‘Baby Driver’ director Edgar Wright talks music, stunts and Jon Hamm

June 24, 2017
American-Statesman Staff
Ansel Elgort,left, and Kevin Spacey star in “Baby Driver,” which opens June 28. Contributed by Wilson Webb/TriStar Pictures

Director Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” hits theaters this week after having its world premiere at South by Southwest in March. The heist thriller features Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Lily James and a whole mess of great songs. Wright, perhaps best known for the Cornetto film trilogy of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End,” sat down for a chat on the second floor of Freedmen’s restaurant during the fest to discuss the new movie.

Though there are some funny moments, it is not a comedy. “If Blockbuster still existed, I think it would probably be in the action section,” Wright said. “There are elements of my other movies, but most of the movie was born out of scenes I have done in other movies choreographed to music.”

The music in the movie is diegetic. “It’s heavily sound- and music-centric,” Wright said. “But it’s not like score that’s kind of laid on. The main character is listening to all of the tracks in the movie, and we are essentially seeing it through the main character’s ears. He is living in a slightly different kind of audio existence.”

Wright wanted a genuine young person to play Baby. Elgort turned 21 while the movie was shooting. His character is right on the cusp of deciding if he wants this life. “He is working within a gang but doesn’t necessarily see himself as part of the gang. The question is, can you be in a gang without being a criminal?” Wright said.

Actor Jon Hamm, left, and director Edgar Wright came to Austin for the world premiere of “Baby Driver” during South by Southwest in March. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman Photo: American-Statesman Staff

Why does Baby listen to so many old records? The implication is that he is stealing other people’s iPods, so he is constantly listening to other people’s record collections. Hence the scene of Baby tapping his fingers along to Dave Brubeck.

Photos: “Baby Driver” red carpet during South by Southwest

Hamm is the only cast member whom Wright wrote specifically for. And he is the only actor from the initial read-through who kept his role. But the star-studded cast were not shooting cameos. “Kevin and Jamie and Jon were there for the entire shoot,” Wright said. “Kevin is so magnetic that I had a bit of an out-of-body experience watching him on the first day. I had to take a moment and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I wrote this.’”

The car chases are old school. In many contemporary action films, Wright said, the main cast might be nowhere near the actual chase and are green-screened in later. This was not true in “Baby Driver.” “It’s incredibly arduous to do it the way we did it because you shoot the main stunts, then you get the actors in the appropriate continuity cars and do it all again,” Wright said. “We closed down I-25 like twice on a Sunday morning. It’s thrilling to be out on the freeway with your actors. I think action tends to get bigger and bigger to fulfill this need to top the last thing, but there are real, visceral pleasures to seeing a somewhat realistic car chase on residential streets during the day.”

Review: The insanely fun “Baby Driver” celebrates turning up the tunes and hitting the gas

Yes, the song that inspired the movie was by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Wright said he first got the idea for a movie about a driver who only drove to certain songs back in 1995 when he was listening to “Bellbottoms” off the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s 1994 album “Orange.”

Acknowledging Hamm’s looks does not get old. Wright said he would routinely burst out laughing as Foxx made remarks while looking at dailies and rushes. “Jaime would look at the footage, and every time Jon would come on-screen, Jaime would turn to me and say, ‘Man, he’s handsome,’” Wright said. “Made me laugh every single time.”