Behind the Scenes of Top Gear America with Rob Corddry
To hear Rob Corddry tell it, his first day of filming Top Gear America was almost his last. As he bumped into an unarmed police interceptor in an abandoned neighborhood with The Stig on his tail, the reality of what he had signed up for really sank.
“Oh, my God. What did I get myself into?” Corddry said. A year later, he still remembers the thoughts that pass through his head: “I’m afraid of danger. I have a low tolerance for pain. I’m not a daredevil. What do I do? He there are so many ways I could die. “
Watch this segment on Episode 5, and you see this inner monologue unfold in real time during the height of the chase. Full of fear, his eyes glide frantically between the road ahead and the rearview mirror – and end up marveling at a resigned defeat as he is pushed around from behind. He was convinced the Stig had crashed into him and at any moment his car would roll or explode. Probably both.
In fact, Corddry’s right rear wheel had kissed a curb and the car had jumped sideways. The Stig, although close, was at a safe distance. But for the co-host, this point of impact served as a metaphor reflecting his state of mind. “I was beside myself,” he says. “That first day, I remember spending it sort of terrified. I embarrassed myself during the race. I was a DNF. He slams the table with his hands for emphasis. “No. Not. Finish.” Taking stock of the situation, he wondered if somehow he was being misinterpreted as a daredevil alter ego.
As a young actor in New York City in the 1990s, Corddry, now 50, could never have foreseen that his career would lead to this moment. In a city where public transport operates 24 hours a day and where only 45% of households own a car, he had no outlet to express his inherent enthusiasm for the automobile. Instead, he focused on chasing each audition and studying improvisation, moving from a sidewalk to the subway and back again. Even his wife, Sandra, whom he calls his “most trusted advisor,” was unaware of his man’s vehicular interests. Their car, a 1994 Toyota Corolla, was hardly a sports car. At least there was a five-speed manual transmission.
Looking even further, it’s understandable that the car gene took so long to germinate. Corddry’s first car was a 1975 Ford Pinto, unimpressive in every way except for the fact that it contains memories that only a first car can convey. “There was an oil leak so constant it burned a hole in my parents’ driveway,” Corddry says. “It was a weird and crappy car, white with wood grain, that I loved with all my heart, even though I had to lift my legs as I passed over puddles because the ground was rusty. No car smells like a ’70s, man. I can feel it now, and it’s beautiful. “
The move to Los Angeles was the catalyst that rekindled the actor’s passion for cars. As his interest grew, he had let go in interviews that he was an avowed car man – even if it was just to score fast wheels that he could drive on weekends. end. His wife got it too, as she noticed that he prioritized real estate searches based on the number of garage spaces in a house.
Then came the call to join the cast of Top Gear America. Although he couldn’t say yes quickly enough, Corddry felt it was safe to start by setting the record straight. “I said, ‘You know I’m a car passionate, right?’ And they were like, “We know, we know. We don’t throw you out for that. “Unlike fellow co-hosts Dax Shepard and Jethro Bovingdon, whose own passions were amplified by early practical indoctrination in the auto industry and who have a racing background, Corddry’s experience makes him the man who represents the spectator. At least that’s what he thought.
On this show, things rarely go well – sometimes by design, more often by chance. When in doubt, the complicated relationship you see between growers and hosts is absolutely real. Scenarios are designed in a virtual writer’s room to highlight the strengths of the hosts and to exploit their weaknesses. But the results on the day of a shoot ultimately depend on the hosts and how they take on the challenge.
In the same episode where fear nearly won out, fortune smiled on Corddry in the next challenge, which consisted of a drag race on a dry lake bottom. True to his character, Shepard added a nitrous system to his Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, while Bovingdon fashioned an aerodynamic tail for his Mini Cooper. Corddry ripped off the inside of the police car and sawed off the exhaust. The lighter, noisier Crown Vic took the win over the nitrous-failing Cadillac and the wind-cheating Mini.
For Corddry, the victory was justified – and an exponential victory in the literal sense of the word. “A little secret behind the scenes is that you see a run on a finished show, “he says.” But of course we did this run four or five times so they could have different camera angles on it. And i won each of these races. So I got out of there 5 more feet. I came back from the bottom of the dry lake, unable to get into my car, I felt so tall. It gave him the ability to appreciate what he is capable of and to be comfortable with what he is not.
It was then that the wheels started to spin in his head. He realized that challenges were anyone’s game. “The only thing I could be proud of about Season 1 was that if Dax and Jethro are both much more proficient in cars than I am – encyclopedically – I knew I had to work.” Instead of just helping him, he could gain the upper hand through methodical thinking and strategic planning. Here it is not just about choosing the best car, but also about selecting the right car for the challenge.
It’s that kind of tightrope thinking that appeals to Corddry’s tactical nature, as even the wrong choice can turn out to be the right car. “We are limited by the choice of cars we can buy for each challenge. [Senior producer] David Silberman sends us cars and says, “How about this one? And this one? ‘”
Corddry even fondly remembers the car that nearly blocked him. “I made the mistake of choosing one of his cars, and it was a Saab [900 Turbo]. It was the worst car I have ever chosen for Top Gear until now. I have always been confident that I picked the best car because I was working on it. But when I didn’t I was in the position of ‘Oh, now I am this dude on TGA. The guy with the broken car. And I found it quite fun having to deal with all of this nonsense. “
At this point, Corddry’s approach gives way to his improvisation training. His time in New York City may not have imbued him with an aptitude for burnout, but it has provided him with a quick and malleable mind that pays dividends on camera. When a mission begins to roll from the side, it mentally heads in the direction of the skid, changing course on the fly – verbally and physically.
Watching him on set, you really get a feel for this duality at work. Once an episode idea is approved and his car is selected, Corddry takes to absorbing every detail so he can truly own his opinions. If the challenge involves any race, he will focus on how he can drive smarter, not necessarily faster. When it was clear his sick Saab wouldn’t stand a chance on the track against the healthier machines of Shepard and Bovingdon, he opted to take the road less traveled – bypassing the curb and selecting a shortcut through dirt. to reach the finish line first. .
Corddry attributes this spontaneous decision to the version of him “who is willing to throw away all of his plans if something better or even different come. And that, I think, is the nature of Top Gear America. We always go with an idea, and we always come out with a completely different thing. “
When it comes to car reviews, this technique of methodical encounter and improvisation takes on a new angle. With no challenges and no co-hosts, Corddry avoids the shenanigans of melting the tires at full throttle for a decidedly more cerebral approach. Diving into the technical specs first creates the basis for the story, but what he really wants to know is what the car has to say. If that sounds like forging this relationship between man and machine is a little unorthodox, remember Corddry is still technically the regular guy. At least for now. There is no doubt that with each passing episode, he is a little faster, a little more experienced behind the wheel.
Performing this about-face was empowering for Corddry, but it also introduced a new fear. “My biggest worry is that I’m getting better. It’s really true, “he said.” I still don’t have as much training as the other two, but the risk now is that I will get really good at all of these areas. I’m getting better than what they threw away! “
Bragging about more authority is a good thing to have. It also means that he will be able to take on more meaty challenges. What does it look like? Corddry thought for a minute before answering. “Big platforms. Big platforms.” He keeps repeating it five times in a row. The joy in his voice is undeniable. “You can do it, right? I’ll be sad if you can’t.”
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