Baby Driver has got to be the first movie driven by music that’s about as far away from a traditional musical as you can possibly get. That became obvious to Ansel Elgort from the moment he began reading the script to consider the project.
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“Initially, the script was given out on an iPad that had little ‘Baby Driver’ emojis that you could click, and the music would play as you read the script,” explains Ansel, who counts the remake of Stephen King’s Carrie and the Divergent trilogy among his credits. “The music drove the script, which is very much how the movie works. When you read it, you could feel the rhythm of the scenes already.”
The character of Baby looks like an innocent guy, but he’s actually a getaway driver who brilliantly gets his clients where they have to go, with, as the official description notes, “daredevil flair and a personal soundtrack running through his head. That’s because he’s got his escape route plotted to the beat of specific tunes that go from his well-curated iPod straight to his ears, and which translate into expertly timed hairpin turns, gear shifts and evasive maneuvers that leave his passengers on the ride of their lives.”
Kind of sounds like Uber, doesn’t it?
The character of Baby works for Kevin Spacey’s Doc, a criminal kingpin who has pulled off a series of daring daytime bank heists, which he partially credits to Baby’s skills. Doc’s inner circle includes criminal former Wall Street master Buddy (Jon Hamm), Doc’s lady in crime, Darling (Eliza Gonzalez), and gun-slinging Bats (Jamie Foxx), the latter of whom is suspicious of Baby. That suspicion begins to create a rift within the group.
“Baby’s outward appearance — the sunglasses, the aloofness, the ever-present earbuds — may suggest a kid in over his head,” the character’s description reads, “but his catch-me-if-you-can skills are second to none. And yet the encroaching demand for his talents, and what he’s doing with them, begin to weigh on his sense of right and wrong.” This becomes an even bigger problem when he starts developing feelings for a waitress named Debora (Lily James), which really has him questioning things.
Writer/director Edgar Wright sums up Baby’s changing luck by commenting, “The movie is structured so it opens with the dream of being a getaway driver, and very quickly turns into the nightmare of being a criminal. The opening chase is sort of positioned as a clockwork act of precision. Everything goes right. Then very quickly, with subsequent situations, things start to go wrong, and very visceral consequences start to bear down. The storm clouds have been gathering during the movie. At some point, Baby’s luck is gonna run out.”
Luck was definitely running the other way when actor and director first met. Says Edgar, “The thing that really charmed me about him was the fact that he’s very musical, and he can play lots of instruments. One of my favorite scenes with Ansel, he has his headphones in and he’s listening to Dave Brubeck, and starts playing piano on the table. There was something so beguiling and hypnotic about watching a 21-year-old actor play along to some jazz from the ‘50s. Ansel is fascinating in that regard.”
It was the love for music, says Ansel, that allowed he and Wright to connect on the level that they did when they first met in L.A. to talk about the project. It was a natural fit given the fact that Ansel, under the name Ansolo, has enjoyed a secondary career as a DJ and has made several records. Earlier this year, under his own name, he released the single "Thief" and was featured on the song "Killing Spree" on rapper Logic's third studio album, Everybody.
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In terms of connecting with Edgar, Ansel explains, “We had lunch, and all we talked about was music. At the time, I didn’t even know what this film was about, but we both shared a love for music. Musically, the film goes all over the place and that’s really fun. It’ll keep audience on their toes.”
“Ansel is obsessed with music,” the director corrects. “Which the lead character in the movie is. His life is completely governed by music and listening to the rhythm of the music he’s listening to, and Ansel has a dance background. And also he’s a great actor and a nice guy.”
In regards to why music plays so important a role in this film, part of it is that he enjoys cranking up the sound on his favorite songs while he’s driving, but at the same time it’s a means of dealing with a personal tragedy. Details Edgar, “Baby has this hearing defect, tinnitus, a whine in his ear caused by being in a car crash when he was young. It has the effect of him not wanting to talk too much, because people with hearing defects can feel more self-conscious talking. But the other aspect of that is to listen to music, to drown out the whine. It becomes a security blanket, and then a full-blown obsession. He literally has to soundtrack his entire life, because he can’t really do things without the right music playing.”
For his part, Ansel was delighted to see how much he actually learned during the production of the movie. “I loved how eclectic the role was,” he enthuses. “He’s the getaway driver, so I had to learn to drive. He has a deaf foster dad who he signs with, so I had to learn to sign. And his life moves through music, so there’s the dance and choreography challenges, too.”
Baby Driver opens on June 28.
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