Edgar Wright will never admit this (and good grief I tried to get him to), but I do believe he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder while filming Baby Driver. (There were many times during this interview in which Wright would just smile and say, “Your words, not mine.”) But Wright will admit he’s still frustrated by the time he lost while working on Ant-Man before parting ways with Marvel – and he’s right, because it’s somehow been four years since we last got an Edgar Wright movie (2013’s The World’s End). So, yeah, it’s only human nature in a situation like this to want to prove someone wrong. And even though Wright doesn’t need to prove anything at this point in his career (he’s got a whole filmography of beloved films, ranging from Shaun of the Dead to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) the stylish and just plain cool Baby Driver does feel like the work of someone wanting to prove something.
In Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort plays Baby, the best getaway driver in the business. He’s also a young man of few words, because he’s constantly listening to music because to offset his tinnitus. Baby Driver is a sleek vision that Wright obviously put his heart and soul into (and, at least with critics, that’s paid off as Baby Driver is currently sporting a nifty 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).
Ahead, Wright talks about his lowest moment in-between losing Ant-Man and getting Baby Driver made – but, no, he won’t go as far to say that there’s any sort of personal vendetta associated with Baby Driver, well, except for that devilish grin. Wright also tells the story about the closest he ever came to watching Ant-Man, when someone was watching it next to Wright on a plane. (Which seems incredibly cruel for a few reasons.)
Baby Driver even makes tinnitus cool…
When I was reading up about it in research, that’s how that Barbra Streisand line comes into it: I was reading about tinnitus and it said famous sufferers of tinnitus include Barbra Streisand – and it had this thing about Barbra listens to music the entire time to drown out the whine. And then what’s funny, Jamie Foxx has the line in the movie where Darling is talking about that and says, “Oh, Barbra Streisand does the same thing.” And Jamie Foxx says, “Do I look like I know a fucking thing about Barbra fucking Streisand?” The irony is, Jamie Foxx is very good friends with Barbra. So when we were shooting that scene, I said to Jamie, “How do you think Barbra will react to this line of dialogue?” And Jamie said, “Do you know Barbra?” And I said, “No.” And Jamie Foxx said, “Barbra is gangster,” which I thought that was the most amazing sentence.
What is it that’s so appealing about someone who can drive a car better than anyone else?
I’m not a gearhead in the sense of that I’m that interested in the car itself, but there’s something about movement and music that is my favorite thing.
Is it because we all drive, and someone has to be the best?
I guess so. I think it’s that thing of like…
It would be like being the best breather. We all do it, but there’s someone who is the best…
Maybe Michael Phelps is the best breather.
Michael Phelps is probably the best breather.
Well, the movie itself is sort of answering the question of what would it be like to be a getaway driver? And sort of, it’s like, I just drive the car. I’m not really an armed robber. And it is almost like a reverse version of Goodfellas, in a way. Henry Hill aspires to be a gangster. But in Baby Driver, Ansel is already like a gangster at the start of the movie and is aspiring to be a normal kid again. It’s actually sort of his coming of age is actually sort of the realization that he shouldn’t be doing this.
Did you look at Scorsese as a reference point?
Well, I’d say if I was going to pick four movies that are sort of classic jukebox movies in terms of using preexisting songs, they would be, going backwards: Reservoir Dogs, Goodfellas, American Werewolf in London – which is probably the first time I ever really thought about something using pop music in a different context. And then somebody who doesn’t get enough credit for starting this, because he essentially never did it ever again, but the first real diegetic music film that I can think of is American Graffiti. So George Lucas actually started it and then never touched it again.
Well, he never directed another movie other than the Star Wars movies after.
It’s true. Which is sad, in a way. So American Graffiti is an influence on this. So, yeah, Scorsese would certainly be an influence, and is one of the directors that uses music just brilliantly.
You have this library of beloved films now, but did you feel with this one you had something to prove after the Marvel Ant-Man situation?
I mean, here’s the funny thing. When I was still doing that movie, in the back of my head, I thought, well, maybe if I do this franchise movie and it does well, I’ll have enough muscle to get Baby Driver made. Because I had already written the Baby Driver script at that point.
And I’ve heard you say that before, but when you finally got to start this, was it like, “Screw that situation, watch out, because I’m going to blow you away with this?”
[Laughs.] You’re not going to attribute that quote to me! You could say that, I can’t say that. That’s cocky, sounds way too cocky. So I don’t get to say that.
I don’t think that’s cocky. I think anyone would feel that way. After something didn’t work out, I’m going to prove them wrong.
I’d say, and I’ve never told this in an interview before, the toughest part of that whole thing for me was that when I walked away from that movie, I said to my agent, “As long as I’m making another movie by the time that one comes out, I’ll be fine.” And then the truth of the matter was I wasn’t shooting Baby Driver by the time it came out. And that was the toughest part. Around the time that that movie came out, Baby Driver was still maybe happening, maybe not happening. It didn’t really get the official green light for another four months afterwards. So that, to me, was the toughest moment of the whole thing.
There are a couple of scenes in Baby Driver that felt like eff you moments – that were just so good, and I could just see you like, “Fuck you, look what I can do.”
This is Mike Ryan speaking, not me. Just say “Edgar smiled when you said that.”
Come on. That’s human nature.
[Laughs.] I’m not going to comment.
Did you see Ant-Man?
I didn’t. I haven’t seen it and I haven’t even seen the trailer. It would kind of like be asking me, “Do you want to watch your ex-girlfriend have sex?” Like, “No, I’m good.”
That makes complete sense, but I didn’t know if you were also curious.
The closest I came to it was that somebody sitting near me on a flight was watching it. And when I saw that the person sitting next to me was going to watch the movie, I thought, hmm, maybe I’m going to do some work on my laptop.
Someone tried to watch it right next to you on a flight?
I don’t think they knew who I was. They were just watching it. That was the closest I came to seeing it.
Did you ever peek over?
Nope. And also, I’ll never be pressed into kind of bad-mouthing it, because the truth of the matter is my friends are in it. Paul Rudd is a friend of mine and we’re still very good friends. And in fact, I saw him in New York the other week and we had dinner and it was the first time we’d had a chance to properly sit down since that whole thing. And the one thing I’ll say about that movie is I’m pleased that I got a writing credit on it, because it sort of makes up for having worked on the script for like eight years. Two is that I got my friend, Paul, a part in a major film. And I did say to Paul – he knows I haven’t seen it – I said, “You know, I haven’t seen the movie, and I will never watch it. I did see you in Civil War, and you were the funniest bit.”
I interviewed Tom Holland on Sunday. He said he’d want Paul Rudd to be in the next Spider-Man movie more than anyone else.
Funny enough, Tom Holland, we were having a screening in a hotel in LA and a bunch of people were coming in like Jon Favreau and Chris Nolan. And Tom Holland was at the hotel and walked past and saw the poster and said, “Are you showing Baby Driver right now?” And I saw him, and I’ve never met Tom Holland before, and I said, “Yeah! Do you want to watch it?” And he said, “Aw, I was supposed to go to this show but maybe I can get out of it.” And then he literally made a call, dropped out of whatever he was doing, and just came straight into the screening. It was hilarious. And not only just that, there are photos on carpet! So if you see a photo of me and Tom Holland on the carpet, it was because he was walking past the screening and he wanted to see it right there and then.
I read that Ron Howard reached out to Phil Lord and Chris Miller to clear the air before taking the Han Solo movie. Did you ever hear from Peyton Reed before he took over Ant-Man?
I have not spoken to him at all. I think the last communication I had with him is I said, “Please don’t just use my storyboards,” and then I’ve never spoken to him anymore ever since.
[Update: Edgar Wright wrote in to say that in-between conducting this interview and this interview publishing, he did hear from Reed and wants to clarify the situation.
“While we didn’t communicate at all during the shooting of the movie, the post production or after the release, it’s true to say that Peyton Reed reached out to me during prep and couldn’t have been more kind. So the impression that I may have given in my interview that he had not been in contact at all is incorrect. On top of that, literally the same day I did this interview, he e-mailed me for the first time in nearly three years to say congrats on Baby Driver and that he couldn’t wait to see it, which he didn’t need to do. It was a nice e-mail to receive.”]
Do you see parallels with that situation?
I cannot and will not comment, because I am very friendly with Phil and Chris. I also know Ron and Kathy and I’m good friends with all of them. So I’m not going to comment. Although, I will say that Phil and Chris, which is very sweet, the day after that announcement, they came out to the London premiere of Baby Driver. I said, “You guys should come out and it would be a fun time,” and it was nice to see them. But they are very talented and they will be fine.
Let me rephrase, can you at least look at that situation and go, Okay, this can happen to anyone? These situations are going to happen.
Let me say this: I have zero regrets about not doing the movie. Zero. The only thing I regret is the time wasted, my time and Joe Cornish’s time wasted. That’s all I regret.
Right, it’s been since 2013 we got an Edgar Wright movie until now…
But I have no regrets about not doing the movie. I still get paid for the writing residuals. People shouldn’t cry for me too much. But it’s like, I got to make an original movie instead, and I feel happy about that.
And I think that’s the reason, people who admire your work know it’s been a while since we got a movie from you because of all this…
Yeah. I mean, hopefully, it won’t be another three or four years until the next one.
What do you want to do next? I don’t recall seeing anything announced?
Nope. But the thing is, when you’re making original movies, you’re not on anybody’s schedule. It’s sort of like Baby Driver is something that you have to sort of will it into existence yourself. It’s not like an X-Men movie, which already has a release date and they just have to find a director. It’s like, Baby Driver does not exist unless you make it happen. Do you know what I mean? So the kind of movies that I make are not on the schedule. They’re not on the release calendar.
But that’s going to be the way it is for you going forward? Original projects?
I guess so. I mean, I’d be a fool to say that I would never do a franchise movie. And I won’t say that. Because, you know, who knows? So I don’t know exactly what’s next. However, what people forget – and it’s almost like the studio forget as well – is that Star Wars in 1977 was an original screenplay. Alien in 1979 was an original screenplay. Back to the Future in 1985 was an original screenplay.
Terminator was an original screenplay in 1984. So at some point, studios have to start investing in more franchise-starters. I mean, you don’t even have to think about it in that way. It’s like, just start investing in more original movies. Because in 1988 when they made the first Die Hard, nobody at Fox was sitting there with a whiteboard saying, “So we have five movies mapped out for John McClane and in the third one, we meet…”
Yeah. You know, “so in the fifth one he goes to Russia…”
To rescue his son…
And I don’t say this in terms of like, I’m not going to give an example…
Well, I will. The one that comes to mind is the Dark Universe, instead of doing six of them, why not just make one good one that people like and then see what happens?
But then on the flipside, the same studio made Get Out, which is an original movie that made more money than King Kong, which is incredible. I think the thing is, studios need to stop thinking of original movies as side bets and just invest as much time and energy into original movies as the franchise movies. I mean, they can coexist. I’m not saying don’t do franchise movies. It’s just, like, do both.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.