Best known for his tongue-in-cheek movies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, British director Edgar Wright has long cherished a dream of making a bank heist action movie – but with really cool music and huge movie stars.
“I suppose that would be any young director’s dream,” smiles Wright, 43, when STACK meets with him on the Atlanta set of Baby Driver, where he’s now surrounded by his ultimate dream cast – Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Ansel Elgort and Lily James.
The fantasy begun when he was 21 years old. “I heard Bell Bottoms by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, which is now actually the first track in the film. I listened to it so many times, always thinking how it would be such a great car chase song,” recalls Wright, who also directed cult garage band fantasy Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and sci-fi comedy The World’s End.
“From there I developed this idea of a getaway driver who has to listen to music all the time, which then grew into the idea that he is basically soundtracking the movie himself. He has tinnitus from a car accident when he was younger and he drowns out the whine in his ears by playing music, now turned from a salve into an obsession.”
After auditioning scores of young actors to play the eponymous Baby Driver, Wright cast Ansel Elgort, whose music and dance skills perfectly gelled with his vision, and packed him off to stunt-driving school where he fashioned himself into the ultimate getaway driver.
“It’s an extension of things I’ve done in my previous movies with action sequences done to music, but I always dreamed of finding a way to do that for an entire movie. A lot of my favourite directors like Scorsese and Tarantino use soundtracks really well, and I liked the idea of taking that to an even more heightened direction where the lead character is actually playing those tracks himself so that the songs exist in the film, they’re not score. They’re either on his iPod or on the radio or stereo, or they’re playing in the mall or on TV,” says Wright, whose collaboration with Tarantino ten years ago – directing a faux trailer (Don’t!) within cult horror thriller Grindhouse – inspired him to work in earnest on his script.
Although Baby Driver’s cast aren’t necessarily known for their musical skills – with the exception of Foxx and Elgort – the director reveals that all his actors actually came to the set with some kind of musical prowess. “You’d be surprised by Kevin and Jon Bernthal,” says Wright, who also features musicians Flea, Sky Ferreira and Paul Williams.
For Jon Hamm, Baby Driver was the perfect antidote to Mad Men’s Don Draper, not to mention an opportunity to sport a radical new haircut and cool duds. “Not only do I get to work with this fantastic cast but also it’s fun to be the bad guy. Don Draper was a conflicted individual but, for better or for worse, he was the hero of that story. But he’s nobody’s hero in this,” says Hamm.
Scoring a rare 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating, Baby Driver is already being hailed as a Bonnie and Clyde for today’s generation.
“Ansel’s Baby and Lily’s Deborah is our version of it,” says Hamm.
“I’ve known Edgar’s work since I stumbled into a theatre to see Shaun of the Dead, and was quite literally blown away,” he continues. “It stuck with me forever, so when I got to know him socially, and he asked me to read a version of this script seven years ago, I said yes immediately.”
With his dream cast on board, Wright compiled movie lists to get his actors into Baby Driver’s vibe. “It was such a cool list,” says Lily James, who did her homework by watching Sugarland Express, Point Break, Bonnie and Clyde, True Romance, Wild at Heart, Badlands . . .
“Not necessarily car chase movies, but more he wanted me to see films where these kindred spirits meet, becoming a catalyst to be more open and excited by life,” says the actress best known for her roles in Downton Abbey and Cinderella.
“Edgar isn’t a movie snob, he just loves movies,” says Elgort of Wright’s music-fuelled saga about a getaway driver whose romantic dreams of escape take a detour when a final heist goes sideways.
“Baby Driver is one of the most commercial movies I’ve seen in a long time, but in the most exciting, fun way,” adds Elgort. “I’m not just saying this because I’m in it – but it’s something I will watch over and over again. It’s like a classic Hollywood movie.”
Baby Driver is in cinemas on July 13.