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Interview: Edgar Wright – Baby Driver

Edgar Wright is not one to shy away from publicity duties. On the road for weeks to promote “Baby Driver”, a passion project that has been percolating in his mind for 21 years, Edgar touched down in Australia this week.

Mandy sat down with Edgar in Melbourne to talk George Miller’s useful film and medical advice, which actor already has a prequel film title worked out, the prescient advice Quentin Tarantino gave that Edgar wishes he hadn’t ignored, whether he views directing as like a vacation (spoiler: he does not), and why it’s so nice to have an original film being embraced by audiences while franchise fatigue sets in.

(l to r) Baby (ANSEL ELGORT), Bats (JAMIE FOXX), Darling (EIZA GONZALEZ) and Buddy (JON HAMM) decide on doing the heist in TriStar Pictures’ BABY DRIVER.

You’ve had a hectic publicity tour, are you 100 per cent Nespresso yet?

Edgar: I think at the point where I become 100 per cent I’ll just vanish into a cloud of steam. I do though, and this is funny, I do have tonsillitis, and it seems like I’ve had tonsillitis for like three weeks. It’s the thing with this press tour is it’s been punishing – fun, it’s been fun – but grueling. For like two weeks I’ve been going ‘I have a really sore throat’ and finally I saw a doctor in Sydney yesterday and he said ‘you have tonsillitis!’ So I’m taking antibiotics and steroids. What’s funny is I did a Q&A last night with George Miller – Dr George Miller – and he said ‘you have tonsillitis? What are your symptoms? What did the doctor say to take?’ and I was like antibiotics and steroids, and I’ve got this gargle stuff and ibuprofen. And he’s like ‘steroids? Hmmm’. And literally after the Q&A and we were saying goodbye, and it was an amazing Q&A, he is like one of my favourite directors and favourite human beings, he is a lovely lovely guy, and we talked about the film for 45 minutes, and at the end, he said, ‘I’m concerned about these steroids they’ve got you on…’. I love that I’m getting a second opinion from George Miller [laughs].

Yes I read that he kept up his medical license because you need a doctor on set when you do stunts and that meant he could do it and they wouldn’t have to hire anyone when they had a small budget.

Edgar: One of the reasons we’ve come to know each other is we share a sound mixer, Julian Slater, who worked on [Mad Max] “Fury Road” but he’s also done all my movies, so about two years ago, just before we got the green light for “Baby Driver”, we were in the process of getting actors together and Julian goes ‘hey I’m working with George Miller, he’s a fan of yours, would you like to meet him?’. I go ‘are you kidding me? Of course I’d like to meet him’. I met him, we had dinner, it was fun, he’s such a nice human being. And then I saw “Fury Road” and I was like ‘Fuck! He’s the works. Amazing. A masterpiece.’ And I did a Q&A with him in Los Angeles, so this was like going around the other way. I told him I was writing this car movie. And he was like ‘so what’s the basic idea?’, and I told him ‘it’s a car chase heist movie but the whole thing is set to music because the character is motivating himself, he’s always trying to find the perfect score for the perfect score.’ He read the script and then I got to ask advice. And his big bit of advice for me was this particular car rig arm, which is like a camera crane mounted on a small car which means you can really get in there. So I took that advice and when I finished the rough edit I sent him the movie because I thought ‘well if George Miller likes it then I’m done’ [laughs]. And he did. So it was really good.

You did all the stunts for real, is that right? No CGI?

Edgar: Yes it was very similar to “Fury Road”. There’s some digital enhancements in places but it’s 95 per cent in camera. Here’s the thing, and I was talking to George about this, even if the audience doesn’t understand visual effects, an audience can feel it. I think the audience can feel when something is real and when something isn’t even if they don’t know exactly how it’s done. And the thing is in a lot of recent action movies with car stuff quite a lot of them go the green screen route. And it’s usually just as a practicalities thing. But I think what ends up if you’re not too careful is it can feel sort of cartoonish. So with this we did everything for real and especially like the hairing around the freeway, the actors are on the freeway as well. And there’s stuff even in the first chase where they’re pulling around this corner at crazy speeds and Jon Bernthal grabs what they call the ocean handle. And I was like ‘is he grabbing that as the character or as an actor?’

