We Talked With BABY DRIVER Director Edgar Wright and Star Kevin Spacey
Heist movies abound, but only Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright could craft something so completely unique and exhilarating as the action-musical mash up car movie Baby Driver. Told through the eyes – and ears – of Baby, a young getaway driver who helps criminals hold up banks, this story is just as touching as it is exciting. Constantly plugged into his headphones and timing every step of his ill deeds out to the beat of whatever’s currently playing on his iPod, Baby knows he’s got to get out of the world of crime before it’s too late, but he doesn’t truly feel motivated to make his escape until he meets Debora, the love of his life. Now, with an angry mob boss hot on his tail and his whole future ahead of him, Baby will stop at nothing to grab his girl, hit the gas, and drift as far away from this life as he can – but his old boss Doc isn’t too keen on letting his favorite driver speed out of his sights just yet.
Birth.Movies.Death. was lucky enough to sit in on the Q&A for the Blu-ray release of Baby Driver, which featured Edgar Wright, along with a surprise appearance by Kevin Spacey. The interview was moderated by Mark Olsen of the LA Times.
Now, take us back, all the way back, some twenty-odd years ago, you’re in your apartment in North London, you’ve got a cassette, you’re listening to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, what is it about the song Bellbottoms that you think brought this whole image, and in some ways this whole movie, got started?
Edgar Wright: It was a cheap cassette as well, so my apologies to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. I hope now I’ve made it up to them. I like music in action movies and when people do those great needle drop in movies, and as I was listening to that song, it was something almost like a vision in that I would hear that song and I would think about a car chase. So it was really a marriage of the visuals to go with the song, and there’s nothing in the song, in the lyrics, to say that it’s a car chase song, it’s about bellbottoms, but I’m just imagining that car chase, and then that turned very quickly into an idea -- what if the guy driving the car is listening to the song, what if he is controlling it? I think in a way, all of my other films have sequences where there’s an action scene or a tension scene, or even a love scene that’s set to a particular song and choreographed to a song, and I was always in the back of my mind building up to this idea of doing a film where every scene is like that. Sometimes when I did the elevator pitch trying to explain Baby Driver to people who didn’t really understand what it was, I said, “Well you know like the Queen scene in Shaun of the Dead where they’re fighting the zombies to Queen? My whole movie will be like that”. My whole way of explaining it is it’s not something where you shoot a movie and then in the edit try a bunch of different oldies, it was like, these things are written into the script, and then we cleared them all before we started shooting.
In sort of a broader sense, do you have some idea of what it is about music and movies, like they do kind of just go together in this unbelievable way, and why is that? Why is like a good song used well in a movie just kind of like nothing else?
Edgar Wright: I think it has to come from a point of view. I think there’s a big difference between a director really being in charge of the music, and just a music supervisor adding some cool tracks in there. I mean sometimes you can see in movies where they’ve obviously shot to something else, and then later they’ve put something more contemporary on, and it always bugs the shit out of me. But if I’m talking about key movies like, where I saw them as a kid that really knocked my socks off through the use of music, probably the first one that ever did that in terms of when I saw it was American Werewolf in London. The use of pop music in that movie was just extraordinary and it’s also a very clear vision in terms of like, John Landis clearly picked those tracks. The other key ones were probably American Graffiti, but I can’t really think of any other movies that were entirely diegetic, like Baby Driver, in terms of every song is happening within the scene. American Graffiti is like that, every single song is happening on a radio, in a diner, at the prom, it’s always being played as existing within the scene, so that was a big interest to me, that movie.
Edgar Wright: Something about that extra where Jamie Foxx is talking about Barbara Streisand there, Jamie Foxx has a line in the movie where he says, “Do I look like I know a fucking thing about Barbara fucking Streisand?” and the irony there is that Jamie Foxx is friends with Barbara Streisand. He’s done a duet with her, in fact. I never really asked him about that until we were shooting that scene and I said to Jamie, “Jamie what do you think Barbara will make of this scene?” and Jamie said, “Do you know Barbara?” and I said, “No”, and he goes, “Barbara’s gangster” – and that was the end of that discussion.
Where does the process of making this movie start, because you had to do so much work, you know you hired a sound editor practically before you had a movie to be working on, what were kind of the first steps that you had to take in creating this once you had the idea?
