Ansel Elgort, star of Edgar Wright’s music-driven (see what we did there?) action-thriller Baby Driver, tells STACK’s Alesha Kolbe how he learned sign language for the film, and about the challenge of acting to music.
Ansel Elgort is Baby, a kid that got into a bit of trouble when he was younger and has since spent his life paying off a debt to crime boss Doc. He’s a driver, but he’s not just a simple courier. Baby is a getaway driver for coordinated heists, and every move he makes is synchronised to music. Baby was in a car accident as a child, and as a result suffers from tinnitus. He uses the music to drown it out, and sometimes even mixes recordings of his own.
Baby Driver has long been in development for British filmmaker Edgar Wright, and Elgort admits it was a dream come true to be able to work alongside the director of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
“I’m a big fan of Edgar’s and I knew that whatever he did next was going to be pretty special”
“I met with Edgar a while back,” muses the actor. “We talked mostly about music, actually. We really hit it off. He said ‘well hey, I have a script that you might like,’ and didn’t really tell me anything about it at first. I read the script and I just thought it was incredible; I had to try and get the role. I’m a big fan of Edgar’s and I knew that whatever he did next was going to be pretty special.”
If you’ve seen the film, you’ll notice that all the scenes are choreographed to music. No, the cast do not spontaneously break out into song and dance, but the actors will do little things like tap their fingers or nod their heads in time to the tune. Elgort reveals the cast would listen to the music on the set, and also credits the film’s resident choreographer, Ryan Heffington.
“He’s the choreographer of Sia’s stuff. The reason for having him on the set was that we wanted the choreography to feel effortless.”
Elgort says that the coffee scene at the start of the movie took 28 takes to master – the 21st take was the one they used. “Every step in that scene was choreographed, even the little movements. Everything was in time with the music; where I’m walking and when I’m interacting with my surroundings, it was all to the music. When we showed up to the set it was all rehearsed and we could just do it.
“Even for smaller scenes, where I’m just sitting at a table swaying my head or moving my hands, Ryan was there for that too. He wanted everything to feel natural and subtle – we didn’t want people to be like ‘oh, I’m watching a movie where people dance.’”
Baby’s foster father in the film – played by CJ Jones – is deaf, and before production began, Elgort didn’t know any sign language. So Jones helped him learn it for their scenes together.
“It was pretty cool because it was the first time I’d done any scenes in a film in a different language – which is really what American sign language is, it’s a different language. Unlike most other languages, you don’t use sound; you use the emotion in your face and the signs on your hands. It’s pretty cool.”
The actor initially learned the language and choreography before being coached. “But, like any good dance, it’s about the emotion behind the actual choreography,” he notes.
Elgort also recognised how lucky he was to get to work with an actor who had spent their whole life using this language. “Working with CJ, we were really able to make the scenes legit. If he had any problems with the way the scene was written or the signs I was doing, we would change it and make it seem as real as possible.”
As complete as Baby Driver feels, the story could indeed continue, so we asked Elgort if there were any plans for a sequel.
“The nice thing about this story is that it sort of does naturally call for a sequel. It definitely stands on its own, it doesn’t need one, but a sequel could make sense. I also think the really nice thing is that you’re by no means in a rush to do one. People get into trouble when they make a sequel and it’s about money or it’s about timing. Who knows when we’ll do one or if we’ll do one, but if we did, I would be very happy because I love the story and I loved working with Edgar.”
The Simon & Garfunkel Cinematic Universe
- Edgar Wright has joked that Baby Driver is the second film in the ‘Simon and Garfunkel cinematic universe’ – being, of course, films named after Simon and Garfunkel songs. The other being The Only Living Boy In New York, also released this year. But, what about Mrs. Robinson – a murder mystery involving a missing person’s case, featuring Joe DiMaggio? Or Bridge Over Troubled Water, involving a long distance relationship; boy travels to meet girl, only to discover she is terminally ill…
Did you know?
- Ansel Elgort has a musical background himself – for a while he operated under the DJ name Ansolo, but now he releases music under his own name.
- Elgort kept one of the six red Subaru WRX STIs from the set as a birthday present, and he now drives it.
- The film’s soundtrack peaked at #5 on the ARIA charts.