Minor spoilers for Ferrari below.
Adam Driver may be the headliner of Ferrari, but Penélope Cruz steals the show. The Oscar winner stars as Laura Ferrari, who was not only a wife to the famous car marker but his business partner. However, not much is known about her, despite her husband’s much-documented life, which posed a challenge for Cruz and director Michael Mann while they worked on the film.
“Nobody knew about Laura,” Cruz told Entertainment Weekly. “So we started to do research together. We ended up looking for people who knew her, and even talking to strangers in the street, because there was very little written about her. There was no video or audio of her, nothing.”
The actress was surprised that “all I heard about her was, ‘she was crazy. She was difficult. She was a witch. People were scared of her.’ So I said, ‘We have to dig deeper and see who this woman really was.’ It became a personal need for Michael and for myself to give her a voice.”
Penelope Cruz as Laura Ferrari.
It’s true that Laura is often briefly mentioned in stories about Enzo, which tend to focus more on his racing career and auto business. But Ferrari makes an attempt to shed more light on her journey and inner life, or at least Mann’s interpretation of it. When the film opens in 1957, she and Enzo have already been married for two decades and their marriage is not in a good place. They just lost their only son, Dino, and take turns visiting his grave separately. While Cruz plays to the character’s fiery temper, she also portrays her grief as a mother, and her pain in discovering Enzo’s affair with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley), and her concerns over the Ferrari company.
“This woman was involved from day one,” Cruz added to EW. “If she had such a difficult personality, it was because of her loss and her deep pain, her struggle to make it through the end of the day each day. It represents so many women around the world still living in very similar situations today.”
The real Laura Ferrari was born Laura Garello, and she first met Enzo in 1921 in Turin, Richard Williams reports in Motor Sport. Enzo was 20 at the time and she was a few years younger, working as a dancer. The couple married in 1923.
Laura Ferrari (far right) pictured at the Grand Prix of Great Britain in 1960.
Their only child, a son nicknamed Dino (real name Alfredo, after Enzo’s father and brother), was born in 1932. When Laura announced her pregnancy to her husband, he ended his career as a racing driver just weeks later. Dino was later diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and died at 24 years old, according to the Guardian.
This ultimately caused a rift in the Ferraris’ marriage. But Enzo already had his eyes set on another woman. It’s said he had multiple affairs, but the one he had with Lina Lardi was significant. He started seeing her at the end of the 1920s, per The Guardian, and their romance was long-lasting. He even put her up in a house near Maranello, where his factory was. Most importantly, he had a son with her, Piero, who was born when Dino was 13 years old. When Laura found out about this, she supposedly used to track the boy down in Maranello, not unlike what’s portrayed in the film.
Dino’s death also reportedly caused Laura to be more critical of the company’s spending and interfere with business, which of course caused friction between her and the employees. “Via a lawyer, eight senior managers wrote to Enzo to complain about her behavior. An enraged Ferrari responded by firing them all,” Williams writes in Motor Sport.
There was another reported instance of sales manager Girolamo Gardini butting heads with Laura; he didn’t like her involvement in the company and they “frequently argued.” He threatened to leave the company, but Enzo fired him instead.
Laura Ferrari was deeply affected by the loss of her and Enzo’s son, Dino.
It wasn’t all bad business, though. Mann found in his research that Laura made a financial sacrifice to help get the company off the ground. “Without asking him, she pawned a wedding gift he gave her to build the first car because the 10 percent deposit, they didn’t have the money to buy the components,” the director said at a Deadline panel in November.
Much of her conflict with Enzo revolves around the fact that he gave her half the stock in the company and is trying to get them back ahead of a deal with Ford and Fiat. She argues that he’ll need to pay her half a million dollars for it. Williams writes that this plot line is “a complete fiction,” as negotiations with Ford and Fiat didn’t officially begin until 1963. But they express Laura’s place in the company and her unwavering conviction. What’s more, she made Enzo promise that he would not allow Piero to take the Ferrari name until after her death.
Laura Ferrari died in 1978. She and Enzo were still married, as divorce only became legal in Italy in 1970. Sure enough, Enzo eventually gave his surname to Piero after her passing.
Ferrari is now playing in theaters. Get Tickets
Erica Gonzales is the Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage on TV, movies, music, books, and more. She was previously an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There is a 75 percent chance she’s listening to Lorde right now.