Actor Ansel Elgort plays a talented getaway driver, guaranteed to get the gang of robbers he aids and abets out of any jam, in Baby Driver. But it’s The Divergent Series and The Fault in Our Stars actor’s supreme, scene-stealing performances, opposite an all-star cast, including Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Hamm that drives the edge-of-your-seat action thriller. SF Weekly spoke to Elgort and director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) about the making of the film, the things they’ve stolen and the life lessons that Elgort’s borrowed — not stolen — from his parents.
SF Weekly: Ansel, you work with Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Kevin Spacey in Baby Driver. What did you learn from each of them?
Ansel Elgort: I learned that you have to be prepared and ready and you have to go and do your job. But I also learned that it’s not such a big deal. I remember when I was trying to be an actor, everything had to be really serious. Then you work with Jamie and Kevin and John, and they’re joking around all the time and just trying to have a good time. Of course, there are days that are really intense and you have to do what you have to do to get there. But I think you have to enjoy your job, be playful, and loose. A lot of the greatest Jamie moments in the film came from him just being organic and loose and not worrying too much about is this the right thing to do, is this the wrong thing to do?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, there are a couple of improvs that he has that he only says once, like when he says, ‘That’s some Oscar shit, right there.’ There’s only one take of that, and as soon as he says it, that’s going in the movie.
SFW: Ansel, your Baby character has tinnitus and spends a lot of his life trying to drown out the noise in his ear, as well as certain painful memories. What’s something you wish you could drown out?
AE: I wish I could drown out doubt in my decisions. I wish I could be more trusting in my instincts and my impulses in art, but also in my regular life. Sometimes, I think I over-think everything way too much, and all it does is hold me back.
SFW: Since Baby Driver is about a den of robbers, what, if anything, have you two stolen?
EW: My first movie came out when I was 21. I was in London, and I was totally and utterly broke. I was on the dole in the U.K., what you call welfare in the U.S., but I had a movie out. It was the weirdest thing to have a movie out, but no money whatsoever. The movie got mixed reviews, including some really bad reviews, and I can’t tell you how weird it is to be standing at a news store and reading a one-star review of your film.
A couple of weeks later, there was a magazine called What’s On In London that had a great review of my film, and I did not have the money to buy the magazine, so I stole it. I’d like to say to the news agent by Camden Town tube station that I’m going to come back in and put $5 on the counter and walk out. You won’t know why, but it’s me paying it back with interest. So, I apologize. I was 21. I didn’t know what I was doing.
AE: I’m not a bad guy like Edgar, not since I was a preteen. But when I was a preteen, it used to be fun with friends to see if you could go into a Duane Reade drugstore and steal a chocolate bar and get away with it. There’s a rush that comes along with it, so it makes sense why someone would want to rob a bank. That would probably be that times a million.
SFW: Ansel, you divide your time between acting and music. Are you an actor who puts out music or a musician who acts?
AE: I see myself as one overall person, who has different sides of his life. Acting is obviously a large and successful side, and I’m grateful for that. But I don’t see myself any more as an actor than as a musician, or vice versa. I love the feeling of being on set and filming or being onstage and acting. I also love the feeling of being in the studio and writing a song and recording it or being onstage and singing. So, I don’t ever want to classify myself as one thing. I’d like to live a life where eventually I want to direct, I want to write scripts, there are so many things I want to do. So, I don’t ever want to be in a position where I do this, so I can’t do that.
I have a lot of actor friends who have a lot of downtime, so it can’t be your only job. You have to have other things you’re into. But as a director, I feel — the one thing I’m scared about getting to directing, is it seems as though that’s what you really have to focus on. Putting a whole movie together — I’ve watched Edgar doing this, and it’s a full-time job.
SFW: Your father is a photographer and your mother is a dancer and opera director. How did they shape your view of the world?
AE: Mostly it was that you can take a hobby like photography — my dad took his first photo at 15 — and then he wanted to be a painter, and then he was taking photos of his paintings, and he had a camera, so he’d take photos of people, too. Then he decided that he liked that and he wanted to do it, more so than the actual art itself. There was the attitude that if you liked doing something and wanted to work hard, that that could easily be your career, that you don’t have to work an office job, that that could be your job. I’m lucky that I had him as a parent and my mother as a parent, because they both understood that.
My mom is an opera director and was a dancer in New York City, in the ’80s, and getting paid no money. So, it was all good, ‘If you want to do that, Ansel, you can do it. You don’t have to go to college, you can be an actor. It’s fine with us.’ If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know if I’d have been strong-willed enough to go out and do something without the support of my family.