Edgar Wright: I don’t know if you’ve heard of that thing where you put your iTunes in duration order, but sometimes I would just do that. I’d be like, this is a two-and-a-half-minute scene, okay, let’s go look then. You wind up on some things like, “Oh, this Beach Boys track is exactly the right length and it’s like the perfect mood, let’s try it with this” and then I’d just write the scene on a loop until I had something. The only time that failed was, and my cinematographer Bill Pope was the first person to point it out, there’s a song by The Damned that plays in the Mike Myers heist, and that song is like, just over two minutes long, maybe two and a half minutes, and he’d seen my cut together with the storyboards and Bill Pope said, “This scene is too long for the song”. I was like, “Oh, why do you say that?” and he goes, “What you’ve drawn is fine, but the stunts will take longer than that to resolve, and the stunts are going to look good, and you’re going to want to hold on them longer, so you’re going to run out of song” and I was like, “Well, let’s see”. Of course he was absolutely right, so then I was in this situation where we’d shot most of the scene and I was like, “He’s right, the song runs out, it’s way over before it’s finished”. I thought about it for the whole shoot, what was I gonna do? Was I gonna put another song on? Was I gonna have it in silence for the rest of the scene? That doesn’t really make sense for the character because he’s only motivated by music. Then, on the last day of the shoot, I shot this new shot of Ansel rewinding the song, so he gets into a new car, where they have to hijack the next car, gets in, plus his iPod in, rewinds the song to the last verse and chorus and then starts it again. That made perfect sense, because the character has been derailed, he had a plan, and it was ruined, so his choreography to the song has gone all out of whack. So, when he gets into the next car, he winds it back to the point that he was at and starts again. So it’s things like that where you can plan the shit out of something, and then something can throw you for a loop, but then the solution to it just crystalizes the character.
How do you feel about the way you guys had to sort of choreograph what you were doing to the music, I mean was that different from anything else that you’ve ever done?
Kevin Spacey: Yeah because they put an ear rig in your ear and Edgar says, “All right so what I want is when you’re counting the money, I want you to do it on the beat of the music”. So, they’re playing the music in your ear and you’re doing the thing and it’s like a dance, it’s like choreography in addition to the directional things that he would say.
Kevin, Edgar was saying earlier that it was often hard for him to give the elevator pitch version of the movie, it was hard for him to explain this movie, so how did he explain it to you? Was it hard to get your head around this action musical?
Kevin Spacey: No he just got me very, very drunk. (laughs) No I mean first of all the incredible thing when you read the script for the first time is you get all the tracks so you’re able to play the music that’s gonna be in the film in every scene. That’s really helpful in terms of realizing that the film’s energy and drive is so much about the music, and where you go musically, and I also think I was just impressed with all of the characters. In particular, I think Baby was just such a complex and interesting character to try to build for Ansel because it’s built largely in silence. There’s a lot that he never says, but in the end I thought it was such an interesting complexity of a kind of traditional, really cool chase movie but it also was a genuine love story, and to have those things mix and actually really work, I was convinced right away, and aside from the fact that I was really taking on the Michael Caine part.
Does Doc care about Baby? To me that’s one of those interesting relationships in the film, is the extent to which he’s kind of got Baby over a barrel, but he sacrifices himself at the end. What do you make of Doc’s relationship with Baby?
Kevin Spacey: I think Doc is one of the greatest characters in cinema history. He kicks ass, he gives the kid money, takes care of the kid, and in the end, he makes the really cool choice. Thank you so much.
Edgar Wright: He does care about him in a paternalistic way, but on the flip side, he doesn’t like being told no. So it is that thing, when he comes to the restaurant and offers him this new gig, he thinks it’s a cool thing! He’s like, you’re gonna make some money because you’re very talented. When Baby says no, Doc acts like a spurned lover. He gets very vicious very quickly, but I think he says it in his first line, “He’s a good kid and a devil behind the wheel”, and I think he believes that. He knows he’s a good kid, so there’s an element where he is corrupting him, but deep down he knows he’s a good kid. So, it was something where I think that’s the duality of it, he does have an ounce of compassion for him, but he does not like hearing the word no, and then he takes that very badly when Baby rejects him at one point.
We’ve talked about how the arc of the story is Baby is not a criminal, he’s not really cut out for this life, and the relationship with Doc is sort of the proof of that.
Edgar Wright: Baby doesn’t identify as a criminal. When the movie starts, he already is a criminal, he’s a criminal in the first frame, and that was something that was an interesting thing to me story-wise. Sometimes in these movies, it’s about somebody falling into crime, or it’s almost like the reverse of Goodfellas, in Goodfellas young Henry Hill wants to be a gangster, and in this, it’s like Baby already is a gangster and then wants out. He wants to get out as soon as he meets Lily James. So, I like the idea that he is a criminal, but in his head, he’s literally got blinkers on, I mean he’s got blinkers on in terms of he’s got sunglasses on and he’s wearing earphones, he’s blinkering himself to the real consequences of the world.
Kevin Spacey: That’s the thing, in the course of the movie, he’s constantly looking for a way out, and that’s the journey. And here’s what’s interesting, since I arrived here tonight, I, too, have been looking for a way out. (Stands up and jogs away)
Edgar Wright: And just like Keyser Soze he was gone!
Baby Driver is available on Blu-ray and DVD everywhere on October 10th, 2017.
(Note: all photos via Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images for Sony)