Baby Driver is a heavily anticipated adrenaline- and caffeine-fueled heist movie starring Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx that everyone will be talking about in a week. It's a charismatic, hyper-fast action film, featuring almost ballet-like driving scenes choreographed to the world's best soundtrack. Yes, I really liked it.
A perfect blend of rock 'n' roll, road burn, and romance from the mind of English director Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim), it's a film where even Ansel Elgort manages to surprise and compel, as the mysterious and eminently likable Baby (the titular driver).
I met up with Wright at a Toronto diner to talk about the musical influences behind the movie and the dangers of hanging with the ATL Twins.
VICE: So the beginnings of this movie were born in your music video with Mint Royale, right?
Edgar Wright: I actually had the idea when I was 21, and I was listening to the opening track that's in the movie, "Bellbottoms" by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and back then—I wouldn't have called myself a film director. I mean, it's just like having ideas, and I sort of visualized these car chases, and then that turned into like an idea about a young getaway driver who can't operate unless he has the right music playing. Then the Mint Royale video came seven years after that, and that was sort of born out of not having another idea for the Mint Royale video.
I felt like I had squandered the idea for this movie with the video for Mint Royale. Over the years, it was actually kind of helpful because that video kept sticking around. So it ended up being helpful to me because when I was trying to get Baby Driver off the ground, and people were trying to get their heads around it. It was like, "Oh, sort of like this video back then."
You did a lot of prep for this, including talking with ex-cons and bank robbers. What was your most memorable experience during that research?
It was an important thing for me as an English middle-class kid, trying to make an American crime film to meet some people from that profession, or who used to be in that profession. It's a way of authenticating the ideas I had in my head. It was an amazing resource and experience because something that I'd written—I dreamed up—would then spark them off on a real story of something that happened. So there are lots of things in the dialogue of the movie that are inspired by real anecdotes of ex-cons. Like the thing Jamie Foxx says about hex songs—the whole sort of dialogue about the idea of there being bad luck songs. That came from talking to a guy in Boston who had been about to pull off a job and Guns 'N' Roses' cover of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" was on the radio. One of the members of his gang said, "This is a bad omen. We shouldn't go in there," and they called off the job, which I thought, Well, that's amazing. So that went straight in the movie.
Do you have any of those superstitions or habits that you stick to every time you start a movie?
I feel like I am slightly superstitious about some things. I think it's just like—I never want to make any sort of projections about anything. I think I've been around the block enough—just kind of let things happen and be pleasantly surprised. I'm not somebody who likes talking about like the business side of it, but in terms of actually like habits, like superstitious habits, I don't know. That's a good question.
There's no equivalent to a playoff beard or...
I think it's always bad if you kill a gypsy before you start shooting, you know what I mean?
Yes, that's true. I think in general you should not.
Stephen King has taught us this: Never run over a gypsy. That's my motto.
Yeah, that's a good motto, playing it safe. Did you always have Ansel [Elgort] in mind when you started casting? Because he's so surprisingly charming.
No. I've been thinking about this movie for such a long time as you can imagine, every 18 months, we're going to have to change. So it was around 2014 when I decided that Baby Driver was going to be the next movie [I make], and he was one of the first names that came up. So I met him and auditioned him and was really taken with him. But I didn't envision the character as being that tall. But I can't really imagine anybody else doing it, and especially once we added extra things to it like what he's wearing, his haircut, his scarves, having the Georgia accent. It really started to kind of like come together. This is the guy.
He is so effortless in the choreography of the driving, too. The way it's all timed is so beautiful, and it's almost like ballet with the way the scenes work. None of that was done in editing, right?
No, it was all done on set. It was incredibly precise because you would have to work with the actors and the stunt man. Then the stunt man and the camera men in terms of what they need to know and where they need to be in the song. So many pieces of the movie are set to different parts of songs, which made it complicated in some ways, but it meant that you were all moving to the same direction. So it wasn't a film where you would say—you wouldn't be saying on set, "So, OK guys, what we're going to do is we're going to do this gun fight to the drum solo from 'Tequila.'" It was like we've rehearsed everything, it was in the script, everybody has the playlist so everyone has an idea of what we're doing even before we start rehearsing.
It's set in Atlanta, and you get some of those nods to the city, like the ATL Twins and Killer Mike. How did you balance setting it in Atlanta without just making the city a generic backdrop for car chases?
Once I knew we were going to be in Atlanta, I rewrote the script to be Atlanta instead of Los Angeles. I wanted to use all the parts of Atlanta because usually Atlanta on the screen is appearing as other cities. Most films are using it as New York or LA or San Francisco or South Africa. So actually using Atlanta for Atlanta was great, and we wanted to make use of the downtown Atlanta section with the oldest buildings and the ramps to the freeway. You don't really see the typical leafy Georgia until the end of the movie. A lot of the things that are in the movie are like sort of Atlanta-specific like Octane Coffee, Criminal Records—a famous record store there—also like obviously the ATL Twins are in there, but we have the local Atlanta FOX 5 in there, and then lots of Atlanta radio stations are heard. So when you hear radio voices in the movie, they're all Atlanta local DJs. Even the names of the restaurants, like Bacchanalia, is a real Atlanta restaurant, and the pizza place that he works at called GoodFella's Pizza and Wings is a real Atlanta place. So it's not that we art directed that, that's actually what it looks like. So in a quite a lot of the places, it was a very freeing thing; it's like we're just going to use this exactly as it is.
Did you get a tour from Big Boy, Killer Mike, or the ATL Twins? Discover any gems?
I was scared to take a tour with the ATL Twins. I feel like they always wanted to take me on some dark odyssey late at night at various strip clubs, and I was always too busy and too tired to do it. I had dinner with T-Pain, though; that felt like a very Atlanta thing to do.
Baby Driver opens on June 28.
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