The Yellow Jersey
It was clear that it was essential to find a special actor to play Lance Armstrong. Tracey Seaward explains, “Stephen said immediately, I’ll make the movie but I can only make it if I find the right person. If you can’t cast the right person to play Lance, there’s no point in making the movie.” Ben Foster immediately came to mind for casting director Leo Davis, as Seaward recalls. “Fortunately, Leo was very clear that Ben had to play Lance so Stephen went to New York to meet him. He needed to be convinced that Ben could physically get to that point: Lance’s musculature, his physiognomy... his physicality has evolved over that extensive period of time.”
Ben Foster recalls a humorous moment when first meeting Stephen Frears for what he had been told was a secret project. “We met at a hotel in the lobby and he comes in and he just stares at me and he says, ‘do you know what this is about?’ And I look at a book that he is holding in his hand and it says Lance Armstrong. So I ask ‘is it about Lance Armstrong?’ And he goes, ‘I knew it was out! I knew it got out! I knew it.’ I said, ‘you’re holding the book’, and he smiled!” Frears told Foster that they were still waiting for the script and asked what he knew about Armstrong. Foster relates, “I fall on the side of a fan and I didn’t know an awful lot, but what I knew was that he’s an incredible athlete and he did what no-one else had ever done. But I didn’t know a whole lot about his back story other than he had just done the Oprah interview.”
Tim Bevan picks up the story, “Stephen looked at some of Ben’s work and went and met him and said that’s it, he’s the man. What we didn’t realise was what a good visual fit he was for Lance because he looks very, very like the real Lance Armstrong. There’s quite a lot of stock footage in the movie from the various cycle races and you can get virtually to a 90 degree shot on the real Lance Armstrong and cut to Ben and you don’t know that it’s not the same guy.”
Following their meeting, Foster had to wait a number of weeks for a script, so he immersed himself in background research. “I just started reading everything. There are a lot of books on the subject and I happened to have a lot of downtime so I started to learn how to think like a cyclist and how to ride a bike with those silly shoes!” Foster had to go through a severe programme of weight and body change as well as cycle training, but was undaunted by these challenges.
Stephen Frears talks about how Foster approached the role following their first meeting. “His research was incredible. The thoroughness which he approached it with - he’s a method actor. Eventually you think ‘this chap knows more about it than I do’. He was very, very impressive.” Showing an impressive degree of discipline, Foster entered a training camp in Boulder, Colorado to achieve the required physicality. He embedded with the Garmin-Sharp cycle team who were participating in the Cross Colorado Tour. There were numerous new challenges to overcome as Foster outlines. “I had never been on a bike with clipless shoes [wherein the shoe is attached to the pedal], so it’s daunting, particularly when you have the opportunity to spend time with a culture that demands such physical mastery over a tool, an instrument.”