Director Edgar Wright turned the film industry on its head recently with the release of Baby Driver. Amid an abundance of superhero and franchise movies, Wright captured the attention of audiences with his original film about a getaway driver who scores all of his thrilling car chase getaways to pop music.
Recently he was in the country to promote his film. SBS's Nick Bhasin sat down with the director, previously known for cult favourites Shaun of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, to discuss his new film.
SBS: How has your day been going?
Edgar: It’s good. I think I have tonsillitis. I have been feeling sick for weeks, so I finally saw a doctor. He said ‘Yeah, tonsillitis - you get really run down’. I said ‘Yeah, I think maybe I’ve had it for weeks’. So, I’m slightly fever-ish, but nothing is going to stop me promoting this movie.
It seemed like there was the danger of the film being a long headache - I totally followed it. I didn’t feel queasy at any time. It seemed very technically sound. Was it hard?
It was hard in terms of it being a complicated shoot and a movie with lots of moving parts and things happening at the same time. It wasn’t just the action. My cinematographer Bill Pope said at one point ‘there’s no easy scene to shoot in Baby Driver, because if it’s not an action scene, it’s a music scene’. Any of the scenes in the movie have music-centric elements. So, it was definitely the kind of movie where it is exactly what I set out to do. And with something like that, you have to just be bold and go for it. You couldn’t half-arse it. It wasn’t easy making it, but I’m thrilled with the results. Jamie Foxx was on a chat show where they said ‘we love the movie. Fantastic stuff’. Jamie Foxx said ‘Do you know how great it is to promote a movie you actually like and think is good’. [Laughs].
What movie do you think he’s thinking of?
At the BET Awards he specifically mentioned the last one he’s in. I won’t say it by name because it’s unfair to them. But he was quite specific about it.
So, why did you give Baby a backstory?
With this film, because you’ve seen other films in this genre, it wasn’t enough to make… originally, to be honest, in my first draft Baby was more of an enigma. The studio, who wanted to make the movie, quite rightly said ‘you need to give us a little more information to get us invested in him’. It was funny - it was ideas for a backstory that I had which were unspoken, but I thought it was interesting to detail them. In doing that, the character tied together in a way that wasn’t necessarily on the page straight away. The tinnitus thing was a thought I had, but in later drafts it became more of a focus because I had that when I was younger - I’d had some ear problems when I was younger. It had been very painful. It was something that I remembered.
When I was writing the script, I had read that Oliver Sacks book Musicophilia and there were elements of that which made me think this is exactly who this character is. Music is something that’s a pleasure for so many people in the world and I think it was that interesting thing of taking this thing that is solace for Baby and making it a necessity. He needs this music for his engine to run. His own internal engine. I thought it was interesting to do an action heist car movie, but at its heart it’s also about our relationship to sound and music.
One of the influences appears to be The Driver, the Walter Hill movie. That guy doesn’t have a backstory. I thought I could see it working either way.
The thing is - that movie already exists. So does Drive. And The Samurai. So does This Gun For Hire. So does Leon. That was the thing: I had no qualms about fleshing out his backstory because, in a way, it was an interesting thing to do as an exercise. All these movies have the strong silent type. To be honest, watching The Driver, you see Ryan O’Neil’s character and think ‘how did that guy get to here’. In a way Baby Driver is an answer to that question. Obviously there are plenty of movies that exist brilliantly, like the Dollars trilogy like Fistful of Dollars, where you don’t know anything about The Man With No Name. You know little pieces of information.
With Baby, there’s things where you get some bits of concrete information, but other things about it feel that they’ve already become mythologised. When Kevin Spacey is explaining Baby’s backstory to Jamie Foxx, it seems like most of it is true, but some of the details have already become mythologised. Then the other characters, some of the stories about them, like a lot of people who are criminals, are creating some kind of front or persona to compartmentalise what they are doing. Sometimes you meet those people and what they are saying is completely fictitious. Even within the movie, Jamie Foxx’s character tries to maintain that Bats is his real name until someone else says his real name out loud. So, I like this idea that within the movie there are myths and there are facts. With Baby you get a bit of both.
How did you decide to go with Ansel?
Three years ago when I said Baby Driver was my next movie without knowing whether it was going to happen or not, the first question we would get asked, this was before we were even with a studio, “Who do you get to play this lead character”. Literally the first question because they could see this movie stands and falls on somebody who can play that lead. I started meeting all of the young actors who were out there at that time and Ansel was one of the first people that came up.
The first meeting that we had, we talked just about music solidly for an hour. At the end of it I said “I have the script and I think you’ll like it. Let me know what you think”. He read the script and was like “I have to play this part”. I auditioned him a couple of times and, I think the fact he is a music fan and plays music and instruments really factored into the role in a great way.
Have you seen The Fault in our Stars?
I saw that when it came out three years ago.
Did you cry?
I did not. But I’m tough like that. I tend to cry in the weirder movies.
This is an original script and it’s a kind of rarity. I was wondering if you feel extra pressure having an original property out there up against sequels, franchises, all of that big stuff?
You do, but I think it’s an unfair pressure because what tends to happen is that original movies are so few and far between that in the lead-up to the box office, you suddenly feel like you’re carrying the future of all original films on your shoulders. I’m happy to report that we held our own at the US box office. Here’s the thing: Even if I wasn’t involved in Baby Driver, I would be thrilled that an original movie has been successful at the box office in the current climate.
You hope that the lesson is that there should be more original movies.
It’s obviously a creative gamble, but what kind of annoys me and I find bemusing is that in the studio, people start to draw a subconscious line in the sand where it’s like: We have our franchise movies and anything else that is original is niche or avant garde. Or an awards movie. The thing is, you can have commercial movies that are original. Star Wars was an original script. Alien was an original script. The Terminator was an original script. Back To the Future was an original script. At some point, you would thing studios start to have to put chips down on original movies.
I have some rapid-fire questions for you. Best Aussie comedy movie?
Best Aussie horror movie?
The Long Weekend.
Best Aussie actor/actress?
That’s a tough one. John Jarratt.
Best Aussie punk band?
Best Tarantino movie?
I like them all, but Reservoir Dogs.
Favourite Mad Men episode?
What’s the one… The Suitcase.
Favourite Kevin Spacey movie?
The Usual Suspects.
Would you rather be remembered as Fast or Furious?
Favourite Downton Abbey character?
I’ve never seen Downton Abbey. Just say Lily James’ character.
Baby Driver is in cinemas now.
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