How a Son of a World Champion Got to Play Jean Behra in ‘Ferrari’

Jackson Wheeler
10 Min Read


  • Derek Hill, son of Phil, an accomplished driver in his own right, was working on the movie Ferrari when director Michael Mann asked him to read for a part.
  • Hill went from being an uncredited stuntman to playing the role of Jean Behra.
  • The Ferrari movie comes out nationwide December 25.

It was a Hollywood success story. Derek Hill was in Italy working on the movie Ferrari, coming to theaters December 25. Hill was going to be a backup driver in the movie, drawing on his extensive racing experience for the job.

He’s had class wins at Daytona, season championships in the Ferrari Challenge and Barber Dodge Pro Series, and several seasons’ experience in Formula Atlantic, Italian Formula 3000, International Formula 3000, and second place in the ALMS GTS3 class in 1997 driving a BMW M3. He’s also son of 1961 World champion Phil Hill.

So it was only natural that, after a driving career like that, and with a genetic pre-disposition to car control, he should start driving cars on TV, in commercials and in the movies, which he has been doing for over 20 years now. You saw his work in Ford v Ferrari, among other productions.

a group of people standing around a red race car

One of the Maseratis on set.

Neon

He was called by stunt coordinator Robert Nagle, for whom he had worked on FvF, to help out with the movie Ferrari, starring Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz and directed by Michael Mann.

“I guess I started hearing about it, let’s see, this was mid-2022,” said Hill, speaking from the Sunset Tower Hotel a few hours before he—yes he—walked on the red carpet at the movie’s premiere in Hollywood.

He wasn’t entirely certain he’d get the job in any capacity at first.

“And it’s just like, ‘Who’s available? Who’s ready? Who can start working now?’”

“Like everything in this world, you’re like, well, you don’t think anything of it until it starts getting more serious. And then Robert Nagel, who has known Michael Mann a long time and worked with him on other movies, he started saying, ‘Yeah, this is starting to look like it was really happening.’”

After that, the project started gathering momentum.

“It all came together really fast for me, because he was trying to get me over there (to Italy), like, a month before I went over there. Some of these films, they come together really fast. And it’s just like, ‘Who’s available? Who’s ready? Who can start working now?’”

He flew to Italy in late-summer of 2022.

derek hill accepted the automotive hall of fame induction for his father racer phil hill who in 1961 became the first american formula one champion

Derek Hill at the Automotive Hall of Fame induction for his father, racer Phil Hill.

Joe Wilssens

“I felt like I got over there at the perfect time, just the right time to relieve (stunt coordinator) Robert (Nagle) of some of his duties while they were out (on location) scouting, because there was a lot of scouting going on when I showed up. They were jumping in helicopters and flying all over Italy, especially Northern Italy to try and find out where we could get the best locations. And then I just was able to start doing more of the dirty work, getting the cars in good working order and all that sort of stuff.”

They gave him an office and a studio apartment in Rome. His office was right down the hall from Michael Mann’s. This was a pet project of Mann’s for something like 20 years.

“He’s quite the car guy. He’s been a real Ferrari fanatic for some time.”

Remember the white Testarossa in Miami Vice? Michael Mann did Miami Vice.

“You could just tell how much making this film meant to him. He’s a really hard-working guy—a powerhouse. You just felt his presence even when he was down the hall in his office. It was just like, this whole operation going on with him at the helm.”

Hill spent a lot of time working out all kinds of things. In the Mille Miglia, for instance, they let the smaller cars on the road first, hours before the big Ferraris and Maseratis. So Hill had to calculate, on a spreadsheet, the approximate time into the event that the big, fast cars would pass the slower, little cars. And he helped all the drivers get ready to drive, getting Adam Driver familiar with the Peugeot 403 Enzo drives in the movie—things like that.

a group of men in suits and hats standing on a red carpet

Patrick Dempsey as Piero Taruffi

Neon

“I was there a total of almost four months. I was there about a month and a half helping with pre-production. I didn’t even realize what I was stepping into at first. And I basically had an office job for a month and a half. I helped the stunt coordinator just put all the pieces together, training actors who were going to be driving. And then all the little details, but testing the cars was a big one. And so once the filming started, that was, gosh, early September (2022), I guess. So then I was there until the end of October—it was basically two months of filming.”

The part of racer Jean Behra had already been cast. It was to be played by a French actor.

“I went over there thinking I was just going to be doubling Behra’s character, they had an actor lined up. Then, right before we started filming, they said, ‘No, you’re gonna have the part. It just makes more sense.’ So I just kind of walked into it. It was crazy.”

“I didn’t think anything of it like, ‘Oh, I’ll never land a big role or anything.’“

Right place, right time.

“Being there as early on as I was, it was kind of fun to see the inner workings of the film being put together. There were a lot of different photos on the walls—headshots and things—and it seemed very, very fluid, like anything could happen. I did a reading for Michael Mann early on. It was lines out of the (Piero) Taruffi part (a part that ultimately went to Patrick Dempsey).

“I didn’t think anything of it like, ‘Oh, I’ll never land a big role or anything.’ But who knows? I mean, who knows if I was ever considered as a backup, in case they couldn’t get certain people. I think, essentially, that was it. I was Johnny on the Spot. They knew who I was, and that I could do the job. And so luck kind of went my way, just for being there. And being ready for it.”

Eighty percent of success is just showing up.

Does this mean Hill has gone Hollywood? Will he no longer take our calls? Will publicists make excuses? Will he be “indisposed?” Is he already looking at scripts?

a group of men in suits

Adam Driver, Michael Mann, and Patrick Dempsey.

Neon

“I don’t know. Who knows? I mean, it’s enjoyable work, and it’s something that I would certainly keep my eyes open to, to new opportunities. Who knows where it goes from here? I feel like motor racing in general has been popular in terms of, even Formula One and Drive to Survive, and there’s this nostalgia with Ford v Ferrari and now this. Hopefully it continues. We’ll see. But I’m opened up to all of it. It doesn’t even have to be motorsports. It’d almost be refreshing to do something that wasn’t motorsports.”

So some sort of heartfelt holiday romance movie?

“Christmas rom com, why not?”

You heard it here first.

Ferrari opens in wide release Christmas Day.

Headshot of Mark Vaughn

Mark Vaughn grew up in a Ford family and spent many hours holding a trouble light over a straight-six miraculously fed by a single-barrel carburetor while his father cursed Ford, all its products and everyone who ever worked there. This was his introduction to objective automotive criticism. He started writing for City News Service in Los Angeles, then moved to Europe and became editor of a car magazine called, creatively, Auto. He decided Auto should cover Formula 1, sports prototypes and touring cars—no one stopped him! From there he interviewed with Autoweek at the 1989 Frankfurt motor show and has been with us ever since.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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