Baby Driver’s world of colorful criminals is cast with an equally colorful list of A-list actors. Ansel Elgort plays Baby, the musical prodigy getaway driver who plans his escapes based on the timing of his favorite songs. He meets Debora (Lily James) and hopes to get away with her, but he’s saddled with some unwilling accomplices: Jon Hamm as Buddy, Eiza Gonzalez as Darling, and Jamie Foxx as Bats. That’s not even including Kevin Spacey as the mastermind, Doc.
The cast of Baby Driver joined writer/director Edgar Wright at the film’s press junket in Los Angeles. Elgort, James, Hamm, Gonzalez, and Spacey talked about their characters and working on the film with Wright. Baby Driver opens Wednesday, June 28, 2017.
Did you coordinate your outfits black, white and grey this morning?
Ansel Elgort: “Yeah, if you notice, all the characters have their colors but Baby and Debora are black and white.”
Would you each talk about your characters?
Lily James: “Just a girl working at a diner. And then this guy kind of walks in and I think you get the sense that they’re both these kind of old souls. They bond over music and they dream of escaping their sh*tty lives and they give each other something to live for, I think, and a reason to commit to this romantic notion of hitting the road and never looking back and starting a new life.”
Ansel Elgort: “I think it’s sort of an impulsive relationship but it’s super real and it’s not influenced by anyone else or any ulterior motives, which is why I think it comes across so lovely on screen. It’s such a pure relationship.”
Jon Hamm: “I think what Edgar’s done in this film is create sort of paradigms, right? So we have these kind of primary colors in many ways, right? Bats is bright red. Bats is literally a red flag. You look at the guy and you go, ‘Oh sh*t.’ Buddy and Darling are this kind of binary star. Eiza makes the observation a lot where every time you see us, we’re kind of touching one another. We’re a duo. Baby and Debora are always in black and white. They’re not quite formed yet. That was the jumping off point for me to kind of understand these people. Edgar is a remarkably talented individual who has a very specific vision, each one of his films. And you’re not getting him off that vision. He’s driving that train. He’s the hardest working guy on set all the time. He’s on first unit. He’s one second unit. He does not sleep. He does not do anything but make this movie until this movie is made. I am virtually certain that this resonates throughout the whole cast. That’s what you want in a director. You want that guy.”
Eiza Gonzalez: “Ed cares.”
Jon Hamm: “You want that guy who ain’t gonna take no for an answer. He’s going to fight for what he wants and he’s going to make the best movie he can. It’s such a pleasure to be in that movie. It’s such a pleasure to be in this movie.”
Jamie Foxx: “Literally, Edgar had it all mapped out. He crafted Bats as sort of the real criminal. This is going to be a weird example but when I watch the movie Set It Off, when I watched it with a Hollywood crowd, they all laughed when they were supposed to laugh and cry when they were supposed to cry. But then I went and watched it at Universal with regular folks. I was sitting with some dudes, the guys in back of me, every gun that was pulled out, they named it. ‘Oh yeah, that’s that .350.’ Every time Queen Latifah shot her gun, he went, ‘Blam, blam, blam! Get him, get him, get him.’ He named every gun. There was a black girl sitting right here and every time something went down that wasn’t correct procedure, she went, ‘Oh uh uh, no. That’s federal, that’s federal. Ain’t no way, he can’t even front. He can’t even look into it. That’s not his jurisdiction.’
My thing was to make Bats the person who, the people who know those types of characters, to make him that. This may be a show for everybody else, but Bats is really like, ‘No, we can’t have these loose ends. This dude, I gotta kill him. We gotta kill everybody or we’re going to jail.’ His intelligence was street intelligence. When you meet people that are street smart, it’s a whole different energy. They can be in this room and we’ve all seen ‘em. Whether they be black or white or whatever they are, there’s a different truth to them. We sort of live in a world of make believe and we want the world to be whatever it is. These guys believe in real serious consequence.”
Eiza Gonzalez: “Yeah, because they’re real characters.”
Is Baby doomed to be unhappy because of his childhood trauma?
Ansel Elgort: “I think Baby is not overly damaged. I wouldn’t think of Baby as a victim. I never thought of him as a victim. I always thought of him as okay, you have this thing but he’s good at rolling with the punches. Now his foster father, he looks after him. He likes looking after him but he definitely dreams of a better life. But he’s not depressed or anything.”
Did each of you discover some new music from working on Baby Driver?
Lily James: “Wow, loads of new music. It was really fun. I loved it. We’d be doing these epic long night shoots sat in a car together for hours on end. Ansel would play me all his new tunes and he’d be working on them and mixing them and laying down all the different, what’s it called?”
Ansel Elgort: “I was just playing my works in progress.”
Lily James: “And it was so fun. By the end I was singing the melody along with him. I loved it. I was a big fan of Ansel’s so that was a real highlight for me.”
Ansel Elgort: “The Carla Thomas track is great.”
Lily James: “But then from the movie, yeah, the Carla track is fun.”
Ansel Elgort: “I love that you’re thinking about my music over the fact that this movie is a soundtrack movie. That question leads you to think about my music, that’s lovely. I’m so touched.”
Lily James: There’s also great music in this movie, yeah.”
Eiza Gonzalez: “Oh, for sure. Edgar has such an eclectic taste on everything. He’s a human walking library of information. Really, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen Edgar be like, ‘What’s that?’ Have you? I’ve never. This is the thing. Edgar loves music. Edgar loves movies. He’s a cinephile. He is a well-read man. He’s an amazing writer. He is a very curated human being and so I guess that being around someone like that, you are definitely going to learn a lot of things. I mean, yes, we did learn a lot of music but what I will say is Edgar, no matter how you’ve worked for years, you always are in a constant learning process. We never end learning. So being around someone that is into the detail of choosing a song and writing everything around that song and timing this will be perfect, when we got the script it already had an audio pop up. The doors were already in them.
He put these little details that weren’t even in the song. I was like, ‘How is he timing this to the speed I’m reading this?’ That’s why you’re like, ‘This brain is going on a whole different level than we are, thinking in the minimal details.’ So, I think that to your answer is yeah, for sure, we learned so much music. I think it was a list of 100 movies also to watch. He gave us this amazing of his favorite 100 movies.”
Were they all crime movies?
Eiza Gonzalez: “No, all over the place but I walked out being like, ‘I’ve got to better myself as a human being. The stakes are so high. There’s people out there really making the extra work.’ I think that people like Edgar deserve to be in a great place, because man, this man works hard.”
Was the role of Baby a perfect fit for you?
Ansel Elgort: “Probably why they cast me. I don’t know. I guess I fit. I’ve done a lot of things in my life to prepare to be an actor and I didn’t know what I was preparing for, but I started in dance and I took so many singing lessons and dance lessons. I also am an athlete so I can do some of the Baby stunts. Everything came together really well. I’m so into making music. Last night I was in the studio until three A.M.”
Lily James: “He was doing that when we were filming as well.”
Ansel Elgort: “I can’t stop. I can’t stop. I would finish a day of filming and go right to the studio.”
When do you sleep?
Ansel Elgort: “Well, I sleep thinking about my music. I woke up with tunes in my head. I am as into music as Baby is and I think Edgar knew that when we first met and that gave him hope that I might be right for this character.”
Are you a good driver?
Ansel Elgort: “I am actually a good driver now because of all the stunt training in the film. Most people never have any training when they drive. So now I’m a trained stunt driver a little bit. I can do some of the stuff that Baby does in the film.”
How do you contain yourself when you drive now?
Ansel Elgort: “I don’t contain myself. I just drive. I drive like Baby as much as I can get away with. I just have to know when I think there might be a speed trap or something.”
Have you gotten any tickets?
Ansel Elgort: “I have not gotten any tickets.”
What was it like to be honored at CinemaCon?
Ansel Elgort: “Well, I owe it to this movie. I have to thank Edgar obviously, because he gave me the opportunity to do a role like this. I think it’s a little bit of a leap of faith for a director to take somebody and say, ‘Okay, now the movie’s on your shoulders.’ I haven’t done a big, big film before with a cast like Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey and all these guys who are legends and the film’s on my shoulders. The reason I bring it up is because Sony sort of has done the same thing. They’ve accepted okay, we’re going to have this young man be the face of the movie, even though he’s definitely not the biggest star in the movie. We believe in him. So the CinemaCon thing is a Sony honor also and Sony saying, ‘We like this kid. We’re saying he’s going to have a nice career,’ which is a crazy honor and so nice.”
