Photography by Wilson Webb via Sony Pictures Entertainment
During the week of Baby Driver‘s release, Catalyst had the opportunity to interview two of the film’s leads – Ansel Elgort and Lily James.
The interview took place alongside two other university journalists; Nick Bugeja of Lot’s Wife (Monash), and Hamish Wallace of Farrago (Melbourne Uni).
You can read it in full below.
Anthony:I’d like to start off on the music side of things; was there a lot of talk about music amongst the cast in between scenes? The film is driven by music – did you guys share it outside of the film as well?
Ansel: Yeah, definitely. I’m a huge Jamie Foxx fan, and I don’t know if you know – I’m an actor but I’m also a musician. In the very beginning, I knew I would love to share my music with Jamie eventually. On the very first day of rehearsal, we met, and Jamie was like, ‘Yo man, I wanna hear your music!’
I was like ‘oh, fuck yeah! This is awesome.’ So, he invited me to his music studio in his house in Atlanta, and I played him my music. After that, the doors opened. He would tell everyone on set about it. I started playing my music for Lily, and I would bring my work-in-progresses and play them for everybody. So, it was a very musical set, and I was always working on music and playing it for everybody. Flea from the Chili Peppers also is in the movie. Eventually, I actually did a studio session with Jamie and Flea one night after set, which was pretty freakin’ awesome. So, yes, you are spot on, it was a very musical set which made it really cool.
I think Edgar wanted to get a group of people together who were all very musical. I mean, Lily sings too. That’s why she’s drinking tea and honey, cause she’s gonna sing tonight.
Lily: Doing a little cabaret act later, after the Q&A. A one-woman show of all the songs on Baby Driver. (laughs) No, I’m not.
Hamish: This is another question about the music, especially relating to you (Ansel) and your work as a DJ and producer. When you read the script, or when Edgar told you about the role, did you feel a personal connection to your character’s bizarre hobby as a scratch-DJ?
Ansel: Yeah, dude, that’s why it was so nuts. When I first read this, in so many different ways, it was ‘oh, this is so right for me, I could totally play this role.’ The fact that he’s making music in his house, by himself at night, I’ve spent so many nights – sleepless nights – making music. So, yeah man, I totally relate to that. I love that part of the movie, it always gets a big laugh.
Lily: (laughing quietly in the background) – Was he slow?
Ansel: Yeah! (laughs) So yeah man, definitely.
Nick: I think you guys have pretty great chemistry in the film, so I was wondering how you guys developed that, and how that all worked?
Lily: Well, we didn’t have a chemistry test. Sometimes you have chemistry tests with other actors – but we did have rehearsals for a while before, where we would do the scenes and talk about the scenes and our characters and stuff, and Edgar would get enthusiastic and work with us. To be honest, it felt really natural and easy, and I think the music thing helped a lot. We’d talk about it, and I loved listening to Ansel’s songs and tracks.
They were really well written scenes as well. Like, how the relationship develops, and how they sort of start opening up around each other in a way that you haven’t seen. Especially like how I only exist really in the diner – but for Baby, you see this whole different side of him which sort of blossoms in Debbie’s presence. I think that does a lot of the acting for you.
Anthony: You mentioned working with Flea, and Jamie, and all those guys. Do you think that having other musicians to work with made the constant use of music throughout the film feel a bit more authentic, in a sense?
Ansel: Yeah – we always had the music in our ears. I had my earphones on, so it was easy for me, but for Lily, and Eiza (González, plays ‘Darling’), and Jon (Hamm, plays ‘Buddy’) – everybody – they had earbuds in, so they could hear the music. We actually had choreography rehearsals – we had this choreographer, Ryan Heffington, who choreographed the Sia ‘Chandelier’ video. He does most of Sia’s stuff…
Lily: He’s so cool.
Ansel: And it was always – whether or not it’s noticeable – almost everybody’s moving to music, and feeling the music. There’s something about being a musician and having the rhythm that obviously guys like Jamie Foxx and Flea have. So, yeah, I think Edgar wanted that.
At my first meeting with Edgar, we just talked about music the whole time. I didn’t even know what Baby Driver was, I’d just met Edgar Wright, and for two hours, we talked about music.
