Edgar Wright is speaking from inside a car while we talk “Baby Driver.” He’s not driving, of course. That wouldn’t be safe. Even if he was, he’d be nothing like the hero of his latest movie: an action film about a young getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) trying to get out of his life of crime. (And being that its from the maker of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” the film is also really funny.) But Wright himself isn’t much of hot rodder.
“I like driving while listening to music,” Wright tells us. “I’m more interested in the ride than the car, if that makes sense.”
That’s part of the reason why “Baby Driver” is such an unusual car chase movie: The rides Baby drives usually aren’t distinct. You notice the driving, not the make of car.
“In most action films, the hero is driving a vintage muscle car or a fancy quarter-of-a-million dollar sports car. I remember with the remake of ‘Gone in 60 Seconds,’ Nicolas Cage’s car is so beautiful that it seems like the filmmakers can’t bear to put a dent in it for the entire movie,” he says. “One of the things I learned interviewing getaway drivers and ex-cons is that with bank heists, they use stolen cars, which are easy to blend into normal traffic. They’d steal something on the day of the heist from a parking structure, something that’s not going to be phoned in as missing.”
Though “Baby Driver” is highly stylized — a cinematic cartoon, with style and comedy and hairpin twists — it also tries to be realistic. Its criminals aren’t swanky; they’re more blue-collar.
“You get the sense that most of the robbers are living hand-to-mouth,” Wright explains. Two of them, played by Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez, even have a coke habit to support. “They think, ‘Let’s rob a bank, then we’ll go to Vegas, then when we’re out of money, we’ll come back!’”
Some of the crazy stories Wright heard from ex-cons wound up in the movie. “I’d ask them them, ‘Did you ever listen to music on the way to a job?’ One of them said, ‘I wouldn’t listen to anything on the way to the job because I’ve got enough demons making music in my head.’ I was like, ‘Oh boy, write that one down,’” Wright recalls.
“Baby Driver” isn’t your typical car movie in another way: Baby’s shtick is to play a song during each heist, timing his moves down to the beat. Amazingly, most of them have never appeared in a movie before.
“It was about picking songs that don’t necessarily have visuals you associate with them,” Wright says. “A lot of the songs aren’t monotonous; they have these great, distinct sections to them. ‘Bellbottoms’ [by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion] has a big build then it really kicks off. ‘Hocus Pocus’ [by Focus] is always starting and stopping.”
One deep-cut in the movie is Blur’s “Intermission,” which on the original British release was buried as a hidden track in the middle of the album, right after “Chemical World.”
“It’s a really intense song; it’s comedic at first, then it builds to a real sense of dread,” Wright says. “It’s always something I’ve wanted to use. I’m happy to be the first person to ever put it in a movie.”
Another newbie is “Neat Neat Neat,” the full-throttle opening to the debut album by punk legends The Damned. Wright remember watching a Damned documentary last year in which the lead singer, Dave Vanian, complained about the lack of his band in movies.
“He said, ‘People don’t remember The Damned, we need to get The Damned in a movie, we need a music supervisor to hear our tracks.’ He was having this embittered rant,” Wright says. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make your Christmas Day, Dave Vanian.’”
Here’s one more thing that’s never been a part of movies before “Baby Driver”: Jon Hamm as a slimy coke-head criminal. Wright actually wrote the part for him, even though his character’s far from Don Draper or anyone else he’s played.
“I thought he needs to be in a great crime thriller,” Wright says. “But I didn’t want him to be the lead.” Instead, he gave him a supporting role, citing as inspiration “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” Tom Stoppard’s reworking of “Hamlet” that focuses on two incidental characters. Hamm and Gonzalez’s characters are like “Baby Driver”’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
“You have this kid in the corner who’s the lead, and then there’s this couple over here who feel like they’re the leads of their own movie,” Wright adds. “You get the sense of a bigger universe. You don’t need to do a Cinematic Universe for this movie, but it’s fun to imagine what the characters are doing when they’re not onscreen.”
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge