From the outside looking in, it sure seems like Edgar Wright has been taking some big swings with his films – like his latest, Last Night in Soho, which is currently in theaters – ever since, as Wright puts it, the movie that “nearly” happened did not actually happen. (For the sake of clarity, that movie would be his version of Ant-Man, even though below it’s often referenced as “the movie that didn’t happen.”) But there’s a difference between being on the outside looking in and actually being the person in that position, like Wright is and was.
It’s interesting because he paints a very different picture than we might think. We might look at Wright as someone who walked away from the machine and did his own thing. Which, sure, there’s some truth in that. But, as Wright explains, we don’t get to see the self-doubt part. Of a filmmaker who didn’t know at the time if he still had a career or not.
Since that important moment in Wright’s career, he’s made Baby Driver, a documentary on Sparks, and now what is, arguably (but barely arguably), his most ambitious film to date, Last Night in Soho.
In Last Night in Soho, Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) moves to London to become a fashion designer. Ellie rents a room from a mysterious woman, Ms, Collins (Diana Rigg). Ellie starts seeing visions of the past, namely Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young singer trying to make it in London in the 1960s. Lines start to get blurred between who is Sandie and who is Ellie, and the movie takes a more and more sinister tone (with a final act we won’t spoil).
Wright has had the idea for this movie for over ten years now. And he explains the, let’s say, unique path to get to the point where he is now: as a filmmaker making original studio movies. Which, yes, is a true rarity nowadays. And if you’ve paid attention to Wright’s social media at all, you’ll see he’s been everywhere promoting this movie. If anything, he wants you to know – especially after “the movie that didn’t happen” – he doesn’t take any of this for granted.
Judging from your social media, I just don’t think you’re promoting this movie enough. I don’t think you’re just getting out there and showing it to people. What happened to your work ethic?
I know it might seem like I’m a tireless self-promoter, but on Monday morning I will explode into dust.
I don’t think you’re a tireless self-promoter. I do think you care about this movie.
Well, the tricky thing in this day and age is social media is, in some ways, is a great thing. And there’s this whole point where you kind of think, at some point, I think I will probably have to stop doing it myself. Because, obviously, that’s probably why some people go more corporate or just have an official account, because there’s a sort of point where you can’t answer everybody’s questions.
And I feel like I’ve become my own customer service department as well, which is fine because I like talking to fans, but I guess if somebody asks me a question, I feel – maybe it’s because I’m too English and polite – but I feel duty-bound to answer it. But then that on top of doing all the press, it’s been very intense. I feel like this promotion’s almost maybe been even more intense than previous ones, probably.
Oh, why’s that?
I don’t know how you feel, but doing sort of Zoom press is a sort of strangely intense kind of process.
I don’t love it, but you know, that’s where we are at…
Maybe it is as intense as previous press, maybe I’m just getting older and more tired.
Your Twitter has been part of your persona as a director for the last 12 years or whatever. That you are available and out there. So can that be a detriment?
I don’t know… And listen, on the flip side, the positives of it, it’s important I think to show up, especially now. As you know, I’m very passionate about exhibition and the theatrical experience. People get kind of bent out of shape about some comments about it, unless you see the movie on the big screen, you’re not seeing the movie. I wouldn’t say that. I would say: I would love you to have the opportunity to see it on the big screen. And when people sort of say, “Why can’t we stream it on the same day?” I’d be like, “Hey, I came from the UK where we had to wait nine months for my hit movie, so calm down.” You can see it in four weeks. Just calm down.
I think also, what is important to me is kind of showing up, because I think there is a thing where, especially in the kind of current climate like a big star or director tweeting, “Hey, check out my movie in cinemas,” from the confines of their mansion is a bit different from me turning up to a Q&A. I actually did a Q&A with John Krasinski where I moderated A Quiet Place Part II in London. I think U.S. cinemas only reopened, I know they sort of continued in a way…
It was scattershot, depending what state you were in.
And I think A Quiet Place Part II was one of the first kind of big movies to come back and be a hit and people showed up for it. But me and John did a Q&A at a cinema in London. He asked me to moderate. And just walking into the room and people are seeing that we were there, it was such a sort of a warm and sort of emotional response. Almost separate from the movie is the fact that we had showed up was obviously very important for the crowd, and important to me as well. You have to put your money where your mouth is. And if you’re going to tell people, “Come out to the cinema,” you’ve got to go yourself. I would do more if I could.
I don’t doubt you. You’ve been out there.
Then there’s a point like I think on November 1st where I crumble into CGI dust. You know how if you took Keith Richards’ bandanas off, you imagine that he’d just completely fall apart?
That’s what’s going to happen.
So when I spoke to Krysty Wilson-Cairns, she said you’ve had this idea for ten years. Which is around the time I spoke to you and Joe Cornish for Attack the Block. So it was that long ago?
I think the actual idea had been percolating even longer than that, but around that time is when I first said it aloud to my producers Nira Park and Rachel Prior. So I remember pitching the movie, the entire plot, to them before I shot The World’s End, yeah.
Why does it take so long? How does this take 10 years?
