Fast & Furious 9. Mad Max: Fury Road. The Italian Job. Charlize Theron is no stranger to thrilling audiences with an adrenaline rush of car-focused features. Well, now the Academy Award winner is bringing her real-life need for speed to Netflix’s new reality competition series Hyperdrive.
Theron is an executive producer on the streaming series, which launches Aug. 21 and is described by Netflix thusly: “Elite street racers from around the world test their limits in supercharged custom cars on the biggest, baddest automotive obstacle course ever built.”
Here, Theron’s fellow executive producer, Whalerock Industries’ head of unscripted division, Chris Cowan, gives EW an exclusive preview of what viewers can expect from the series, how making a car racing show was risky, and why Theron was the perfect fit to bring Hyperdrive to a screen near you.
How would you describe the series?
CHRIS COWAN: This is an homage, because it’s one of my all-time favorite competition series and I think there is DNA shared in there: We like to call it American Ninja Warrior meets Fast and Furious. We wanted to create a groundbreaking spectacle that you could only find on Netflix — something that was too stupid to attempt anywhere else.
Did this come from you all really loving cars?
I’m not a car person. I don’t lift the hood of my car and do repairs, or anything like that. But when a really cool car drives by, I stop and look. There’s something magical about a car that’s fully tricked out with an engine that really roars. I’ve always felt like there hasn’t been really anything out there in the reality space for fans of cars. When you’re putting together a reality series — Survivor, etc. — you always want your viewers to be possible future cast. We wanted to provide this democratic global competition where car enthusiasts have a place to go to try and win a championship and really compete for something that matters. We wanted to create the one competition that takes in all the different competitive car events into one competition — not professionals, real people.
How did you find your cast?
We had a fantastic casting team. It took them about 12 months. We wanted to be as internationally diverse as possible. We basically got into every race track, drag strip, and social media sites and groups where amateur enthusiasts were showing off their skills. We found them on drag strips where they were drifting on weekends, at the Nürburgring in Germany, in mountains of Japan. We really found them everywhere.
Why was Charlize Theron a great fit to come in as an executive producer?
She was at the top of our list, because I don’t know that there’s a more badass female star out there that can authentically rep this space — not only because of her association with the Fast and Furious franchise and Mad Max and all these other films she’s done, but because she kind of grew up tinkering on a farm in South Africa and learned to drive a car at a really young age. She knows a lot about this space. She was the first call we made, and she instantly said yes.
What were the challenges of bringing a show like this to life?
Truthfully, the biggest problem was danger. Any time you’re going to do an actual race, you need to be able to allow cars to do what they want to do. It was incredibly important for us that they drive their own cars. Most of the time in TV, you try and mitigate your liability in trying to make the playing field fair, and you’d maybe give them the cars and kind of control it, but we wanted them to bring their own machines to the course and try and dominate it however they possibly could. Modify your car, bring the fastest thing you can. We weren’t looking to restrict anyone’s speed. But that was a big concern and logistical issue for us. We needed a field that was big enough for that, so our location in Rochester was over 100 acres. We wanted it to look badass but then be able to turn into a race track on a nightly basis. Shooting the whole thing at night, think of the scale of all this, and then you have to light the whole thing! it was basically like lighting a 100-acre movie set.