Throughout the mid- and late-1990s, writer-director Edgar Wright was one of the darlings of the hip British TV scene, but really made his mark when he directed two seasons of the action-comedy series “Spaced.” International art house audiences championed his wonderfully odd and satirical feature films “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” left him with his first flop when he got a little too ambitious on “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” then put him back in favor with his comedy-horror-buddy film “The World’s End.” With his new action-packed, music-filled, romantic and funny car chase movie “Baby Driver,” Wright will be taking a couple of steps up the popularity ladder, as it should be enjoyed as much by mainstream audiences as by his avid longtime followers. Wright, 43, spoke about the film while being driven through the streets of Paris on his way to catch a train.
Q: The opening scene of the film has Ansel Elgort practically dancing to the music on his iPod while seated at the wheel of a getaway car, waiting for his partners to rob a bank. It’s an update, a remake actually, of the music video you directed for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song” in 2002. Was that always going to be the opening of “Baby Driver?”
A: I had the idea for “Baby Driver” before I made the Mint Royale video. And in fact, when I did that video I was a bit mad at myself because I felt like I’d potentially squandered the idea for a good movie on this low budget dance video. But that ended up not being the case because maybe three years ago, when I finally started trying to bring “Baby Driver” to the screen, it was actually something that was a help. It was a proven concept thing that I had directed.
Q: This is a real hybrid of genres. Do you feel that mixing together all of the music and action and comedy of “Scott Pilgrim” made doing this film any easier for you?
A: Yeah. But I think in all of my movies up to this one there are elements that have been building toward it. You can trace it from the Queen scene in “Shaun of the Dead” when “Don’t Stop Me Now” was playing during the bar fight. There were certainly some scenes in “Scott Pilgrim” where there was lots of music and action together. And in “The World’s End” some of the fight scenes were choreographed to music. So it’s like the idea of building up to something like this where I really wanted to make a movie where music motivated the whole movie.
Q: It’s very cool that so many of the physical moves made by the characters are synced right to the music. Was the film being choreographed as it was being storyboarded?
A: It’s sort of a combination of things, really. Stage one was writing it and plotting out, on the page, where different things would land during the songs. Then you draw the storyboards and cut them to the songs and see if the timing is all working. Our dance choreographer came in while we were shooting in Atlanta. It was all storyboarded at that point, so then it was a collaboration between the stunt coordinator and the choreographer. I would give them specifics of beats, saying this is happening here, and this is happening there. But then those guys sort of join it all up and give you something that’s fluid, that hits all the beats, and is exciting to watch.
Q: My favorite line in the film is when Ansel’s character Baby, who is a total music nut, mispronounces the name of a band, calling T. Rex “Trex.”
A: Yeah, that’s such a sweet moment because every man or woman in the audience has done something dumb like that on a date where you’ve said something wrong, and then feel embarrassed and think, “Oh, she knows I’m an idiot!” One person in the studio asked me to cut the line out. I said why, and he said, “Because it makes him look like a dummy.” And I said, “No, it makes him hugely sympathetic. You really feel for him.”
Q: Aside from the amazing ensemble cast of Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Lily James, you also have some interesting cameos in the film. How did you happen to cast Paul Williams as The Butcher?
A: Well, think about it. It’s set in Atlanta and it features cars. There’s one other movie that’s set in Atlanta and features cars and also features Paul Williams: “Smokey and the Bandit.” He played Little Enos in all three of those movies, and we thought we’d have a little bit of a return to Little Enos.
Q: So, what are you driving these days?
A: I haven’t owned a car since I was 17. I’ve lived in London on and off for more than 20 years, and in London, you just don’t need a car. But I do love driving. When I’m the States I tend to rent cars. I usually rent a Prius, but at the moment I’m driving a Mercedes.
“Baby Driver” opens on June 28.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.