Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) had a celebrity guest for the press screening of Baby Driver. Joel Coen was spotted in the theater the night before roundtable interviews with Wright and the Baby Driver cast. Wright would explain Coen’s presence as well as the ins and outs of making a musical car chase film during our interview.
Ansel Elgort plays Baby, a getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby coordinates his driving to songs he plays on his iPod. Baby would like to get out and have a normal life with Debora (Lily James), the waitress he meets at a diner. Doc has other plans for him, and a job with Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) goes south for Baby and everyone involved. Baby Driver opens Wednesday, June 28, 2017.
Did you know Joel Coen was at the screening? Did you invite him?
Edgar Wright: “I did because he e-mailed me and said, ‘I’m in L.A. What are you doing later? Do you want to get dinner?’ I said, ‘Well, do you want to see my movie and then we get dinner afterwards?’ And he said yes.”
Was he a fan?
Edgar Wright: “I mean, he really loved the movie so that was amazing.”
The sound design is so sophisticated. How did you coordinate when sounds would go up or only be in the rear, to simulate what Baby is hearing?
Edgar Wright: “I’ve worked with the same sound team on all of my movies since Shaun of the Dead. An amazing sound designer Julian Slater, but also in collaboration with my editors as well. One of the crazy things with this, and some of the actors could tell you the same thing, is that when I first put all the songs together and presented it to the studio and to the actors, I did these mixes of the songs where we put all the sound effects in. I was with this guy, this British DJ called Osymyso, a palindrome. Together, we did these mixes of songs for the big set pieces where I had all the sound effects in there. So as you were listening to it, you could really get a sense of what the movie would be like. So, there’s things like the gunfights in time with the music, like the ‘Tequila’ scene and the scene with ‘Hocus Pocus,’ I have a mix of that song with those gun fights edited in dated back to 2008. I’ve been thinking about it for that long, basically. When I first started writing it 10 years ago, that was literally the first thing I did. Before I’d written a single word, I put together those songs as like I know what’s going to happen here. People would listen to it and say, ‘I get the idea. It’s police sirens in time with the music and the gun fights are in time with the music.’ It’s all planned from a long way back.”
Is it like doing an opera with a prerecorded soundtrack?
Edgar Wright: “That’s exactly what the great director Joel Coen said last night. He said it’s like an opera.”
Ansel is so perfect for this. Was it written with him in mind?
Edgar Wright: “No, because when I started writing 10 years ago, he was 13. No, it wasn’t written with him in mind but it is that thing. I can’t imagine anybody else doing it.”
How did you decide on this cast?
Edgar Wright: “I started here. It was three years ago when I was doing a new draft and we were going to present it to the studio. We knew the first question was going to be: who the hell is going to play this lead part? There’s not that many young name actors out there so I sort of met everybody that was out there. Ansel was somebody that very quickly became the favorite, just because he’s very charismatic. He really knows how to hold the screen and also he had a musical background as well. He really connected to the script in a way that was interesting and surprising to me. That was it, really.
Lily, I’d never met her before. I auditioned her and I was really charmed by her and I thought it would be an interesting thing, especially as her first U.S. role. I think she’s quite sort of a chameleon. She’s been in obviously some big things, like Downton Abbey and also Cinderella was a massive hit but she doesn’t always get recognized on the street because she looks different from role to role. I showed this to somebody and they said, ‘Who’s that actress? Where have I seen her before?’ I said, ‘Did you see Cinderella? He goes, ‘Yeah, who did she play?’ I said, ‘She played Cinderella. I think that’s a positive thing for her that she looks different in every part.”
How has the story changed in the 10 years you were developing it?
Edgar Wright: “I had the basic premise of it for years and years. One of the earliest things I knew I wanted was this escalation of heists. You see three heists and each one gets stickier and more complicated. The structure of the movie started with the dream chase. For any boy racer, here’s your fantasy of being a getaway driver, like been playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto. Oh boy, you could really do it and not a scratch on the car, nothing goes wrong, nobody gets hurt. Second heist, immediately things start to go wrong. Unlike the games and unlike the more fanciful movies out there, you’re presented with tough, morally complex situations where members of the public are now involved. People are getting hurt. Members of your gang are being killed. You carjack a car so there’s a baby in the back. I tried to make each situation as sticky as real life is.
By the time you get to the third heist, then Baby should make life or death decisions himself. It was really just that thing of amping up the stakes and showing the moral consequences and showing the human collateral of it. Also the idea that even if you did the right things at the right times, as a getaway driver you are completely complicit in the crime and you will also be treated as a public enemy like the rest of them.”
How did the songs change over the years you were writing this?
Edgar Wright: “I picked all the songs. They were all written into the scripts. Only about five or six things changed. I think the ‘Easy’ by the Commodores wasn’t in the original draft. I put that in later because it was Ansel’s favorite song. I thought that was an interesting thing to bring into it. And then some dance tracks dropped out because they were just basically unclearable. Sometimes you get into things where some labels are saying you cannot use this song because the samples are not cleared.”
Was “Smooth Criminal” off limits because of money?
Edgar Wright: “I never tried to clear it. That was just the story that this guy had. I’m not sure I would’ve put ‘Smooth Criminal’ in the movie.”