He would have said it was as the character.

Edgar: He would have said it was as the character [laughs]. The thing just for verisimilitude it immediately made the shoot more complicated because of that. The thing with Ansel (Elgort) as well, even when he’s not in control of the car – in those sequences they have this thing called The Pod where the stunt driver is in a little side car or sometimes on the top – but what Ansel has to do is he has to do exactly what the car is doing at the same time to make it seem real. Because in a green screen you would be just doing whatever and they would match it later. But with the car stuff, he still has to do exactly what the driver is doing. So every single shot, Jeremy Fry, our stunt driver and co-ordinator was going ‘okay so remember it’s a big 90 turn but you don’t want to go too crazy, pretty steady, then you drop it down..’ So it’s an interesting and weird skill to have where Ansel has to mimic everything the driver is doing.  And then there are some shots where Ansel is really driving.

Well he did a great job, it was very realistic. Is it one of those things where you go ‘if I knew how hard it was going to be I wouldn’t have done it’?

Edgar: You know what, no, I knew how hard it was going to be before I went in. Because I’d done enough car scenes in previous movies – nothing as big as this – and I knew it was going to be hard. It’s not like something where the advances in technology make it any quicker. It’s always going to take minimum 90 minutes to set up any shot because it has to be safe. And so I knew going in, and I spoke to two or three people, like George Miller, Quentin Tarantino and Ron Howard, because they’d all done car sequences –

A good trio to get some advice from!

Edgar: Yes there was some hefty name dropping there [laughs]. But it was also interesting their different ways of doing things. I knew it was going to be a real ordeal, and it was, but you know, car chases are as painstaking to make as they are fun to watch.

I noticed you thanked Quentin Tarantino in the film, was he the most helpful?

Edgar: I think George Miller is thanked as well actually.

Oh yes, you’re right he is.

Edgar: He [Quentin] had a lot of advice, he was also very supportive of the movie as well. I’ll say this, without going into too much detail, but back in 2013, after “The World’s End” I told him about the idea, and he said, ‘don’t do that movie *blank blank*, do “Baby Driver” instead’. So Quentin in a way was like Nostradamus. Quentin was right. And when he saw “Baby Driver” he said ‘I told you you should have done “Baby Driver” instead!’ [laughs].

Quentin’s always right.

Edgar: He is. And the other thing that Quentin did, he was very supportive of the movie, he gave me some car advice, and a little steer on the Buddy and Darling idea. Those are two characters that feel like they could have stepped out from one of his films. And in a way that’s one of the things I liked about it was, with Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx), you’ve got people who would be leads in other movies. I’ve always thought of Jon Hamm as sort of the bad version of Jack Foley (George Clooney) from “Out of Sight”, like the nasty version of that character. What I like about it was that you’ve got all of these archetypes from other heist movies and put a twist on them, and also see the entire thing through the eyes of a young apprentice. So it would be like doing “Goodfellas” with Spider the waiter. [laughs]. At the start of the movie, even though Ansel is a badass getaway driver, he’s still like the unpaid intern. That’s the whole point of the opening credit sequence – ‘look at this driver, he’s amazing, now see him go on this coffee run’. [laughs].

Yes I loved how you did that. Being exploited by the older generation. I think everyone can relate to that [laughs].

Edgar: Absolutely! Somebody said that reading the script. ‘I loved the script,’ he said, ‘a millennial being tortured by the baby boomer generation.’ I think it’s funny because actually shooting the movie you have a young professional surrounded by old pros, both in the film and off screen. I mean that fission, even for Ansel, he would say the same thing himself, you know ‘holy shit I’m in a scene with Kevin Spacey’, is not dissimilar to the way Baby is with Doc. Because Doc is very connected, very established, and if you get on the wrong side of him, he’s not someone you want to make enemies with because he would end you. It’s sort of a brilliant thing to be able to do those ensemble scenes, some of my favourite scenes to do in the movie is when Kevin and Jon and Jamie gang up on Ansel, because you just feel for the character, this kid is completely unprepared for this onslaught.

