Thursday January 3, 2013
Adrien Brody and F1 racer Mika Salo team up for off-road adventure
By YEE XIANG YUN
Hollywood star Adrien Brody and Finnish former Formula One racer Mika Salo take on the challenge of driving through a jungle in Malaysia.
Imagine this – driving a 4x4 vehicle on a frozen lake in Siberia, Russia, or across the scorching China desert, or tackling the rough terrains of Malaysia’s deep forests.
Not many people have the opportunity to take on the paths less travelled.
Now, let’s take it further by having a racing professional behind the wheels and a Hollywood star next to him and you will get the new three-part television series – Shell Helix Driven To Extremes.
True to its name, the programme follows the drivers to different parts of the world to take on extreme conditions in a specially modified Nissan Patrol.
The series, commissioned by Discovery Networks, was aimed at showing the audience what the vehicle can do in the intense and stark contrasting conditions.
The vehicle is also filled with different grades of Shell Helix Ultra fully synthetic motor oil, depending on the place of filming.
After taking on the freezing cold weather of Siberia and searing Chinese desert, the show’s final episode brought the crew to Johor – to take on the wet and rough terrains of the Ulu Sedili jungle, some 90km from Johor Baru.
Over the three days in mid-December, former Formula One driver Mika Salo and Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody, famous for his role in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, took on one of the toughest roads in the form of the jungle trail in the state’s Mersing district.
The stars attempted to conquer the slippery and muddy trails full of ruts and gullies, fallen trees, swollen rivers and a host of other obstacles before reaching Kampung Peta near the Endau Rompin National Park.
When met at a 4x4 garage in Taman Pelangi Indah, Johor Baru to prepare for the filming, 39-year-old Brody, who had been to Malaysia a few times before, said he was looking forward to his first time to southern Peninsular Malaysia.
The adventurous actor and film producer said that although he was familiar with cars and bikes, it was definitely a new experience for him to explore the rainforest in a 4x4 vehicle.
“That is the exciting thing about not knowing what to expect, you get to enjoy a new adventure and learn new things,” he quipped.
Brody, who named nasi goreng kampung as one of his favourite Malaysian foods, said that while growing up in Queens, New York, in the 1990s, he used to fix up cars with his friends to go drag racing with neighbourhood rivals.
“We didn’t have much money then for a decent car so we would always buy muscle cars. Some of my friends were very talented so we helped each other with the modifications,” he added.
The actor, who tries to be as adventurous as he could and push himself to the limits – he once went diving among sharks at the Aquaria in KLCC – could not say no to the new off-road adventure.
He said that he had heard from the show’s producers earlier about an opportunity to work with them but was not available then, but when they reached out for the second time, Brody jumped at the chance.
“Mentally and physically, I may not be entirely prepared and there will be difficult obstacles ahead but there is no point over-thinking about it since I have already signed up for a jungle adventure,” he said.
On riding with Salo, the King Kong star said that it was a new experience for both of them.
“Mika is a talented racer and I respect him for that but I don’t think he is any more experienced than me in off-road driving so this challenge was like embarking on an unfamiliar territory.
“He is a great guy – lots of fun and has an adventurous outlook on life and I appreciate that, I like being around people like that,” he said, adding that the crew was laid-back and easy to work with as well.
Salo, who has had ample experience on the race tracks, said that the part he fears the most about going into the jungle are the snakes. “I have been told there are lots of them in the Ulu Sedili jungle and I am not looking forward to that part,” he said with a straight face.
He added that none of them has ever been to the filming site prior to the actual shoot so he had no idea what to expect but placed his trust in the crew to sort any problems out if there are any.
“I am glad that we have an experienced crew and leader because as much as I want to have fun, I don’t want to get hurt either,” he said.
Like Brody, Salo said that the show was a chance for him to explore something unique and have fun trying new things that he would not do otherwise.
“If not for the show, there is no chance that I would have driven in such extreme conditions,” he shared.
Salo, who has been to Penang and the Pangkor Island for holidays with his family, said that he is fine with the Malaysian heat but it is the humidity that usually gets to him.
“I do not know what to expect in the jungle but the humidity and snakes will keep me busy for a while,” he said, laughing.
In the Malaysian leg of the show, about 10 crew members were involved in the filming, excluding locals.
The show’s chief mechanic Paul Marsh said that the cars were built specially for the show and two identical Nissan Patrols were used for all three episodes, modified with different specifications to suit each climate and condition.
“One was a primary vehicle for the celebrities while the other is a backup vehicle in case the first vehicle has any problems.
“The vehicle has zero electronics, which makes it more reliable as we can easily repair it with simple tools if it breaks down in the middle of the jungle,” Marsh explained, adding that no electronics meant that they would not override the engine as well.
He said that for the Malaysia episode, the vehicles were modified with special off-road tyres and snorkel to anticipate the high possibility of the vehicles being submerged in water while filming, which costs between £25,000 and £30,000 (RM123,000 and RM148,000) to make.
Meanwhile, local sports marketing company Total Sports Asia production head David Tully noted that Malaysia has a direct involvement in the show’s creation as they provided the logistics and location arrangements for the Johor episode after the producers approached them in October.
“The programme needed a short yet challenging off-road route that could be completed in four days so I suggested the location. We have the garage services, mechanical support and experienced local drivers, guides and suitably equipped support vehicles needed to assist in the filming and experienced staff working the base camp area.
“I feel that the show is a fantastic chance to showcase the real opportunities for adventure and filming in Malaysia for tourists and professional filmmakers alike,” said Tully.
Besides that, Tully added that productions like this could and have generated revenue for the locals and various industries.
“You would be surprised that some local 4x4 enthusiasts are among the most skilled and experienced off-roaders in the world, particularly when it comes to driving in the rainforest and jungle conditions,” he added.
Salo and The Dark Knight Rises star Tom Hardy starred in the first Shell Helix Driven To Extremes episode (Siberia), where the crew traveled from the coldest city in the world, Yakutsk, along the Kolyma Highway to one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth, Oymyakon.
For the following episode, bike racer Neil Hodgson and Superman actor Henry Cavill journeyed though the blistering Hami City in Western China to ride in the Taklimakan Desert or “Desert of Death” during the hottest time of the year.
> Shell Helix Driven To Extremes is scheduled to air in Malaysia sometime in March. For those who cannot wait, exclusive behind-the-scenes content from all three episodes are available on the show’s YouTube channel (youtube.com/driventoextremes).