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Was The Gran Turismo Movie Really Based On A True Story?

PlayStation Productions has made a concerted effort over the last few years to bring many of its most popular properties to the medium of film and television. It's seen a great deal of success so far, with the Emmy-nominated "The Last of Us" garnering a ton of positive buzz as well as a second season. "Twisted Metal" also recently came out on Peacock, bringing a fully-fledged narrative into a demolition derby game. While that racing game got a fictionalized narrative set during the apocalypse, "Gran Turismo" takes a different approach.

"Gran Turismo" also consists of a series of racing games, but whereas "Twisted Metal" relies on over-the-top violence and weapons, "Gran Turismo" is all about realism. The games have been praised for their attention to detail and dedication to feeling as though you're actually behind the wheel of a racecar. One could even feasibly learn how to drive by playing the games, and that was precisely what professional racer Jann Mardenborough showcased at GT Academy, which allowed video game players to race cars for a chance to gain a racing career with Nissan.

Mardenborough's real-life story gets the big-screen treatment in the new film, "Gran Turismo," which has been marketed as being based on a true story. But movies are known for taking liberties with such adaptations, so while Mardenborough was a gamer before a driver, how much of the film is based on reality?

Jann Mardenborough played a lot of Gran Turismo before driving for real

Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) was born in Darlington, County Durham, England on September 9, 1991. He's the son of Steve Mardenborough (Djimon Hounsou), a professional footballer who made over 300 appearances in the Football League while he played. His mother is Lesley Mardenborough (Geri Halliwell), but despite growing up in an environment of physical sports players, Jann took a liking to the "Gran Turismo" games. 

In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, he talked at length about how he got into the games when he was seven years old. There were other games he'd play now and then, but "Gran Turismo" was his favorite. As he stated, "I've always had a passion for Gran Turismo and to drive cars I'd probably never, ever, get to drive."

That desire to go all in on something was inspired by Jann's father. Seeing how he played football professionally, Jann mentioned to The Drive how he wanted to do the same. He said, "My dad definitely taught me to do something which I love to do, and he inspired me to do something which I would love to do, which is your passion." That opportunity to pursue a passion came in earnest when the GT Academy came knocking. 

GT Academy changed Jann Mardenborough's life

GT Academy was a television program funded by Sony Interactive Entertainment and Nissan. It ran from 2008 to 2016, with the goal of showcasing how people who played the "Gran Turismo" video games could learn how actually to drive a racecar. It started in 2008, with the first winner being Lucas Ordóñez of Spain. Jann Mardenborough was the winner of the 2011 season after a grueling set of courses even to qualify. 

He ended up beating 90,000 other entrants, becoming the competition's youngest winner. It's all the more impressive, considering he didn't have any racing experience prior to joining the GT Academy. To no one's surprise, he told The Guardian how that moment changed the trajectory of his life, "I knew that my life was going to change massively. After that, the first time I drove a fast GT car, a fast road car, that was a pretty cool moment – to be released round Silverstone in a 500-horse power Nissan GT-R was pretty crazy for a 19-year-old."

Winning earned him a spot to compete with Nissan in the Dubai 24 Hour, which set him up for a dynamic racing career. 

Are Danny Moore and Jack Salter real guys?

While Jann Mardenborough has the emotional crux throughout much of "Gran Turismo," the film focuses on other characters who guide him along his journey. One of the first we meet is Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom). He's a businessman and motorsports executive who helped found GT Academy, as depicted in the movie. However, Danny is actually based on a real-life person named Darren Cox. There are surface-level details that are the same between the two; however, due to some of the fictional nuances necessary when adapting something to film, the screenwriters felt it necessary to give Cox a different name, whereas Mardenborough gets to keep his. 

The other major actor in "Gran Turismo" is David Harbour, who plays GT Academy trainer Jack Salter. He's skeptical about whether gamers can be trained to drive racecars but takes the gig anyway. Through this, he forms a strong bond with Mardenborough, guiding him along his journey. Whereas Danny is based on a real person, Jack Salter is fictional. But even though Harbour didn't have a real person to base his character on, he still committed to the bit, somewhat to his dismay, as he told Digital Spy, "When you're in the passenger seat of that car going 180 miles an hour, it just feels like you're going to throw up. It's very difficult to be in that position."

Jack Salter may not be real, but when it comes to crafting biopics, liberties are required to make plot points and character development work.

Jann Mardenborough has a solid racing career

Without delving too deeply into spoilers, Jann Mardenborough's journey in "Gran Turismo" follows a traditional underdog story where he has to prove his mettle against racecar drivers who don't think much of him because he's seen as a gamer. But in real life, Mardenborough proved all those years of gaming translated to the track pretty much right away.

Shortly after winning the GT Academy competition, he competed in the Dubai 24 Hour, finishing third in class on debut. Other successes soon followed. In 2012, he competed in the British GT Championship Pro-Am class alongside Nissan's Alex Buncombe. The two won at Brands Hatch and gained two additional podiums. Mardenborough has continued racing professionally over the last decade, and in 2012, he was actually banned from the British GT Pro-Am category for being too fast. It's a race open to non-professional "gentlemen" racers, but that hasn't stopped Mardenborough from competing elsewhere. 

It's easy to see why Mardenborough's story would make an engaging film despite requiring some creative liberties. Playing video games and translating that experience into a real-life skill is impressive, and the movie is a testament to how hard work can pay off. 

Jann Mardenborough was actually Archie Madekwe's stunt double for Gran Turismo

"Gran Turismo" sets itself apart from other movies in that many of the racing sequences are practical. What you see on screen are actually cars racing, so to make those scenes look as good as possible, real racers needed to be brought in, which is how the real Jann Mardenborough got a cool role in the film.

Mardenborough functions as the stunt double for Archie Madekwe, who plays him in the movie. Director Neill Blomkamp spoke with Cinema Blend about how they initially brought Mardenborough on as a consultant to ensure the racing components were accurate. But when it came time to find someone to fill in for Madekwe during the racing scenes, the answer was a no-brainer: "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."

Finding gamers to drive racecars may have started as a lark, but it's produced some exceptional athletes. And now Jann Mardenborough's story (with a few tweaks) will soon be available for all to see when "Gran Turismo" comes out in limited release on August 11 with a wide release set for August 25.