'Top Gear's Chris Harris on New Dynamic With Co-Hosts, What's Next & More
Top Gear is back! It's boasting a few new faces for its 27th season on BBC America, but there's one returning host that's keeping things familiar — car expert Chris Harris.
After the season kicked off on Sunday, July 14, we're looking forward to what else is in store for the automotive talk show that features fun challenges, tests, interviews and more. Harris fills us in below on everything from who will be appearing to where the show will travel to in Season 27. Plus, find out more about his dynamic with his new co-hosts, cricket star Freddie Flintoff and comedian Paddy McGuiness.
How does this season with Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuiness differ from past seasons you've worked on?
Chris Harris: I love working with Matt LeBlanc, he's an absolute professional, he's become a good friend. I don't work with him anymore, but these two new guys are fantastic. They've brought their own flavor to the show, they're both natural entertainers, and I think their skill-sets just segue nicely with mine. I cover being the car geek... Paddy is just super funny and has a line for everything. Fred is the kind of guy that works on anything.
The day that we'd chosen the hosts, quite soon after that, we went and had one day together, with just one camera, just to play around, and you could tell within ten minutes that we were going to be fine, because we get on well and what I like is there's a lovely balance between good, old-fashioned banter — being slightly cruel to each other — but also there's a fundamental affection between us.
Things kicked off in Ethiopia — how was that experience? What other locations should viewers look out for the in the following weeks?
We did [a few] in the U.K., went to Iceland and Ethiopia. We also went to Bourneau... I didn't go to Bourneau, the other two went. Top Gear is car meets entertainment meets travel, and I'm really pleased we've shot a couple more in the U.K. because you [can't keep topping yourself], you judge yourself by going to ever-more ridiculous locations, [but] you eventually run out. You have to go to Mars, you have to leave the planet. We're not capable of doing that yet. But yes, it still looks and feels like we've traveled far and wide because we have.
How long do you usually spend on shoots abroad like Ethiopia?
You work for a week to ten days maybe, somewhere around that time. Seven to ten days to film [for] 35 minutes, 40 minutes. It's a big production. There's a big crew... but ultimately what happens when we get on camera — it's much more natural now. Really, the producers send us to a place and say, "We've organized this location, now get on with it." So, whatever mayhem happens. And that always generates the best television when you've got something that's unscripted.
They do such a great job of making it look as though you, Paddy and Freddie are alone. How does a crew that large operate without being seen?
The whole unit for Top Gear film is quite large, and it could be forty to fifty people. But we'll split off so when you go into the desert like that, you don't all go, you know? Some of you will be scouting ahead, some people will be picking up from behind. And you want to be sort of wieldy. Also, to stick with the sense of being out there on your own, you don't want forty people out, so there were probably, when we were filming [in Ethiopia] there would only have been 3 camera men, maybe two vehicles. That would have been it. So you do feel very alone, in the middle of a salt basin on the Eritrean border.
What's the camaraderie like between you, Freddie and Paddy off-screen?
I can hand-in-heart say that they are my friends. They are really good lads. I like hanging out with them. They're both slightly hero figures for me, that's the tricky bit for me. [Cricket star] Fred is like a LeBron over here — he walks down the street, people run after him. [Comedian] Paddy is a very well-known public figure. I love cricket, and I love Paddy's work as well. So for me, I'm working with my heroes, but I have to also be rude to them. So, it's a funny combination, but one I really enjoy.
The cars are the other true stars of the show. Were there any personal favorites for you this season? Do you ever get to ride them off-screen?
My world is cars, so I'm always testing cars. If I'm not testing a car, I'm driving it myself. That's what I do. I'm lucky. Every single day of the week I'm driving something different that everyone would love. I mean, there's a couple of stand-out cars really. I got the McLaren 600LT, it was a superb car, and that's in the first episode. There's a Formula One car that I drive later in the run, which was actually Mario Andretti's championship winning car, a 1978, which is just... a stunning car. Absolutely stunning. That was a dream come true for me, so that's the stand-out car on the series for me, even though it's not a road car.
Top Gear is also a talk show, so which guests should viewers look out for this season?
Well, we've got some royalty. So we've got Princess Zara and Mike Tindall... and they were fantastic fun. And we've got Bob Mortimer, who's very much a domestic hero over here — he's a British comedian. He's a bit of a hero figure of mine: a deeply, deeply funny man. He's fantastic on the show.
Cars play some major roles in pop culture. Is there a famous TV car you'd love to see featured on Top Gear? One example might be K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider.
I'm a child of the '80s, so obviously, all of those shows just did it for me. Knight Rider, the Knight [Rider] 2000, David Hasselhoff. I used to watch that on a Saturday evening with my parents. I was glued to it. It would either be the Knight 2000, which of course is a fictional vehicle anyway, or, probably, it would be the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard. I mean that is a Dodge Charger, painted with 01 on the ribs. I'm all over that.
Top Gear, Sundays, 8/7c, BBC America