‘Baby Driver’ Director Edgar Wright Talks His Favorite Heist Films & Soundtracking Your Own Life [Interview]

If the Edgar Wright narrative has to revolve around “Ant-Man,” and to many it does, it goes like this: the English director of “Shaun Of The Dead,” and “Hot Fuzz” was all set to make a Marvel movie and it essentially was pulled away from him at the last minute as it was preparing to shoot. But rather than sulking or stewing, Wright came back with a vengeance to direct what is arguably the most thrilling summer popcorn movie of the year.

Baby Driver,” which follows a young getaway driver who is pulled into one last gig as he tries to escape with his new love, is downright electric. Firing on all cylinders, the movie is precisely set to dozens of classic soundtrack cuts by Queen, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Damned, T-Rex, Beck, Marth and The Vandals and many more – and it never stops moving. It’s a joyously unrelenting thrill ride and Wright directs the absolute shit out of every frame. Starring Ansel Elgort as the titular Baby Driver, plus Kevin Spacey, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Jamie Foxx and more, “Baby Driver,” in my mind at least, is the summer movie to beat so far. On the eve of its release, I jumped on the phone with Mr. Wright to chat about the movie’s soundtrack, his favorite heist films and “Ant-Man,” even if ever so briefly.

Did the soundtrack come first? I’d heard that the Jon Spencer Blues Explosions’ song “Bellbottoms” was sort of the launching point for the idea.
Sort of, but it’s a bit of everything. It’s funny, Jon Spencer is watching the movie for the first time today. The truth of the matter is, and people can’t get their heads around this, but while the idea is ancient, I haven’t been writing it for 22 years now. Not quite! 22 years ago, I was 21, I was living in North London and I had edited my first film, but I was not in the film industry at all yet. I was broke, trying to figure out what to do and I listened to “Bellbottoms” by Jon Spencer on an audio cassette of [the album] Orange, and I couldn’t stop thinking about a car chase. I just had this vision of a car chase.

But it’s not like, “I’m going to make a car chase movie.” I’m 21, not in the industry yet. But every time I heard that song I would map out the scene in my head and that turned into, “Well, maybe there’s a car chase movie with music where the driver himself is playing the song. So it’s like an diegetic action musical and that’s basically how the character of Baby started. And then over the years it was something I had been slowly thinking about and I knew even back then that it wasn’t a British film because car chases in London don’t really work on film or in reality. It had to be an American movie and over the years I built up the confidence to do it.

I’d done other sequences in “Spaced” and “Shaun Of The Dead” of choreographed action to music — obviously the most famous is probably the Queen scene in “Shaun Of The Dead” to “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

So I wanted to do a movie that was all like that, so it’s like the main character is soundtracking his own life. I was never a Walkman kid when I was growing up, but when the iPod first came out it was kind of the first time I really started listening to things with headphones and that really crystallized the idea of people soundtracking their own lives and a lot of people do it as an escape. So the idea was Baby, as a getaway driver, is using music to escape.

You tested it out years before.
Yes, as you probably know having heard the story, I did a dry run about 15 years ago for this music video for Mint Royale with Noel Fielding, called “Blue Song.” I think it’s been erroneously reported that the movie is an expansion of that video, but the truth is I already had the idea…but it’s like I had to hand in a treatment for Mint Royale, I don’t have any ideas, but maybe I can use the start of “Baby Driver”! So that’s why the video is very similar to the first scene, it’s a dry run.

You shouldn’t feel weird about it. Michel Gondry always says without any qualms that he uses music videos to try out ideas he wants to do in movies. I think you can totally see that in the Foo Fighters” video for “Everlong” which is all about dreaming and the similar ideas of “The Science Of Sleep.” There’s those big hands and everything.
Ha, yeah. At the time, I was mad at myself because I thought I had squandered the idea. That music video weirdly stuck around and it kind of ended up being like a proof of concept.

Also, if you look at the Bluetones’ “After Hours” video it’s like a little Bugsy Malone-ish thing and it’s all done in one shot. That’s the first time I’d ever done a long steadicam shot because I knew in “Shaun Of The Dead” we had this long oner where Simon goes to the store and back and I’d never done a Steadicam shot before. So the Bluetones video was a dry run for that.

You must have a ton of favorite heist and car chase movies, and you have a program of them coming up soon.
I actually programmed two different seasons of movies. One at the BFI in the U.K. that was called “Car Car Land,” which is the silliest title ever and then there’s another at BAM which starts on Friday is my season of heist movies. So I tried to put together a list of movies that inspired me. The BFI car chase one — and look there’s been a lot of amazing car chase movies recently like “[Mad Max:] Fury Road” and “Bourne Supremacy” and even the “Bad Boys II” chase is pretty amazing. But the BFI one was specifically about movies that came out before I started directing cause I had to draw a little line there. Those ten in chronological order are: “Bullitt,” “The Italian Job,” “The French Connection,” “Vanishing Point,” “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry,” “Freebie And The Bean,” “Smokey and the Bandit, “The Driver,” “The Blues Brother” and “To Live And Die In LA.” So just in those ten movies you get the DNA of “Baby Driver.”