Did you gamble in Vegas?
Ansel Elgort: “Oh yeah, I love gambling. I love playing Blackjack but not high stakes. I expect to lose everything I gamble and I always do. I have never walked out up at all.”
Did you lose?
Ansel Elgort: “Not too much money, just a little bit but it’s fun.”
Can you relate to being stuck doing a job you don’t like because you’re the best at it?
Lily James: “I’ve never been stuck doing a job I didn’t want to do with regards to acting. I worked in a pub for quite a while where I grew up in England. I was actually not very good at that though. On the cash machines back then, there was no [built in] calculator so you had to work out the change yourself which I know is not the most challenging thing but my mental arithmetic wasn’t quick enough. So, I’d panic and just give them change and just hope for the best.”
How did you get this part, Lily?
Lily James: “I auditioned for the part with Edgar, which was great. He is English, which is nice. I would actually not want him to talk to me too much because I’d pick up on his Englishisms. But Ansel really was so helpful. He’d be really very generous and supportive to keep me keyed in with him. You’d give me gentle helpful little…”
Ansel Elgort: “…All I just said was stop worrying. She never once ever sounded British and she was always like, ‘I think I sounded British in that take.’ No, you didn’t.”
Lily James: “I was so annoying.”
What was the Saturday Night Fever moment like?
Ansel Elgort: “It was amazing. I’ve always wanted to do something that I felt was iconic in terms of that shot, like people can look on YouTube. The opening walk scene in Baby Driver, and I think people will do that. That’s so cool to be a part of one of those scenes. In terms of how we did it, we rehearsed for weeks leading up to it. We rehearsed all the choreography in the whole movie leading up because once we finally started filming, we’d have no more time for rehearsal because we shot six day weeks going into late nights, long hours, sometimes 18 hours a day.”
Lily James: “Edgar doesn’t need sleep. It’s insane. Nor could Ansel. He has to work on that thing.”
Ansel Elgort: “We rehearsed that shot and we showed up. It was just one take. We did like 28 takes and that was our day one of filming. It was a great way to start to shoot and so much fun. I felt like I was back in theater again and I felt like Edgar definitely appreciated the art of what we’re doing and not just getting what he needed. You could always tell when Edgar was tickled, when he was very pleased with what was going on. It was a great way to start the film and I’ll always remember that day.”
Lily James: “And I think out of that 28 times, I don’t think you ever made a mistake that I was aware of. It was amazing in how he moved and interacted with everyone. It was so cool.”
Was this six day weeks, 18 hour days for everyone?
Jon Hamm: “When you like going to work, the days are long but they’re not hard. That was my experience on Mad Men. I was in 95% of the scenes on Mad Men. I had times where I worked 17 days in a row because I was doing reshoots on a movie or something on weekends, whatever it was. But when you like what you do, it’s an old saying, but when you like what you do, it ain’t work. It really is. It’s true. I’m the first person to say that I knew what my dad did for a living, my grandfather did for a living. I’m lucky. This is not exactly like lead mining. It’s fun. It’s challenging. It’s hard. It can be difficult emotionally. It can be difficult on your family, on your personal life. All that other stuff, yeah. But when you like what you do, when you get to do it with people that you really like and respect, there’s nothing better.”
When did you realize you had chemistry?
Ansel Elgort: “I think in rehearsal. That was the nice thing is that we showed up and I didn’t know what to expect. You never know what to expect. You’re dealing with a bunch of actors and actors can be crazy. I’m thinking, ‘Okay, I’m Ansel and I’m about to go rehearse with Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey and Jon Hamm and all these big heavyweight people. Hopefully Lily James is nice.’ You show up and everyone is so nice. Immediately Jamie is saying, ‘Come to my house and play basketball. I hear you do music. I have a studio in my house. Any time, I’ll give you the key.’ Everyone was so warm. Lily and I immediately in rehearsal, we’re doing the scenes, they feel really good right off the bat, I think, because we never did a chemistry read.”
