As renowned actor/producer Patrick Dempsey met with reporters at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last weekend in the midst of shooting scenes for the upcoming major motion picture “The Art of Racing in The Rain,” he reflected on the long journey it took to get to this point.
“It’s been 10 years, I think, in development,” said the actor/race car driver/team owner/producer. “It started a really long time ago. I think I secured the rights when we were still in Homestead (for a GRAND-AM race) — we were racing down there. Everybody would come up to me and go, ‘You’ve gotta get the rights to this book. You’ve gotta do this movie.’”
“The book” is the New York Times bestseller of the same name by Garth Stein, which came out in 2008. At that time, Dempsey was dividing his time between starring as Dr. Derek Shepherd in the popular ABC television drama, “Grey’s Anatomy,” acting in films and racing a Mazda RX-8 in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.
“For me, it was really identifying the material,” said Dempsey (pictured above). “Before it was even published, I read it and was like, ‘This would be a great opportunity.’ I acquired the rights and have just sort of been dealing with it for the last 10 years to be here.”
Because of that, there was a sense of relief in the eyes of Dempsey and second-unit director Jeff Zwart last weekend in Canada. Zwart is – first and foremost – an automotive enthusiast and racer, as well as a supremely talented photographer and film director.
The Zwart-led crew was filming the movie’s final scenes at CTMP, which if all went according to plan, officially wrapped yesterday. Milo Ventimiglia, star of the hit TV show “This Is Us” and who stars in the film as race car driver Denny Swift, was at the track to film his racing scenes.
The shoot also featured IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race cars and their real-life drivers such as the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R shared by Christina Nielsen and Patrick Long, the No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 from Scuderia Corsa co-driven by Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Segal, the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 shared by Andy Lally and John Potter and the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 car that Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen co-drove to the GT Daytona (GTD) class victory in last Sunday’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix.
Also participating in the at-track shoot was an Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi Prototype and an IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 which carried Swift’s name above the driver’s door. Both Zwart and Dempsey underscored the importance of depicting real race cars and racing situations in the film.
“I was brought in really to create an authentic racing environment through my lenses of my cameras and put together a team that could really capture that,” Zwart said. “For me, it’s been kind of balancing the story within this that is just a part of the movie, but a very important part of telling the story of what Denny’s real passion is about.”
Dempsey believes these scenes will resonate with both a general audience and the die-hard IMSA racing fan. And for that, he credits Zwart.
“Jeff is here and he understands racing,” Dempsey said. “He’s also visually so wonderful at being able to evoke the emotion that you feel in the car and the experience in racing. For us, that would be the biggest compliment, if (fans) walk away going, ‘We’re really happy with this. The racing is true and honest and has the right feeling.’
“That’s totally true,” Zwart added. “Both of us really sense when something is made up as opposed to reality. That’s part of the reason why we’re actually shooting this in a race weekend, so that we have all the infrastructure here, we have the real competitors here, and we have that competitive spirit going on at the same time where people really want to run against each other and come out on top.
“I like that. Every scene that we shoot, even when I tell people, ‘You’re going to be third, fourth or fifth,’ they’re always questioning that. They always want to run up front.”
“They get very racy, even in the stuff that we’re shooting — which is good, because it adds energy to the film in many ways,” contributed Dempsey. “Also, the guys that are going over the wall. They’re all real crew guys. That gives it the authenticity. They’re excited to be a part of it and it’s great to have them doing it, because the reality of doing it makes it believable. It’s good.”
What also will add to the believability of the film is the authenticity of the rain scenes, which is undoubtedly important given the film’s title. As luck would have it for the crew, the skies opened and a full-fledged rainstorm came through the area at the perfect time while they were filming last Thursday night.
“We’re really grateful we had the rain, because it would have been very difficult for us,” Dempsey said. “Working within the time frame that we have in between the races and trying to capture the actual footage, and then get the pit stops and everything done, it’s been very beneficial.”
While the film has been 10 years in development, the actual filming has been comparatively short. Dempsey called it “a 58-day shoot,” that happened primarily in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, in addition to the racing scenes at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. While no official release date is set for the movie at this time, it is expected to premiere sometime in 2019.
The project really got rolling at the start of this year and accelerated quickly at March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and the days that followed.
“Our first meeting with IMSA was at Sebring,” Zwart said. “We were in Sebring on the ground with our actors, with Patrick, and kind of coordinating this and putting it all together with IMSA. It was really kind of key to this working out.”
“We’ve had great support with IMSA making it possible here at the track,” Dempsey said. “All the teams have been incredibly supporting, and the manufacturers, Porsche, BMW, Audi and Ferrari. It’s really nice to have had the experience now to kind of bring that back and hopefully get that experience for the viewers, people who don’t understand motorsports, to get a little taste of it.
“Certainly, the book is so beloved and so moving. We’re a week out from finishing, and hopefully we’ll have a release date soon.”