Maybe you could do some prequels that delve into their backstory.

Edgar: Kevin has already nabbed not only a prequel for himself, but a title. He wants a prequel called “Doc’s Holiday”. [laughs].

Always one step ahead. I wanted to ask you about writing and directing. A few years ago I interviewed Hossein Amini, who as you would know did the screenplay for “Drive”, and he was in Australia promoting “The Two Faces of January” which was his first time directing as well. He had an interesting reaction to directing in that he said it was like a vacation. He found writing to be such a grind, it’s lonely and hard work, so he really enjoyed getting out and about and working with other people. Granted he didn’t do any car crashes but I was wondering what is your view on the writing versus directing process?

Edgar: I have never ever described directing as a vacation. I mean, writing is tough, but writing is a different kind of tough because writing is a solitary sort of psychological internment. People say what’s the best thing about writing, and it’s like ‘when it’s done’. Maybe where you write a scene and there’s a line or something and you think ‘okay that’s good I’m happy’. I wish I enjoyed doing it more. I love writing when it’s going well and I love writing when it’s done. With shooting, the best thing about it is being with the crew and the cast, but anybody who’s worked with me will attest, every single film is really ambitious. So even when it’s fun it’s just an absolute marathon of exertion, mental and physical exertion. So there’s every point on every film, sort of about two thirds of the way through, where I’ve just run aground and getting four hours sleep and getting tetchy and paranoid, and getting insomnia, drinking too much coffee. My producing partner always reminds me that every movie I’ve done she’s got a ‘talking Edgar off the ledge’ email where I’m like ‘it feels so shit, I can’t do it anymore…’ She says I do it every shoot, so I don’t entirely agree with Hossein [laughs]. I’ve never thought of directing as a lark, it’s always tough.

Here’s what I’ll say about directing, and I don’t mean to sound cocky, but I would say to make something feel effortless takes an incredible amount of effort. I think that’s something with the movies is that if they feel effortless that in itself is an incredibly hard amount of work.

And getting the tone right.

Edgar: Somebody said something to me that inadvertently described exactly what a director does. A producer saw the film and they said something that really stuck with me. They said they really liked the film, and ‘everybody is in the same movie’, and I thought that’s a good way of putting it, because that’s essentially what the director is doing, putting everyone in the same movie. And that’s a tonal control thing.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how the U.S. Box Office is down, there’s franchise fatigue, so many movies are underperforming, but every single article has name checked “Baby Driver” – but here’s this original film from Sony, it’s great and it’s doing so well…

Edgar: Come on guys, listen Australia, it’s up to you to change the face of film history. Original movies are back, I’m counting on the nation of Australia to prove Hollywood wrong, and if you want to see more original movies then very specifically you have to go see “Baby Driver” [laughs]. I mean, I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled. Here’s the thing, before it was coming out I was extremely anxious in the lead up to it coming out, and I couldn’t be happier, even if I wasn’t involved in the movie, if I had nothing to do with “Baby Driver”, I would be thrilled that an original movie is doing well. In summer. Against all these part fives and reboots. And not because those films are worthless, some of the franchise movies are great, but even so an original movie doing well is just good for the business. What’s funny is that three of the original movies that have done well this year – “The Big Sick”, “Baby Driver”, and “Get Out”, I’m friends with Jordan (Peele) and Kumail (Nanjiani) and Emily (V. Gordon) and we all go to the same brunch spot together, and I’m thinking…maybe there’s something in those waffles [laughs]. So I want to give a shout out to Mess Hall in Los Feliz, maybe there’s some sort of special ingredient that’s given us luck this year.

But now you’re not going to get a table now because all the filmmakers will go there! Thanks Edgar, I loved the film and I’m sure it will be a huge success here too.

Edgar: Thank you! Appreciate it.

“Baby Driver” is now in cinemas.

 

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