There’s a reason cinephiles are foaming at the mouth for Baby Driver, the latest film from director Edgar Wright, and not even his co-workers could contain their excitement. “I’m sure I’m a little bias in saying this, but it’s the best movie ever,” actor Lanny Joon said, while costume designer Courtney Hoffman gushed, “I’ve never worked on a movie that I wanted to see so badly right now.”
Fandango sat shotgun for what Jon Hamm calls “a quasi-musical” on location on the film’s Atlanta set last summer— and we mean that quite literally. Reporters watched as Jamie Foxx carjacked a mother at an intersection in an Austin Powers mask for a getaway scene, Eiza Gonzalez teased her sociopathic devil in a lilac fur coat, and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers palled around with this A-list cast of characters. But it was when stunt driver Jeremy Fly strapped us in on the rooftop of a nearby garage to show off some slick stunts that we realized Baby Driver had something special going on.
No ill will intended towards our friendly neighborhood web-slinger, but if you’re only focus this summer is the latest superhero extravaganza, you’re missing out on one of 2017’s most hotly anticipated releases, one that’s been years in the making.
A Long Road
Wright already tested the Baby Driver concept in 2002 with a music video for Mint Royale. Complete with an appearance from Wright regular Nick Frost, “Blue Song” focused on a getaway driver rocking out to the soundtrack in his car while waiting for his cohorts to come back with the loot. Wright would actually begin writing a feature film treatment shortly after Hot Fuzz, around the same time he first mentioned it to his longtime producer Nira Park, and he’d finish the draft after Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
“It’s the first script I had written on my own for a long time, since I was like a teenager. The first solo screenplay I’d written since my first movie,” the filmmaker said. “So yeah, a long time.”
Fun fact: The plan initially was to make Baby Driver before The World’s End, but when producer Eric Fellner fell ill, the crew set up a quick production shoot for the Cornetto Trilogy finale in the U.K. to be closer to their comrade.
The final result ended up being a story about Baby (The Fault In Our Stars’s Ansel Elgort), a young trouble-maker with finesse behind the wheel. He’s skilled enough to elude cops while driving the wrong way up the highway with his head and brake lights off, but he also suffers from tinnitus. To drown out the ringing in his ears, Baby is constantly listening to music, and it’s this dynamite track list that supercharges the rest of the film, even the action sequences choreographed to the beat. As Elgort explained, the kid is caught stealing a vehicle from Doc (Kevin Spacey), but instead of seeking retribution, the local big wig of the criminal underworld demands Baby redirect his driving skills to work for him.
“He really loves it because it’s fun and he loves to drive,” Elgort said, but when he meets his dream girl, a waitress at a local diner, his mission becomes getting out of the business while keeping his loved ones’ alive.
All the Wright Moves
The scenario of Wright’s 2002 music video actually made it into the film’s opener. “Baby is dancing in the car to this song, sort of as the robbery’s going on,” Elgort explained. “He’s trying to pretend it’s not there and he’s dancing in the car.” The magic of Baby Driver comes from this choreography. Every detail, from the flap of the windshield wipers to the machine gun fire from a shootout sequence to the impressive vehicular acrobatics, are all choreographed to the music playing around Baby. Sometimes the music comes from Baby’s earbuds, sometimes a jukebox in the diner, but the music always arises from the scene.
“There’s things with whole cars,” Hamm pointed out. “Edgar’s crazy encyclopedic knowledge of film is only matched by his crazy encyclopedic knowledge of music,” he added, “and he has this really cool offbeat interesting playlist and sense of music that fits with all this stuff.” Joon explained the cast would listen to the music on set in order to hit their marks more easily. “We actually had the music playing in the background and we could just feel each other’s vibe,” he said.
Fun fact: Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino were big influences on Baby Driver, but Walter Hills even more so, specifically 1978’s The Driver and 1979’s The Warriors. “Walter is somebody else that I’ve got to know through doing Q&As so I’ve made him fully away, I’ve said ‘You know I’m totally ripping you off, right? We’ll call it a big tribute to you,’” he said.
Helping them out on set were two choreographers. “They got swag,” Foxx quipped.
Never one to miss a detail, Wright worked with Hoffman to come up with a color scheme for every character. Baby is “experiencing this world in sort of a black-and-white way,” the designer explained. “So we liked the idea of him being in black and white while he’s surrounded by all these characters.”
Baby: The titular getaway driver at the center of the film, which is comprised mostly of three main heist scenes, doesn’t like violence — but he sure loves to drive. Though most of the stunts were too complex and dangerous for him to perform, Elgort got behind the wheel when he could. In one of these particular instances, “the cameraman was standing there and I had to slide up to him,” he recalled. “Everyone in the car got pretty f—king nervous. I think Flea yelled, as I was driving really fast and as I was braking and sliding, I think he yelled, and he had a mask on, ‘Oh s—t!’ He was like, ‘I thought you were gonna take him out!’”
