‘Ford v Ferrari’: What Christian Bale Added to the Ken Miles Story from His Own Childhood

Ford v Ferrari tells the true story of how the Ford Motor Company designed a race car for the 1966 Le Mans that could beat Enzo Ferrari’s incumbent champions. Ford hired Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to design the GT-40 and Shelby hired Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to drive it. The film is mostly historically accurate, but like any adaptation there is some dramatic license.

Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari | Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

Ford v Ferrari is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD with bonus features featuring director James Mangold, Bale and Damon discussing the film. Bale discussed how he studied the real Ken Miles to get the role right, and Mangold revealed one scene in the film that’s pure Bale. 

Chrisitan Bale related to Ken Miles in ‘Ford v Ferrari’

Christian Bale did his research on Ken Miles. He found they had many things in common. The rest was acting.

“He’s a very English man,” Bale said. “He’s from the Midlands, from a place called Sutton Coldfield, he was a military man, he served in a tank unit. I think it was D-Day plus 2 or 3. First and foremost, I think everybody viewed him as a mechanic. He was somebody who always enjoyed taking things apart, seeing how they worked, putting them back together.”

Ken Miles’ son Peter helped Christian Bale play his father

Bale enjoyed finding out little details about Miles he could work into his performance.

“I find there’s a great liberation in playing a real person,” Bale said. “There are eccentricities and mannerisms that if you were just inventing them for yourself you might seem like you’re just being an egotistical actor. When there are real people, you go my god, they really did that. They really had that attitude. There it is. Plain and bold, it’s the truth.”

Miles is no longer with us but his son Peter shared details with Bale.

Ford v Ferrari Blu-ray
Ford v Ferrari Blu-ray | 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

“When I first met Christian, I found it interesting because he came in not as here I am, I’m Christian Bale, but just an ordinary guy,” Peter Miles said. “Nicest guy on the planet, just dressed ordinary like you’d see somebody walking down the street and he wanted to know as much as he could about my father accurately. So I provided him with photographs, articles, books and even a voice recording so he could try to portray the part as well as he could.”

Ken Miles really did these things ‘Ford v Ferrari’ shows

A lot of what you see in Ford v Ferrari comes from Bale’s research on the real Ken Miles. You see him exercising like the real Miles.

“It’s all the real deal,” Bale said. “We just looked at Ken [who] was actually very ahead of his time in terms of fitness and what not. He had been a smoker but he gave it all up and moved to California. [Miles] was a runner. He was someone who was really into health and we took exactly from the documentation that we saw of him.”

Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari | Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

When Miles stares down other drivers in the pit, Peter Miles validated the veracity of his father’s technique there too.

“His passion was that he was 100% focused on it,” Bale said. “He would walk along the grid and look at the other guys that were his competition and he would stand in front of the car and just stare at them. The idea was he was just trying to psyche ‘em out. He’d look at these guys until they would look away, and then he knew he had them.”

Christian Bale totally made this up in ‘Ford v Ferrari’

Even though Ford v Ferrari strove for historical accuracy, Mangold still allowed improvisation. One such moment made it into the film, with Noah Jupe playing young Peter Miles.

“After Ken Miles wins the first race at Willow Springs and Noah is standing on the wall cheering his father, one of the first takes we did Christian drove up and we had a line exchange as he drove by his son,” Mangold said. “He said to me, ‘Why wouldn’t I just ask him to get in with me?’ And I said, ‘Why not? Let’s try it.’”

Christian Bale and Noah Jupe in Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale and Noah Jupe in Ford v Ferrari | Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

It’s safe to say the song Bale and Jupe sing together was not a Miles family classics.

“When they get in the car, Christian had the idea to sing the song from his childhood in England, ‘I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I’m H-A-P-P-Y’ which of course Noah knows because he’s also English,” Mangold said. “It was such a beautiful moment.”