Lily James: “No, and Jon and Eiza did. I also remember that once we’d been rehearsing for a bit, they did some camera tests in our costumes. Edgar just put on the music and we just sort of danced. However long it took.”
Ansel Elgort: “Edgar sort of said there’s no need to worry. Lily’s incredible. There’s no way anyone could not have chemistry with her. She’s probably the easiest person ever to have chemistry with because she’s just so nice and very effortless in everything. She doesn’t overthink stuff. Some people are worried about am I good, am I not? Lily just rolls with the punches and is such a breeze to work with. It made it always really pleasant. I missed it when we finally finished all the diner stuff. I didn’t get to just keep doing scenes with Lily over and over again.”
Jamie, do you always invite your costars to your house?
Jamie Foxx: “You know, Ed Sheeran slept on my couch for six weeks. When he first started, when nobody knew who he was, he came to my house. Somebody introduced me to him, he said he wants to do music, he comes to my house. I said, ‘Cool, come to my house.’ I have an open policy for artists that I feel, and I felt him. He slept on the floor. I would just feed him. He had his little tarp. One day I took him – I would do a live night in L.A. in downtown L.A. I had a live show where all the musicians who either sing backup or play the guitar for Sting and all these other people. So this particular night, I take him, it’s 800 people there and they’re all black. All black, I mean dark. Not even light skinned. The guy’s a rapper and they’re the most incredible underground rappers and women singing. The level of music knowledge is way high. So I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Ed Sheeran.’ He pops out of the curtain. He was this little furry with his ukulele. I’m sitting next to a guy named Charlie Burrell who’s an incredible guitarist. He’s like, ‘Come on, Foxxy, man. What’s this? Man, you know we like to keep the room right, man. What’s this?’ It was like a movie. I said, ‘Let’s see what the kid has.’ Within 12 minutes he had a standing ovation. The rest is history.
So, I’ve had that policy for Anthony Hamilton, Flo-Rida, Ne-Yo. Nick Cannon used to sleep on my couch when he was 12-13. It’s been this thing where I let people work. There’s a great energy to the studio that we actually have because we have ‘Slow Jams’ was done in that studio. ‘Blame it on the Alcohol,’ so we have all these people. Ansel was perfect for this role because he’s very musical. He writes his own music, he plays the piano and things like that.”
Jon Hamm: “And he can dance.”
Eiza Gonzalez: “He’s so talented.”
Jamie Foxx: “He did amazing for this film and there it is. I can’t wait to see what he does when he comes out.”
Lily, did Cinderella do a lot for you?
Lily James: “I don’t know. That’s hard to ever quantify all that stuff. The story of Cinderella and Disney, that was always going to I think be successful. It’s one of the greatest, prized fairy tales. I’m sure, you see Beauty and the Beast, all the ones that follow, they’re magical and they worked. Who knows why? Sometimes it’s a mix of all the different things and I don’t think it’s ever one person’s complete responsibility or achievement or fault or whatever.”
What about Ansel with Fault in Our Stars?
Ansel Elgort: “I was just lucky to be a part of something like that. Like Lily is saying, I walked into an amazing situation there. Movies don’t work no matter how hard you work or how good you think your performance might be, unless the movie’s great. There’s literally hundreds and hundreds of people who work on the film and everyone has to do a good job. It’s a super daunting high stress job, I’m sure, to be a director. That’s why I have to keep just thinking about how amazing Edgar is because he put this movie together so brilliantly. He’s inspired my so much. Hopefully one day I direct and do even close to the kind of job that he has done.”
Lily, what is the Joe Wright movie you did?
Lily James: “Oh, it’s called The Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman’s playing Winston Churchill. It’s about him becoming Prime Minister and that big decision he made in the first 24 hours about Dunkirk and then it’s set down in the war rooms in London. I play his secretary, private secretary/typist. She’s a real woman called Elizabeth Layton and she wrote a book about her experiences working with Churchill so closely. It’s a really amazing story, the things that those women did.”
What do you both want from your careers at this point?
Ansel Elgort: “I just want to work with Lily James again.”
Lily James: “Yeah, I just want to work with Ansel, and Edgar maybe. Baby Driver 2.”