Milo Ventimiglia, Patrick Dempsey Talk Race Car Training for 'The Art of Racing in the Rain'

Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Dempsey, a producer on the film and competitive driver himself, helped train Ventimiglia for his starring role as race car driver Denny Swift.

In preparing to play race car driver Denny Swift in his new film The Art of Racing in the Rain, Milo Ventimiglia spent a lot of time researching historic races and a little less time behind the wheel himself. 

"I watched a million races, watched a lot of interviews, I got in one car and that was enough," he told The Hollywood Reporter at the film's Los Angeles premiere held at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood on Thursday. "I did a little go-karting with a friend of mine who's a professional racing driver, and doing 90 when your butt is two inches away from the ground is like, 'Okay.'"

The This Is Us star said that through the process he found a lot of similarities between actors and race car drivers in that "when the green light hits you, you've got to be on your game," and got some hands-on assistance from someone who knows both Hollywood and the racing world very well. Patrick Dempsey, who in recent years has become a competitive race car driver, served as a producer on the film and lent his expertise to Ventimiglia. 

"I got him around the environment, took him to the 12 hours on Sebring [International Raceway], let him talk to a bunch of racers, took him around the track," Dempsey said. The star has been working behind the scenes to get the movie made for over a decade, and was originally attached to star as well as produce, following it from Universal to 20th Century Fox and now its Disney release. 

Dempsey was so committed to the story ⁠— based on the 2008 bestselling novel by Garth Stein about a dog and his relationship with his human family throughout the years ⁠— because he loved the journey of golden retriever Enzo and its message. 

"It gives you a broader picture of why we're here and what is it ultimately about, and it's about becoming a better person," he said. "I think this is an important message right now." 

Kevin Costner voices Enzo, joking that when he got the call to voice a dog, he "wasn't sure if it was a good career move or not," but added, "I knew it was a beloved book and then thought about it and I was happy that I was chosen. You want to make the people [happy] who have in mind what that voice must have been like, I tried to find my own." 

Because Costner recorded in a vocal booth and wasn't on set for the filming, he also teased on the red carpet, "I don't know anybody here," meeting Ventimiglia for the first time in front of photographers.  

While Costner may not have been the obvious choice to voice a golden retriever, director Simon Curtis said he "wanted an iconic American voice of this dog looking back on his life, and Kevin was a dream come true." 

Curtis also added that he, like Dempsey, tried to get this film to the big screen for years because "in these uncertain times this is a story of real people with real emotion leading their best lives, and I think with all of these computer superhero movies, I really wanted to make a film that was about real people."  

The premiere also welcomed stars Amanda Seyfried, Gary Cole, Kathy Baker, Ryan Kiera Armstrong and Martin Donovan. The two golden retrievers who played the young and old versions of Enzo, Parker and Butler, walked the red carpet as well. 

Being that a large theme of the movie is reincarnation, as Enzo dreams of coming back as a human in his next life, Ventimiglia added, "I love the idea that this life that we're living is not the only one that we're living, and we've been here before and we may be here again. What we do in this life is going to imprint that spark inside of us, that soul, and hopefully hang on for a while so we can have a better life and a better life and a better life."

The Art of Racing in the Rain hits theaters Aug. 9.