Like it or not, Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive continues to corral F1 fans new and old, and the streaming giant is unsurprisingly eager to keep that positive associate between itself and the pinnacle of global motorsport rolling. It tried this about a year-and-a-half ago with a documentary about Michael Schumacher that seemed to get a pretty favorable reception, although I never really heard anyone talk about it much. And it’ll try it again with a six-part miniseries about an equally, if not more, legendary figure, Ayrton Senna. Netflix announced Tuesday that it has cast its Ayrton, and he’ll be none other than 29-year-old Brazilian actor Gabriel Leone.
Here’s what Leone, showrunner Vicente Amorim, producer Fabiano Gullane and Senna’s sister Viviane had to say around the news, courtesy Netflix:
“It is a huge responsibility and also a great honor to be able to represent an icon who inspired so many people throughout his life, showing the world Brazilian sporting talent,” says Leone. “Knowing that we will bring this story to millions of people in so many countries, through Netflix, inspires me to see this as one of the great roles of my career.”
“Gabriel Leone has Senna’s charisma, intensity, and gentleness,” says Amorim. “We were thrilled with how he brought Ayrton to life at his screen test. He is a Brazilian actor who is an emerging international star,” adds producer Fabiano Gullane. “He has the ability to faithfully portray Ayrton’s unique personality, especially the Ayrton that we as a family knew, off the track,” Viviane Senna, Ayrton’s sister enthused.
It’s encouraging to see an all-Brazilian team telling the story of a figure who, for as much as he meant to the world, meant something considerably bigger and more nuanced to Brazil. Leone rose to prominence playing the titular bandit in the Portugese-language Amazon original series Dom. Leone is 29; it’s worth noting that today would have been Senna’s 63rd birthday.
As Amorim told Variety in August when the project was greenlit — back when it was slated for eight episodes and not six — taking on Senna’s story figures to be a very personal endeavor for him:
“I’ve had many idols in the sport, but only one hero, Senna. I watched his races, I rooted for him, I was inspired by him and I was in tears the day he died,” said Amorim, summing up the feelings of maybe most Brazilians towards Senna’s figure. [...]
“Senna was an international hero and through Netflix a series about him will have global reach – it will be an international series, produced and directed by Brazilians, that will move the home crowd and tell Senna’s fantastic story to new audiences and old fans all over the world,” Amorim said.
It’s always surprised me that no Senna-related project really got off the ground since the 2010 documentary we all know and likely have vastly differing opinions about. I’ll go out on a limb and say I loved it when I saw it for the first time at an indie theater in New York as a 17-year-old, and I still love it today. It’s not perfect — no documentary can be — but it gets the point across, and does it without ditching period footage for talking head segments. I’m eager to see Leone’s portrayal.