I think we kind of hit it off, because he knows everything about music – like, everything – but I knew all these weird EDM artists. It was 2014, and I was talking about artists like Mat Zo and stuff.
I actually told him yesterday, I was like ‘Oh, we’re going to Melbourne! You know, back in 2014 Melbourne Bounce was this big thing, there was this guy, Will Sparks,’ and as I was telling him, he had never heard of it! But like, Edgar Wright knows every kind of music.
Lily: He knows everything, that’s a real surprise.
Ansel: So for that reason, I think he was like ‘Oh wow! You know something about music that I don’t know,’ cause I was obsessed with dance music when I was in high school. So, I think he wanted that. He wanted the whole cast to feel musical.
Lily: We had our camera tests – so, before you start shooting, they tested our costumes and stuff – and he just put on some of the tracks, songs that we have in our scenes, and we just danced. We were just like, jiving as he was filming – so he really made the music feel so ingrained in everything that we did. It was so good.
Nick:I think you could probably apply that same logic that he knows everything, also about film – because obviously, in Baby Driver there’s so many references.
Ansel: Oh, yeah.
Nick: I wanted to talk about one specific one, in the diner. When Jon Hamm’s holding a gun to you, and you come in with an army jacket on. Was there any discussion that could’ve been a reference to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver? Or is that a bit far fetched?
Ansel: There wasn’t, but…
Lily: I’m sure it is, knowing Edgar.
Ansel: 100%, knowing Edgar. He’s always referencing things, but it’s not always overly obvious, and you probably wouldn’t even tell. He doesn’t even tell us as cast members. It’s like, it doesn’t feel like it’s taking you out of the movie. Like, ‘oh my god! That’s a Taxi Driver reference!’
You’re the first person who’s said that – I never even thought of it. But it totally makes sense. So, I think that Edgar – when he would show us, we did rehearsals with him and he would show us YouTube clips of ‘best scenes from the movies’. (He’d say) this scene we’re gonna do something like this, and this scene we’re gonna do something like this. When you tell Doc and the whole group of guys what the plan is, and you spit it back, you’ve gotta do it like how this guy spits it back in this movie.
I think that this film – also because of that – will have YouTube clips of all these different scenes. People will watch the scenes on their own, and be like ‘This scene from Baby Driver is so sick!’ which is really cool. You can leave it to a filmmaker like Edgar Wright to be able to make scenes like that.
Hamish: Edgar Wright has spoken about how he storyboarded the whole film before it was shot. Everything seems so meticulously choreographed. You spoke before about the music, and how you always had it playing in your ear. Was it a particular challenge working on scenes where everyone had to be hitting these beats as well as running dialogue and conveying emotion, playing off each other as well as tapping your fingers, doing stuff physically to the music. Was that a challenge?
Lily: Yeah, I think it was a challenge. But at the same time, you’d think that it would maybe get in the way, but it didn’t. It kind of helped. It felt really organic, and it motivated the emotion. It encouraged a kind of freedom of expression, because you had this momentum.
But you had much more choreographed stuff, so what do you think?
Ansel: I loved it. It reminded me of doing musicals. When I first started acting, I did musical theatre, and musical theatre always has an orchestra playing over everything – so there’s a lot of choreography. I kind of love that, I think it gives the film pace.
Lily: And a structure.
Ansel: And a structure, yeah. But also in a scene, it gives it pacing. Like, if we’re both listening to the same thing, and there’s a beat to the song, you already know the pace of the scene. And you feel it. Like when Baby comes walking in. ‘Meet your new crew!’ Dadadum-da dum dum. And he’s like, walking in on the beat. All the lines happen quickly, and you meet everyone really fast. Everyone says one thing.
‘Meet Eddie No-Nose, formerly Eddie the Nose. JD, puts the Asian in Home Invasion.’ It’s like, bam-bam-bam, because the song has that rhythm. And everyone’s listening. I think it only helped.
Lily: It means you’re all really sharing the moment as well. So you’re all in tune.
Ansel: Everyone’s on the same wavelength.
Lily: Yeah. Literally, in tune!
Baby Driver is in cinemas now. You can read my feature on the film here.