Top Gear hosts Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid revealed details of their shoot in the UAE and Oman, which took place in January. The scenes will feature in series 24, premiering on March 5 in the UK. (Series 18-23 are available to stream on Starz Play.)
“That was a windy road up to that hotel you mentioned [in Oman],” said Harris. He and LeBlanc were spotted at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort.
“I mean, just 20 miles [32km] of virgin asphalt that’s not been dug up twice — we don’t get roads like that over here.”
The golden trio are now in their second series together. They seem to have fallen into a more comfortable camaraderie since their first go around the Top Gear circuit. They took over the motoring programme after a dramatic firing of previous host Jeremy Clarkson in 2015.
Sitting down for a round-table interview in Liverpool last month, as part of BBC Showcase, LeBlanc, Harris and Reid chatted about their Middle East adventure and how close Top Gear brings them to the edge, literally speaking.
You were recently in our side of the world in Dubai and Oman. By complete coincidence, a colleague was staying at the same hotel while you were there-
Matt: It’s Chris who broke the thing.
What was it like to film in that climate and environment?
Matt: That was really fun. There was a supercar, a superboat, a superbike and a superplane. It was a race off from the Marina in Dubai to a mountaintop retreat in the Omani mountains. We had a blast.
Chris: That is the epicentre of hyper-car culture in the world now, isn’t it? You drive [a Bugatti] through London, you’ll get a mixed reaction. You’ll get some people that love it, and you’ll get some people that aren’t quite so keen on it, seeing it as a sort of offensive plutocratic statement of wealth. Whereas people over there just go mad for it. They love the cars. Sometimes the traffic conditions don’t always lend themselves to driving fast over there. I have to say, we were all surprised by how draconian, particularly in Dubai, the new speed cameras are. I mean they really are, aren’t they? They’ll catch you. That’s why we went to private places when we wanted to go fast — legally.
How do you feel about driverless cars?
Chris: In terms of making car television? Not that keen. I like my job. We’ve not done anything on this season, but I don’t think we can avoid some of this technology. Some of it is going to revolutionise our lives. All of it is relevant to Top Gear as a brand. There’s some very exciting, but also there’s some terrifying stuff coming. There’s some good information, and there’s some misinformation about it.
What was one of the scariest scenes you filmed this season?
Chris: Twenty AK-47’s pointing at my head, with a helicopter nearly hitting me and Matt.
Matt: Chris and I did a film in Montenegro that was kind of a Bond-themed film. It culminates in [getting] caught by the police. And it’s this big dance, with a lot of moving parts, all machines, all cars, that was choreographed quickly and expertly and went off without a hitch to everyone’s surprise. When that was over, we were all like, ‘Nobody died?’ That was pretty amazing — and it looks great, too.
Rory: One of the coolest scenes for me was when [there was a] rocket taking off. We were stood a couple kilometres away from it. I never thought I’d get that close to a rocket launch in my entire life. And we were there, watching this thing take off. You could feel the explosion of the thrusters in your chest — it was just the most moving thing that I’ve ever felt.
Matt: He cried a little. We had to shoot it over.
Rory: ‘Let’s bring the rocket back, one more time!’
Who’s the most likely of you three to say, ‘Let’s do this’, and who’s most likely to say, ‘Let’s think this through’?
Matt: I would say Rory’s the most reckless, and Chris and I are equal in terms of [saying], ‘Let’s think this through.’ Rory will just put his foot in it and go for it.
Do your families ever say ‘Oh, God…’?
Chris: I don’t know what [LeBlanc and Reid’s] strategy is, I just lie about it.
Matt: Yeah, I downplay it for my family. It’s not me — that’s all the stunt drivers.
How do you negotiate with yourself the fear of doing what you do?
Matt: I’ll speak just for myself. There’s no championship on the line, none of it is ever a real race, we’re making a television show. It’s the entertainment value. That said, I drive within my limits, I’m fairly capable behind the wheel. As long as I stay within what I feel is safe — there has been a moment or two or three or four, where I’ve been like, ‘Ohhh, oh, that was close! That’s the edge!’, but for the most part, it’s safe as it can be.
Chris: My biggest fear, genuinely, is not coming back with the film. That’s what I worry about. That’s what kills me. We encounter absolute killer moments where you think, ‘He’s done something crazy and incredible’, or ‘He’s just delivered a line that makes you genuinely cry with laughter’, the thought of losing that and not having it captured is what really scares me.
Does it become difficult to the top the adrenalin rush that you experience?
Chris: It is a fantastic drug, and when you start feeling it release inside your body, when you get tingly, when you’re presented with a race car or a track or a situation, you do get drunk on it. It is moderately addictive, but it does tend to bring out more humour, more fun, more excitement, more energy. I tend to just go with it — roll with it and enjoy it. And at the end of it go, ‘And someone’s paying me to do this.’
Rory: I’m a little different. I approach every filming session with the same soundtrack in my head, and that’s, ‘Don’t crash, don’t crash, don’t crash, don’t crash.’ When we finish and we wrap, and I haven’t crashed, that’s my drug, that’s my release. That means they’ll let me do another one.
Matt: You don’t want to break the car, you don’t want to hurt anyone. A lot of the times the camera crew are very close to the line that we’re on. There’s a shorthand you develop with the people that are filming.
Matt, what surprised you most about presenting a show?
Rory: How good a driver Rory is.
Matt: No. I wouldn’t say that. I definitely wouldn’t say that. I would say, how similar it is to what I was doing already. Being a presenter, it’s a role, I approach just like any other role. I guess by being an actor, I can bend that presenter suit to fit me how I need given what film we’re doing.