Because I did two other movies and [laughs] nearly made a third other one. I guess I made three other movies if you count Sparks. And this is just the order in which things come. Baby Driver was an idea that had been percolating for like 22 years before I made it. It’s like, I did The World’s End, I nearly did another movie. And then I did Baby Driver. You know, Baby Driver itself, that’s like three years work from getting the movie off the ground to sort of finishing the press, so these things take a lot of time. For a director, it’s a minimum two years, maybe three years. I guess the Coen Brothers were knocking them out quicker, but there are two of them and they don’t do any press, which is smart.
Krysty called this movie a Trojan horse, which I thought was really interesting. Baby Driver and Last Night in Soho are big swings. For the people who really know your earlier movies outside and in, do you almost have to prep them with something like Baby Driver first? In that, hey, this one isn’t the early movies, we’re doing something different here?
I mean, the honest thing is that I just feel grateful for the chance to kind of take swings at all. You know, in this climate, the industry in some ways is at its most risk-averse, certainly in terms of, maybe, studio films. There’s a lot of focus on IP and the original movies on the slate are kind of … less. So, when I introduced the movie on Monday at the premiere in front of Universal and Focus and everybody, I said, “I don’t take any of this for granted. The fact that I get to make original movies and they get shown around the world, I’m well aware of how lucky I am, and I sort of grab the opportunity with both hands.”
And that’s how I feel, in a way. I think in a strange way, after Baby Driver – because this idea had been, like I said, percolating for a long time – I just felt like I really want to do this now because I want to do something different. I feel like after Baby Driver, I could maybe afford to kind of do something radically different. The idea of doing something a bit darker and more serious, and also in an area of London that I spend more time in than any other area of London? It is something that just was kind of calling me. And the idea and the story … you either have to give into it or not, you know?
I swore I wasn’t going to bring it up, but you brought it up first, the whole “movie that didn’t happen”…
[Laughs] Actually I take it back…
I know it probably doesn’t work this way, but from the outside looking in, after that doesn’t work out, you take these massive swings with Last Night in Soho and Baby Driver. It’s hard for me not to sit there and think, if I were you, I’d be thinking, “You know what? Screw you, watch this.” But is there actually any of that?
I think the thing is, I mean, I was [pauses] … you know, I can’t tell this story. It’s a good one. I’ll tell you over coffee some time.
You know, I think to answer your question… I mean, I think it’s just having the opportunity. I was very heartened by the fact that immediately, you know, people got in touch with me in terms of “what do you want to do next.” And I had Baby Driver already written. And so, the toughest part of it, at the time, was sort of the year between kind of leaving the other project and trying to get Baby Driver off the ground. And that was a point where it might have looked courageous from the outside in terms of, “Oh, Edgar Wright’s going to take a big swing with an original movie.” But there are also the things that you don’t see. The panic of, “Oh my god, what am I going to do if this doesn’t get green lit?”
Then I’ve really got egg on my face and I’ve spent a year developing it. So then you start kind of thinking, okay, what else can I do? Or just start sort of taking writing jobs and stuff because you’re just putting all of your chips on one thing. And I mean, I think the thing is, I don’t think of it in terms of I’m sort of taking courageous big swings against the machine or anything. It’s more the thing of being given the opportunity to do so: you have to take it.
And if there’s anything sad in the current climate, and I don’t want to mention any names or be too sort of negative and stuff, but there are filmmakers that I feel just kind of got lost in the franchise machine that I would rather see doing original movies, but that isn’t their fault. You know, that might be the thing of they can’t get those things made. Because there would be an alternate reality, which would be this close to Baby Driver, like, “Ah, we can’t make it work with the budget and can’t get the right actors in and it’s not happening.” And then I’d be like, “Now what the fuck am I going to do?”
So, you know, the chances of that happening are high. And so that’s what I mean when I don’t take it for granted. You know that I’m not complacent about what I do whatsoever. And I know from director friends, people who are kind of working on some passion project, and it just not coming together. And that’s a sort of a side of the business that fans don’t see. And you know, there’s a director that you think, “Why haven’t we heard from so-and-so in a while?” Well, they’ve probably been working harder than they ever have and it’s been not coming together and that part of the business is really tough because getting any movie made is really difficult. So, with all that said, being able to make this movie after Baby Driver? I just consider it a gift because I get to do something that is very sort of personal and idiosyncratic to me, something I really wanted to do. Something that’s British set.
And I have this profound thing when I was watching it. We had the premiere at the Academy Museum on Monday. And the sound in there was amazing and lots of filmmakers and celebrities and people that I knew are there. I was also just looking at it thinking, “I’m watching London in Hollywood.” And I’ll never get over that. I think I felt the same way when I watched Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz in the Arclight or the Cinerama Dome. It’s like, I’m sitting here in Hollywood watching my suburb in North London, or watching my hometown. There’s something about that where just the chance to be an international filmmaker, in the sense of, I have a film that’s London-set, going day and date in the UK and US. I know that’s a big deal and I don’t take it for granted. What it does mean is I have to do twice the amount of work on social media. It’s the only drawback.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.