Clark Collis
August 09, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT


Current Status
In Season
123 minutes
Wide Release Date
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Dormer, Olivia Wilde
Ron Howard
Universal Pictures

We gave it a B

When considering the often profitable, awards-attracting films of Ron Howard, there are many words that spring to mind. But sexy isn’t usually among them. So Howard was unsurprisingly nervous on the set of his Formula One racing movie, Rush, before shooting an erotic sequence featuring Chris Hemsworth, who plays real-life driver James Hunt, and Natalie Dormer, who portrays his girlfriend, Gemma. ”I really was worried about that,” says the Apollo 13 director. ”Then Natalie in a very gracious, ladylike way said, ‘Here’s what I think is sensual and sexy.’ As a man directing an awkward scene like that, I was very grateful.”

But sex is not the only thing on Howard’s mind in Rush, which focuses on the 1976 Formula One season and the intense rivalry between two extremely different drivers: the dour Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and the extroverted, pot-smoking Brit James Hunt, whose carnal adventures with a variety of partners are depicted in the movie. Hemsworth won the role of Hunt after making an audition tape while filming The Avengers and promising he wouldn’t turn up for the shoot with the physique of a Norse god. ”He said, ‘Thor can’t even get in an F1 car, but I will be able to,”’ recalls Howard, who made his directorial debut with 1977’s car-centric Grand Theft Auto. Hemsworth accomplished that feat by switching from weights to cardio training and cutting back on his calorie intake. ”I basically underfed and overtrained, which led to a pretty moody existence,” the actor says, chuckling. ”My wife [actress Elsa Pataky] was pregnant at the time and constantly reminds me I had more symptoms of a pregnant woman than she did.”

Brühl had his own travails — most involved re-creating the extensive facial burns that Lauda sustained in a horrific crash two-thirds of the way through that fateful 1976 season. (Though a dozen F1 drivers died while racing during the 1970s, Lauda incredibly returned to his car in just six weeks to continue his battle with Hunt for the championship.) Brühl spent hours in makeup before shooting the postcrash sequences, arriving on set well before his costars. ”Very often I had a 3 o’clock pickup because it took five, six, seven hours to get this done,” he says. ”I always looked on the call sheet and it said, ‘Chris Hemsworth, pick up 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock.’ I was quite grumpy when he came into the trailer and said, ‘Hi, buddy, good morning!”’

Howard isn’t daunted by the fact that Formula One is much less popular in NASCAR-loving America than in other parts of the world. ”There is no barrier for enjoyment based on culture,” says the filmmaker. Indeed, Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan’s script will be more suspenseful to audiences unfamiliar with the outcome of events. And regardless of how Rush performs at the box office, Howard is happy to have surprised longtime business partner Brian Grazer with one aspect of his film. ”Halfway through the movie, Brian called me,” says Howard. ”He said, ‘I never thought you would make a movie that was this sexy. These girls are rockin‘.”’

You Know Who’s Cool? Daniel Brühl
Why He Looks Familiar Born in Spain and raised in Germany, the 35-year-old played Nazi sniper-turned-film star Fredrick Zoller in Inglourious Basterds.

Reality Bites Brühl plays real, and still living, people in two fall films: Formula One race-car driver Niki Lauda in Rush and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s former associate Daniel Domscheit-Berg in The Fifth Estate. ”It makes you nervous because you feel so responsible,” Brühl says. ”On the other hand, both guys were so open to answer any questions I had. A living source is the best you can have.”

Elementary, My Dear Brühl When Brühl met his Fifth Estate costar Benedict Cumberbatch, the Sherlock actor was still in full deductive mode. ”After 30 seconds, he could tell me what I had for breakfast,” says Brühl.

Up Next He stars with Philip Seymour Hoffman in next year’s A Most Wanted Man.

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