmas Day, is a holiday present for movie buffs, automotive junkies, and motorsports fans. And it comes at a great time, right amid the barren off-season of auto racing. “I think it is the best motorsports movie ever made,” actor Patrick Dempsey, a star of the movie and a successful race driver in his own right, said in an interview with Hagerty.

The film takes place during the summer of 1957 and follows the trials of Enzo Ferrari, played by Adam Driver. Enzo is still grieving from the death of his son Dino a year earlier, as well as dealing with the repercussions of the infidelity which bore his illegitimate son, 12-year-old Piero (née Piero Lardi). While struggling with the current financial crisis threatening to send his company into bankruptcy, he prepares his cars to win the Mille Miglia endurance race.

Dempsey portrays Piero Taruffi, the Italian racer, sportsman, and engineer who won the 1957 Mille Miglia for Scuderia Ferrari. The 50-year-old Taruffi retired after that victory. Dempsey, 57, is close enough in age to fill the role, even more convincingly so with the shock of dyed white hair required for him to look the part.

Still best known for his role in the TV series Grey’s Anatomy, Dempsey considers the movie to be a long-awaited gift. It offered the opportunity to combine his skill as an actor with his passion for racing cars. “Ferrari was the perfect experience for me because I love the era and have so much respect for the drivers of that time,” he said.

Ferrari film behind the scenes racing action car 535
Courtesy of NEON/Eros Hoagland

For decades Dempsey held the movie rights to The Limit, author Michael Cannell’s story of American Phil Hill winning the 1961 Formula 1 World Championship. Mann’s biopic, Ferrari, which is based in part on the Brock Yates masterpiece Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine, had been on his radar. Dempsey says its movie rights have changed hands several times over the past 30 years. Mann acquired the original script from fellow director Sydney Pollack.

“I’ve been tracking the project for 15 years and knew about the script three years ago,” Dempsey said.

Production on Ferrari began in July of 2022 and concluded in October. Much of that time was spent in Modena, Italy. “We had great support from the factory with plenty of their cars from that era, plus from collectors who wanted their car in the movie. You will find plenty of Easter eggs in the background of the scenes.”

“I spent as much as 10 hours a day in the car,” he continued. “The most seat time since my last full-time season racing in 2015.”

Some scenes feature authentic 1950s Ferrari F1 cars in the background, but cars in the movie’s action sequences were actually Caterham chassis with vintage bodywork built on top, Dempsey explained. He described the feel of driving these cars as “a bit like being in a Ferrari 550 Spyder,” complete with concerns about the lack of any sort of protective cage. His co-drivers in the movie cars included racers Derek Hill, Ben Collins, and Marino Franchitti.

Dempsey researched his character in multiple ways. He visited the Piero Taruffi Museum in Bagnoregio, Italy, and combed through the Ferrari archives in Modena and Maranello, where he found hand-written notes from the race. Additional background material he gleaned from reading articles from MotorSport Magazine and books like The Technique of Motor Racing, penned by Taruffi, and Piero Taruffi: The Silver Fox, written by his daughter, Prisca Taruffi. The actor met and talked with Prisca when she visited the set.

As for director Michael Mann, his background spans decades in the entertainment industry. He has produced, written, and directed iconic works in television and movies such as Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice, The Aviator, Manhunter, Collateral, and The Last of the Mohicans.

Mann’s perspective, as Dempsey described the new biopic, is “a great look behind the door” of Enzo, whose name is most legendary in auto racing history, and whose Prancing Horse logo represents one of the most recognized brands in the world. The legacy was crafted generations before “brand” was a household term.

Ferrari film behind the scenes Adam Driver lead Enzo Ferrari
Courtesy of NEON/Lorenzo Sisti

Working with Mann was an education, Dempsey said. “It is staggering how much info he has, so he is demanding. He nit-picks and gives you an incredible sense of fine-tuning each scene. His attention to detail is amazing. Some scenes took two days to set up.

“Michael is focused completely on every detail. Many of the crew in those scenes are retired Ferrari racing mechanics. We never changed the dialogue. He is tough that way.”

Being on set was, the actor said,  “the closest feeling to being in the real pits.”

Dempsey speaks from experience. His racing career began in 2004 in the Panoz spec series and he worked his way up to the professional ranks of the American Le Mans Series and the Weathertech SportsCar Championship. He made his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009 in a Ferrari F430, a race in which he and co-drivers Joe Foster and Don Kitch piloted the GT2 car to ninth in class. It took three more trips to France and a switch to the Porsche 911 RSR before Dempsey found himself on the podium, finishing second in 2015 in the GTE Am class with Patrick Long and Marco Seefried.

Patrick Dempsey Le Mans podium 2015
Dempsey on the podium for Porsche in 2015. Porsche

The actor’s promotional schedule has been an endurance race of its own over the last several months: promoting the movie at the Venice Film Festival, preview screenings at the Formula 1 races in Austin and Las Vegas, and the official premiere in London in early December, followed up a couple of weeks later by the United States premiere in Los Angeles.

Dempsey doesn’t seem to mind. Nearly twenty years after his first racing exploits, his racing and acting careers are merging. He considers it a privilege to win on the big screen in a film that represents Enzo, among the most revered figures in racing. Another high point: the chance to highlight perhaps the greatest (and last) true automobile race through the Italian countryside.

Every scene in the film contains conflict. Dempsey described Ferrari as “very much a soap opera … It captures the essence and toils of auto racing.” On Christmas Day, audiences can experience all these storylines meeting at the finish line.




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    This looks to be a really good film. The authenticity seems to be baked in. The timeframe is one of the most interesting from a racing perspective. Driver and Dempsey are both good actors. I’m looking forward to it!

    I hope it is good. But I will wait till I see it as nearly every movie fails to really capture the story without embellishing or over the top effects.

    Enzo was a very complex man and to get this right would be a major accomplishment. I knew people from Goodyear that used to deal with the old man and I have heard the stories. If they get it right it will be a major win.

    If this works maybe we can have the next movie be Zora. I think Patrick would be a good choice for playing him. From early racer, Spy in the war, ladies man and then the father of the Corvette. Now there is a life to tell.

    I’m really looking forward to his one. Hope the racing, driving, pit, and shop footage is authentic, and the rest isn’t beset with Hollywood silliness.

    In my humble opinion, Grand Prix is the greatest racing movie ever made. A close second, although not a racing movie is the chariot race from Ben Hur.

    Not only a great chariot race, but served as an inspiration for a gizmo on a Bond DB5. I’m counting Ben Hur in the mix!

    Grand Prix deserves recognition for getting so many of us hooked on racing in the late 60s. To wit, Autoweek magazine included James Garner in a list of most influential figures in motorsports. IMO, while the story has not aged well, the racing scenes and Easter eggs (Jim Clark in the background) are timeless.

    I was riveted, and still am, by “Le Mans”. The cars were the main characters, the drivers and people were secondary. And in ascending order: Rush, Grand Prix and finally Ferrari Vs Ford. The last one sort of grew on me. Initially thought it was more movie silliness and after a second watching I was able to put that behind me.

    I think Grand Prix is the best so far though I am more a fan of Steve McQueen. My friend says Le Mans is the best, though he is more a fan of James Garner. (Go figure).
    Ford Vs Ferrari is good, hard to place. I wish they did not take the Lord’s name in so many places and the way they trashed Leo Beebe (who in real life was a good guy) was wrong. But I liked the movie.

    Just saw Ferrari. Ford v. Ferrari is nowhere close. Ferrari is right up there with LeMans which supersedes Grand Prix whose authenticity rests primarily with the cameos of all those period drivers. Ferrari is excellent, difficult to tell the Caterham replicas from the real vintage Ferraris liberally sprinkled throughout the movie. If you review photos & some hard to find movies/videos of that period of racing & particularly the ’57 Mille Miglia, the “set” is right on the money. (Lifetime SCCA member, 30 years racing, last 15 in S2000 plus 3 open road races – Sandhills in Neb. & Big Bend in Texas)

    More than just bad casting. Bad script. The real history is much more interesting than as depicted in this Hollywood depiction with far too much fabrication and adolescent dramatization.

    Many folks like Ford v Ferrari… I DO as well.. It is NOT accurate for sure and a lot of liberties taken.. That said, it is great ENTERTAINMENT!!! It is not described as an accurate or historical account, rather a theatrical piece of entertainment.. It has some racing, not accurate, but entertaining, some comedy and I like the casting. Everyone has an opinion!

    Well, like Hyperv6 indicates, it’s probably best to keep the hyperbole down (“best ever”) until the movie is actually released and viewed. And it’s true that Hollywood tends to throw in a bunch of stuff to jazz up a story that typically doesn’t really need to be there – or likely didn’t even happen. But “flash-bang, sock-it-to-’em, and smoochy-smoochy” scenes are what keeps the audience engaged these days, so I get it. However, the script and people involved sound like they are serious about making this film “real”. And after all, Enzo himself provided more than enough drama and action to keep most of us interested, without throwing naked ladies and Seal Team 6 into the mix.

    I saw the premiere at the New York Film Festival in October. I would agree with all of the positive comments and enjoyed the background from Patrick Dempsey very much. One of the top three movie theater experiences I’ve had. My second wife is a film researcher in Paris and we had many great cinema experiences over 21 years–this film is really a masterpiece.

    I have two movies in mind. The first is an accurate bio pic on Juan Manuel Fangio. The second on the “mon ami mates,” Mike Hawthorne and Peter Collin’s.
    If their names don’t ring a bell, I suggest you google them. They represent a time when it wasn’t wise to make long term friendships in any form of Motor Racing, the 1950’s.
    For the best book on that golden era of Formula One I recommend reading Robert Daly’s classic book on said era,” The Cruel Sport.” It is priceless.

    Looks like they were unable to obtain the Mille Miglia Red Arrow logo to use in the film. That is disappointing to me as a participant in the Mille Miglia Historica as the signs were everywhere.

    I was 11 yeqrs old, back in 1956 when I went to my first SCCA race at Pomona California. That day I saw my first Ferrari, Maserati, Porshe 550, in action, and have been a motor racing devotee, ever since, now being age 79. I was at the 1967 Nuremberg, sports cars championship, and the Riverside Formula one GP in 1960, and watched Moss win in a lotus,, the last race of the 2’5 liter Era. I now do motor sports Art, here in las vegas, NV. e mail me and I will show you a 4,9 Ferrari, and some otheers I have done.

    ‘LeMans’ and ‘Grand Prix’ were films about racing that happened to have personal side-stories. ‘Rush’ and ‘Edsel vs Enzo’ were stories about personalities that happened to involve racing.
    Personally, the film’s success will hinge on Driver’s performance….and I’m already having a hard time getting past the stills accompanying this article.
    The racing sequences will be more ‘Rush’ and ‘F vs F’ than ‘LeMans’ or ‘Grand Prix’….which will surely disappoint motorsports fans.

    Le Mans was a travesty in the end! Steve started out great, some of the best race footage ever! Then, as usual, Steve started getting stoned out of his mind, and trying to bed every woman in sight! They had to bring in John Sturges, who lacked the vision of a real race cat driver. A shame, but I am sure a lot of you do like me, fast forward through all the non racing parts! How many of you feel sorry for the one motorcycle cop, who has to kick and kick his BMW?

    Yes, I have to admit, as much as I enjoy watching Le Mans I do have my finger at the ready with the FF button. And I am a Steve fan as well.

    @Dennis you’re close but one major miss in assessing “LeMans”. All that great racing footage was because of John Sturges. He was the director who produced “The Great Escape” and cast a difficult McQueen in the role of “Hilts”. They were car buds from the start, Sturges older, and McQueen’s first wife credits Sturges as basically mentoring McQueen in fast cars when he first hit Hollywood. Sturges tried to produce an F1 epic with McQueen to star but it was canned because McQueen was tied up on another film and “Grand Prix” got ahead in production, so the studio financing was pulled. So, McQueen later produced “LeMans” and brought his friend Sturges to direct, As you say, Steve was stoned and bed-hopping, they’d shot miles of great racing footage but didn’t have a film because of Steve, and Sturges famously told a secretary: “I’m too rich and too old for this s***, and I’m going home”. They thought he meant leaving the shoot at LeMans and going back to their London base, but he’d flat quit and gone back to California. The studio brought in Lee Kstzin to direct the vapid story that surrounds the racing footage. I’m honored to own a Jag XK-120M that was Sturges’ back in the day. As for “Ferrari”, I’m in, that still of Dempsey as Taruffi is so full of character, and with Dempsey having put in the work to be a real racer, he’s perfectly cast. Looking forward to see it.

    That poor cop, I had a /2 bmw and they could be a bear to start at times. But he did not do himself any favors with his Hella bar end turn signals flashing, drawing attention to himself.

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