Edgar Wright is in remarkably, unfathomably good spirits. It’s day 23 of a high-pressure shoot for Baby Driver, the director’s latest and biggest film, and Wright is standing on a closed-off portion of a highway in Atlanta, overseeing a frenetic car chase on a scale that easily surpasses anything he’s made before.
Wright is casually propped up against one of the many vehicles on the road, wearing a boater and looking like the postcard embodiment of an Englishman abroad. As he excitedly talks about the world he created on paper coming to life, Jamie Foxx walks past in a boilersuit. “Everything is fun with Jamie Foxx around,” Wright says, beaming at his Oscar-winning star. “We have Gladys Knight and the Pips playing, so we good,” Foxx replies, one earphone in.
Baby Driver’s set is permanently soundtracked, which isn’t a great surprise looking back at Wright’s films, which have always been heavily indebted to music. From Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now scoring a zombie fight scene in Shaun of the Dead to Michael Cera’s garage-rock band Sex Bob-Omb in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, it’s always played a key part but there hasn’t been anything quite as musically ambitious as what he’s planned for his latest.
Baby Driver is in many ways a classic heist movie, but rather like the genres covered in Wright’s Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End), he’s taking a familiar framework and giving it a bespoke remix. It’s the story of a getaway driver called Baby, played by Fault in Our Stars/Divergent pin-up Ansel Elgort, who suffers from tinnitus.
In order to mask the constant ringing in his ears, he soundtracks his high-speed heists with whatever’s blasting out of his iPod: Queen, Barry White, Beck. The result is a jukebox musical crime thriller unlike anything else.
Characters move in time with the music, actions correlate with beats and lyrics often reference what we’re seeing on screen. “As you read the script, you listened to the soundtrack,” says Lily James, playing Baby’s love interest and in doing so finally freeing herself from the period garb of Downton Abbey and Cinderella. “There was a playlist that went alongside it. I remember being so desperate to get this part.”
The sound/action structure also meant that during production actors were given earpieces so they could hear the corresponding song as they acted. Jon Hamm, playing wildly against type as a violent, tattooed criminal, wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with this way of working. “Having worked on Mad Men, I’ve been choreographed to within an inch of my life,” he tells me. “Choreography is like anything else: it’s a direction and you have to work it into your performance. I enjoyed it, I found it a challenge.”
Baby Driver is also another chance for Hamm to scuff the suave persona of Don Draper. “You want to attach yourself to really talented film-makers and at a certain level, at a studio level, I don’t get offered those scripts,” he says. “Those go to Brad Pitt and Christian Bale and Denzel, so if they all say no to something then I’m like, ‘All right, let’s do it’. I feel like I’m in a good zone. I wish I was on a more elevated level but then I’m doing OK.”
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