Lily James and Ansel Elgort at the Los Angeles premiere of Baby Driver on June 14
Ansel Elgort — who we loved as Gus in The Fault in Our Stars — teams up with Downton Abbey star Lily James in Baby Driver, releasing on June 30. Directed by Edgar Wright (who’s directed films like Shaun of the Dead and co-written The Adventures of Tintin and Ant-Man), Baby Driver is a crime thriller that also stars Oscar winners Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx. A t2 chat with Ansel, who plays Baby, and Lily, who is Baby’s romantic interest Debora.
What’s it about Baby Driver that hooked you? Did the chance of working with each other play a part?
Lily James: That was the main draw, for sure (laughs).
Ansel Elgort: Yes, when Edgar offered me the role I told him that we needed to make sure that we got the right girl. And I was like, ‘What about Cinderella?’ (Lily had, of course, played Cinderella in the 2015 Disney film of the same name.)
Both of you have earned your stripes working in romantic films. What was the shift to the action-thriller genre like with Baby Driver?
Lily: Our track is quite romantic, actually. We are both quite old souls in the film, and the storyline is quite romantic…
Ansel: Yes, I really think it’s an old-fashioned movie because you have everything — romance, comedy, action.
Lily: It’s actually quite classic, in a way.
Ansel: This actually is a Hollywood blockbuster in the best way possible. It’s a movie I would want to watch over and over again.
A lot of the musical talents I like are now dead… which is probably why I like them more. There’s Freddie Mercury, for sure. I also look up to a lot of actors… (Marlon) Brando, (Al) Pacino…. Currently, one of my favourites is Christian Bale. He is someone who can be both character actor and leading man. Very few people can really pull that off
— Ansel on his influences
Ansel, were you a good driver before this film? In the film’s promo, your Baby is described as ‘Mozart in a go-kart’.
Ansel: Well, I knew how to drive, but I didn’t know things like stick shift and drift. I did a lot of stunt-driving training for this film. I do very well now as a driver, I feel. I drift on the driveway at home and there are tyre marks all around!
And yes, Mozart became a prodigy, a genius very young and so is Baby. It’s unbelievable, some of the things he does. It’s heroic and hilarious at the same time.
Lily, how would you describe your Debora?
Lily: She’s a dreamer and she works in a diner. She longs for something more in life and that’s cue for Baby to walk in (laughs). It’s a beautiful love story between them. She’s a cool girl. This is the first American film I’ve done. The cast is brilliant and I’ve always loved Edgar’s films.
Ansel: Our relationship — Baby and Debora’s — actually forms the core of the movie. Both Baby and Debora don’t have much in their lives and when they meet, it’s very pure and it feels like they are on their own planet. Baby doesn’t really interact with anyone except Debora and even she doesn’t interact with anyone else but Baby. They could just be friends, but there’s a romantic thing between them also. Baby, of course, is wary of a relationship because he has the ear problem (tinnitus) and he was raised by a deaf guy because his parents died when he was seven. He speaks in sign language at home. The movie is actually very sweet and yet very explosive.
Lily: Ya, there are a lot of car chases… all real and not CGI. It was all so incredible and fast and dangerous….
What was it like working with Edgar Wright, who’s written and directed some iconic films?
Lily: Amazing! He’s such a visionary and there’s such a character to his films. This is really different from his other films, and yet retains that Edgar-ism! (Laughs)
Ansel: He’s definitely toned down a bit from Hot Fuzz (2007)….
Lily: But he’s so cool!
Were you overwhelmed sharing screen space with the likes of Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx?
Ansel: There was no scope to be overwhelmed because they are both so friendly! I’ve actually now shot two back-to-back films with Spacey (Baby Driver and Billionaire Boys Club). Honestly, I was a little star-struck by Jamie Foxx because I’m such a huge fan. On the first day we met, we exchanged numbers and he invited me over to his house. Now we are friends (smiles).
Ansel, Baby is a man of few words. Was that tough to pull off?
Ansel: For an actor, the lines don’t matter. It’s just about breathing and being reactive in a scene. You get that from doing stage. I have done stage a lot, more than movies, and my mother, who directs opera, always told me that the role doesn’t matter… what matters is that you are on stage. And as long as you are on stage, you are breathing that air…
Lily: People are looking at you…
Ansel: Yeah. Edgar told me that I may not be speaking in some scenes, but I have to speak through my eyes and my reactions need to come up perfect.
Lily: There is this remarkable scene between him and Spacey at the beginning of the film. It’s about three minutes long and they both go for a run and you can see him dance and move and his whole performance is so physical and he’s so amazing to watch, even without saying anything.
Ansel: Baby is an amazing character. He’s in his 20s, but about 15-16 in his head. He has a tough exterior, but is very vulnerable. There comes a point in the film when he does all he can to protect Debora and you will feel, ‘Oh, he’s no longer a kid… he’s a man now’. There’s a face-off between him and Bats (Jamie Foxx) and it’s a really cool scene.
This seems like such a fun film to shoot. Were there any scenes you especially loved filming?
Lily: We had this great scene in a laundromat… there were so many washing machines in there and each had a different coloured bedsheet being washed and all the machines were on… the two of us did a lovely dance in that scene, but unfortunately, the scene is no longer there in the film…
Ansel: Yeah, they cut it off!
Lily: Such a shame, we had such a great time filming it. There was a great song going on, it was so romantic.
Ansel, you are as much a rocker as you are an actor. What have your influences been?
Ansel: A lot of the musical talents I like are now dead… which is probably why I like them more (smiles). There’s Freddie Mercury, for sure. I also look up to a lot of actors… (Marlon) Brando, (Al) Pacino…. Currently, one of my favourites is Christian Bale. He is someone who can be both character actor and leading man. Very few people can really pull that off.
For both of you, how would you compare acting on stage to acting in a film? Do you have a clear favourite?
Lily: While we were filming this one, I was preparing to do Romeo and Juliet on stage. I would learn the lines in the car (laughs). That was intense. I like both, to be honest.
Ansel: I like stage more. There’s something about a live audience and the energy they come with. It’s also instant gratification.
What do you two look for when picking a role?
Ansel: I don’t know, really. Now I am starting to look at the film and the director. Edgar has kind of spoilt us. I haven’t filmed anything since last October and I don’t have anything coming up. I have been spoilt (smiles)… I just want to work with another director like Edgar, someone with a vision like that. But character-wise, I want to do everything and I feel I should be able to do everything and be crazy enough to do everything! (Laughs)
Lily: Sometimes, when you play someone like you, it can be tough because it could turn out to be too revealing. I just played a character (Debora) that’s totally opposite to who I am… there was something that was free about playing a person so different from who I am. Also, I was terrified every single day on set, which I feel, is a good place to be in (smiles).
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