The Fault in Our Stars breakout Ansel Elgort is having a moment, and he’s got a partner in crime in this latest star-making moment on the silver screen. He and Baby Driver co-star Lily James sat down with The Movie Mensch for a roundtable interview where the romantic leads in the latest from Edgar Wright discuss their innate chemistry, what they got up to being alone in a car shooting late at night in the crime heist thriller, as well as how this moviemaking experience was unique on every level… not the least of which was having music playing in headphones in their ears at all times while they’re delivering their lines.
In Baby Driver, Elgort stars as the title character. He’s a getaway driver for crime boss Kevin Spacey’s Doc. As a teen, Baby stole Doc’s car with a whole ton of merchandise in it. He’s been serving as his driver ever since, trying to pay down his debt. As Baby Driver commences, he’s a couple of heists away from being able to break clean. He meets Debora (James) and for the first time in his life, he truly feels that there is a future beyond the criminal circles he’s driving in.
Don’t miss our Baby Driver review that also extols the brilliance of co-stars Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Jon Bernthall.
Q: How did you see your characters?
Lily James: She’s just a girl, working in a diner and then this guy walks in and you get the sense that they’re both these old souls. They bond over music and they dream of escaping their shitty lives and they give each other something to live for and a reason to commit to this romantic notion of hitting the road and starting a new life.
Ansel Elgort: It’s an impulsive relationship, but it’s super real. It’s not influenced by any anyone else or any ulterior motives, which is why it comes across so lovely on screen. It’s such a pure relationship.
Q: Because of his childhood trauma, do you think Baby is doomed to an unhappy life?
Ansel Elgort: I don’t think that Baby is damaged. I always thought of him as good at rolling with the punches and now how his foster father, he likes looking after him, but he dreams of a better life.
Q: The film is so music-permeated. Did you learn any new-to-you music?
Lily James: Actually we have these epic, long, night shoots and Ansel and I are stuck in a car for hours on end and Ansel would play me all his new tunes and he’d working on them and mixing them and laying all the different tracks. By the end, I was singing his melodies along with him. I loved it. I’m a big fan of Ansel’s. So, that was a real highlight for me.
Ansel Elgort: I love that you’re talking about my music when this entire movie is centered around a soundtrack that Edgar Wright put together [both laugh]. I’m so touched.
Q: Baby Driver wasn’t written for you, specifically. But it sure seems that way.
Ansel Elgort: I always wanted to be an actor and I never knew specifically what I was preparing for. But, I started in dance and I took singing lessons and dance lessons and I also am an athlete so I can do some of the Baby stunts. It’s like everything came together really well. I’m so into making music. Last night, I was in the studio until 3 a.m. I can’t stop. I am as in to music as Baby is, and I think Edgar knew that when we first met and that gave him hope that I’d be right for the character.
Q: How did Edgar use the headphones when you were filming?
Ansel Elgort: What Baby is hearing, and the audience is hearing. It was very important. If we weren’t wearing headphones — and Lily can talk about this — you’d have a little earpiece in that we could each feel the vibe through the music so we could work the choreography through the music.
Q: So the laundromat scene, you could each hear the music?
Lily James: Yeah, cause we were sharing headphones. That was important because the music is so key and music sets such a tone and an atmosphere. I use it in life anyway to get into characters and to shut the world out. I don’t think we could have done those scenes without the music in our ears.
Ansel Elgort: It helped heighten the situation. They feel like these people are connecting so hard. You need that, sometimes, those beautiful chords underneath what you’re saying to feel what they’re feeling. I can justify blurting out, “You are so beautiful.”
Q: Will it make it hard in the future not to have that when acting on a set?
Lily James: A lot of directors I’ve worked with do that. Like recently Joe Wright — he plays music through the day. And he rolls it to get the vibe and then halfway through the take it will suddenly stop and he’ll stop the scene. You have to maintain that momentum.
Q: How was it tackling a southern accent for you, Lily?
Lily James: Well, I wouldn’t want Edgar talking to me too much, because I’d pick up on his British “isms!” But Ansel was so helpful and generous and supportive and kept me keyed in with him.
Ansel Elgort: All I did was say,” Stop worrying about it. “She never once sounded British!”
Q: You mentioned being athletic and doing some of Baby’s stunts. What was the most difficult one or a moment where you hurt yourself?
Ansel Elgort: At one point in that escalator scene I slipped and hit my elbow. I fell pretty hard and fast. I feel it still today. It was in that scene in the mall where I run down the escalator and switch from the up to the down. I didn’t make the escalator and hit my elbow, which was fine in the moment. I think my elbow hurt for four months. But, that’s a good injury to have from months and months of stunts. I’m cool with it.
Q: What about the driving? Are you a good driver?
Ansel Elgort: I am a good driver, now, because of all the stunt training on the film. Now, I’m a trained stunt driver.
Q: Is it hard now to contain yourself driving in the “regular world.”
Ansel Elgort: Oh, I don’t contain myself [laughs]. I drive like Baby as much as I can get away with.
Q: Ansel, you have a very Saturday Night Fever moment in the movie — listening to music, dancing down the street, a la John Travolta. How did that feel, joining that iconic company?
Ansel Elgort: People are calling it my Saturday Night Fever moment It was amazing. I wanted to do something on film that I felt was iconic. That shot will be something people can look up on YouTube as the opening scene of Baby Driver. It was just so cool. We rehearsed it for weeks and did 28 takes. That was Day One of filming. I felt like I was back doing theater again. I could feel the scene through the vibe of the music. Edgar appreciated the art of what we were doing. I also knew when we got it. You could definitely tell when Edgar was tickled. It was a great way to start the film.
Lily James: It was amazing. Out of those 28 takes, I don’t think you ever made a mistake. How he moved and interacted with everyone, it was so cool.
Q: At what point did you guys know that this chemistry was electric?
Ansel Elgort: In rehearsal. That was the nice thing. We showed up. I didn’t know what to expect. Everyone was so warm. Lily and I, immediately in rehearsal, they feel really good, right off the bat.
Lily James: Once we rehearsed, they put us in our costumes and Edgar did some camera tests and he put on some music and we sort of danced. It was immediate.
Ansel Elgort: Edgar told me early on that there is no way anyone could not have chemistry with Lily.