Deborah: Lily James ditches her glass slippers from Cinderella for a pair of beat-up boots as a waitress who catches Baby’s eye. “She’s always filling this ideal of this ‘50s fantasy girl for him,” Hoffman said. But don’t expect a “Pleasantvillian” damsel. “She is a thoughtful woman and she’s not just going along for the ride,” the designer clarified.
Doc: Keeping with his whole villainous man-behind-the-curtain schtick, Spacey’s Doc embraces more neutral grey and brown tones. “He’s steely, he’s cold, he’s unapproachable to the rest of the world,” Hoffman said, but also “a little paternal” towards Baby “in the weirdest sense of the word.”
Bats: Dressed head-to-toe in red, Foxx is playing the alpha of the criminal pack. “He’s sort of like the angry dude,” the Django Unchained star said. “He’s killing everybody. My 7-year-old daughter asked me what I was doing today and I’m like, ‘Killing some more people.’ She’s cool with it.”
Buddy and Darling: Meet the Bonnie and Clyde of Baby Driver. One is a “loony,” borderline sociopath fashionista “detached from reality,” played by a pink-and-purple-covered Eiza Gonzalez (From Dusk Till Dawn), and the other is her squeeze, a blue-tinged thug who doubles as another father figure of sorts for Baby (Hamm). “They always compensate each other and they take care of each other,” Gonzalez said of Buddy and Darling. “He’ll have my back and I’ll have his. It’s just so fun.”
Griff: Jon Bernthal’s Punisher experience comes in handy as another of the grey-colored ruffians. The actor described him as “a reluctant witness to Baby’s unbelievable driving skills” who has “some real doubts about this fresh-faced youngster.” While Bernthal’s scenes are much less than most of his co-stars, he laughed about how he was thrown in cars with stunt actors. “I don’t think they care much about me around here,” he joked.
J.D.: Another smaller player, J.D. thinks he’s the muscle, but that title really goes to Griff and Bats. “I look at him as a big fish in a small pond going in the realm of being a small fish in a big pond,” Joon said. “Getting the opportunity to play with the boys, he knows very well that he’s very smart but he’s not at all.” The actor explained his character’s design was originally more androgynous. “There is an outfit that I have, it’s borderline gay,” he said without regard. “They almost had me wear this fishnet shirt with nothing, just nipples [and] fishnet. I got to say no to that, thankfully. But gaudy, belligerent, wild, but in J.D.’s mind it’s Kosher, it’s simple.”
Flea: A bassist and founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea brings his spunk and tats to the role of Eddie No-Nose, “a dastardly nihilistic bank robber with no moral compass who is very displeased with the state of the world so wants to rob banks and whoever gets in his way needs to be eliminated.” (That’s Flea’s description, by the way.) Meanwhile, off set, he spent much of his spare time with Foxx and Elgort working on a record at a nearby studio. Elgort, who initially impressed Wright with his own musical prowess as a DJ and singer-songwriter, called it “just the coolest artistic experience.”
Fun fact: Surprisingly, some of the details kept under wraps by most of the cast and crew were the tattoos. “Most of them either were in the script or Edgar designed, and there are some really funny jokes with the tattoos,” Hoffman said, but that was about it. Bernthal simply smiled and shrugged off any reference to the teardrop on his cheek or the ones on his hands, while Joon kept mum on his tat-centric scene with Baby. Gonzalez, meanwhile, was more upfront about the kind of “his and hers” ink for Buddy and Darling. “Edgar is such a brilliant mind that you’ll see like he’ll have references in every little thing, like in tattoos or in the names of the places that we’re going to,” she said.
When Mercedes Benz donates cars for your movie with the specific purpose of crashing them, then you know you’ve made it.
Sean Ryan, a coordinator for the vehicle stunts, described one of these intense scenes: “We were shooting in the Red Deck and we got some incredible footage with the Mercedes and one of it was the Charger chasing the Mercedes backwards and you are going probably 50 miles an hour. We did all night one night and we came back to finish it the second night and Jay the guy that did this shot lost control over it and hit a Prius that we did not own and it destroyed the Prius. I mean destroyed it. It broke a tail light, the Mercedes.”
Only one day of production took place with green screen. The rest tapped approximately 150 cars for real-world stunts, some of them belonging to the extras for background scenes and others to be used for adrenaline-fueled T-bones, a 75-degree skid up a wall, drifts, and more ridiculous maneuvers. Whatever modifications the stuntman needed, Ryan and his crew made it happen.
But Wright and his crew weren’t totally flushed with cash. They didn’t have the budget to keep crashing cars, especially when Wright used multiple takes for most scenes. That’s where Fry, a stunt driver on Jason Bourne, Spy, and Taken 3, came in handy.
“We have multiple cars and each car is specifically designed for a stunt,” Ryan said. “With some of the bigger budgets we would have multiples of those cars designed, so we are really working with each car. We essentially only have one car to do each stunt, so Jeremy is extremely good and he has been excellent at getting in and out, getting the shots without damaging the cars.”
See just how good he is when Baby Driver opens in theaters on June 28.